Last week in a UNDP Climate Change team meeting, I offered to write a grant proposal for over $150,000. It seemed like such an enormous amount of money to me – more than I can fathom having access to. At UNDP, writing grant proposals of this size is common, but the grant writing process certainly did catapult me into the complex intertwined nature of the beast that is the United Nations.
The proposal was to acquire 100 solar panels (in addition to the 400+ we already have on our office roof), and a giant LED display screen for the outer wall of the compound. It involved estimating costs, calculating and comparing CO2 emissions, and describing UNDP’s vision for a sustainable future. What I didn’t anticipate was the sheer number of people who would want to weigh in during this 5-day long process. I met with Unit Heads from different agencies, accumulated data from four different sources, and managed colleague’s opinions about how the money should be allocated, and who should (and shouldn’t) be included in emails regarding the proposal. At times it felt like we were never going to be on the same page, and I questioned my ability to continue to negotiate with all the parties concerned to reach a conclusion that everyone was happy with. Somehow it happened though, and we submitted the proposal hours before the midnight deadline.
Some people reading this might roll their eyes and say that the bureaucracy at the United Nations must be mindboggling, but I found it both infuriating and inspiring. It became clear to me throughout the process that a lot of people cared about making our space more environmentally sustainable, and wanted the proposal to be successful – which is ultimately a great thing. Also, five days isn’t a ton of time to write a proposal of this magnitude, all things considered.
Everyday life has wound itself into a routine of sorts, and the city is really feeling like home now. Each week I go to a small acoustic style concert at a local music club, head to Trivia night with the crew from the European Embassies, and go out for lunch to a small noodle tent in an alleyway that we call Princess Noodles (because the Crown Princess of Sweden also went there for lunch one time). On weekends, we sometimes travel out of town – most recently to Sapa, a small Hmong minority town nestled in the mountains close to the Chinese border that has become a popular hiking destination. Our 7-hour hike into the village was quite an experience – much of it spent sliding down the side of the mountain as kind village women attempted to help us not to fall!
As we walked along a trail that weaved through a rice paddy-covered mountain range, our guides told us about their lives in the village. It struck me how being an English-speaking guide from a small tribal village would require straddling quite a significant cultural divide. Everyday at work you would be exposed to people from diverse cultures that for the most part, your community chooses to avoid or distance itself from. Striking the delicate balance of preserving your own tradition while still engaging with another’s is admirable. I don’t mean to romanticize the Hmong way of life entirely – to be sure there were values that our guide spoke about that I disagreed with, and the community was not completely immune to international influences, nor should it be expected to be – but there is something about having a prided tradition and an unique way of doing things as a community (creating art, grinding corn flower, weaving clothes etc.) that I find particularly beautiful.