Dispatch from UNESCO in New Delhi, India: Varkpeh Gonowolo’s first blog from the virtual field

By Varkpeh Gonowolo

As the only international candidate selected in my cohort, my placement was delayed because of several organizational and technical holdups. Factors such as my visa validity, insurance requirements, and the timeframe of my placement caused interruptions that, despite a couple of promising interviews, delayed the start of my assignment. However, I was successful in finalizing a placement with UNESCO New Delhi, India, in November 2020, where I have been serving as Junior Professional Consultant (JPC) for Programs, Procurement and Finance.

Given how COVID-19 has transformed our personal and professional lives, I am currently executing my duties from home (virtually), which include: supporting the Education Sector in the development and implementation of ICT, disability, and gender policies in education; preparation of project proposals for mobilizing extra-budgetary resources; and preparation of various documents including, but not limited to, briefings, reports, technical papers, policy, and advocacy materials.

My first major assignment as a JPC was to collaborate with other professionals in the Education Sector in developing a report assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on SDG4 outcomes across four countries (Bhutan, India, Sri-Lanka, Maldives). Coming to the team with an experience in public finance, I was specifically tasked with writing a chapter on the sector countries’ approach to ringfencing SDG4 financing amidst the overwhelming needs to prioritize public health and social safety spending because of the pandemic. This required researching the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) database, scanning budget documents and speeches, and in some cases sending emails to education ministries requesting information about pre/post COVID-19 education interventions and spending. With close supervision from the Education Specialist, this report has been finalized and awaiting approval for publication.

My impression of UNESCO is that it is a distinct institution compared to other UN agencies in that most of its activities are focused on advocacy and shaping upstream policies and projects. Being a JPC with mostly downstream policy execution experience, the job has definitely broadened my horizon, so to speak.
A regular working day for me entails checking-in and updating my manager on the status of assigned tasks and attending scheduled Teams and Zoom meetings. Performing these tasks from home comes with their own challenges. Most notably, the time difference (10 hours and 30 minutes) between New Delhi, India, and Waterloo, Canada, requires me to stay up late at night to attend meetings and respond to inquiries.
Notwithstanding, my placement at UNESCO New Delhi has been rewarding thus far. I have built technical knowledge and practical professional experience in the areas of cross-country education project implementation; ITCs for education; resource mobilization as well as the planning and management of education system at the international level.

I am excited for this opportunity and look forward to what my remaining time has to offer.

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