Master of Arts in Statistics, Columbia University, New York, USA
Bachelor of Sciences in Finance, George Mason University, Virginia, USA
English, Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu
You could say that my career path was set early on in life around the dinner table. My father is an economist and worked for the International Monetary Fund and my mother is a demographer at the International Institute for Population Sciences. Our dinnertime conversations revolved around global economic and social issues, and I always wanted to do some kind of humanitarian work. But I also had a head for numbers, and decided that studying statistics would give me a unique edge when it came to building a career in this field.
I started that career with the United Nations in 2006, just after graduate school. I worked in New York with the Peacekeeping Financing Division of the Department of Management. After two years of working on the budgets of missions in faraway lands, I had an itch to see firsthand what happens on the ground. I knew that going to the field would change my perspective on my work, by seeing exactly how a budget was used to implement the Organization’s military, civilian and logistical tasks. In March 2008, after applying to various peacekeeping positions, I was able to participate in the Programme for an Advanced Compendium of Trainees, an initiative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that aims to develop specialist budget officers. After the training in New York, my fellow budget officers and I were deployed to different peacekeeping missions around the world. That’s how I came to the Kinshasa duty station, in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a mandate to protect civilians and help bring peace and stability to the Central African region. While this conjures up images of uniformed military personnel and police forces to most people, a peacekeeping mission also includes number-crunching employees like me. As an Associate Budget Officer, I am part of a team that prepares, implements and monitors the performance of the Mission’s budget. Amongst my task on a regular day, I certify that funds are available, review personnel requirements and proposals, and ensure that our budgets comply with all the relevant procedures and regulations.
Dough. Cabbage. Green stuff. Whatever you call it, money plays a big part in everything we do. From the time the Mission was established here in 1999, the United Nations’ mandate has been to protect civilians and consolidate peace. Our budget for 2010-2011 has been set at $1.37 billion by the General Assembly. This allocation supports some 20,000 uniformed and civilian personnel in what is one of the Organization’s largest peacekeeping efforts. Well-planned finances are at the core of any organisation, and it’s a balancing act to ensure that we can achieve our mandate within budget. On the one hand, we have to meet the United Nations’ strict operational requirements and on the other, we have to be ready to tweak or completely redesign things if the circumstances change.
This spontaneity makes working in the field both exciting and challenging. I am, in the true character of any budget officer, a meticulous planner, so it’s a test for me to work in such an unpredictable environment. But I’ve learned to see each challenge as an opportunity for professional growth. And as I have the privilege of learning from some incredibly talented and experienced colleagues, this dynamic environment in fact helps me to stay focused and motivated.
My advice to young people seeking a career with the United Nations is the same advice that was given to me not so long ago: choose something that you enjoy and believe in, and that will allow you to work with people you admire and respect. My head for numbers has led me into some great opportunities and I hope to pursue a long career with the United Nations. Ultimately, my goal is to serve the Organization on each and every continent. I’ve already worked in North America and now Africa, so only five more to go!