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Interview with John Ericson

February 16, 2013


by Plamena Slavcheva

John Ericson is Chief of the Outreach Unit in the Office of Human Resources Management of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. He was born in Sweden to a Swedish father and British mother. Having lived as an expatriate for most of his childhood, he joined the United Nations in Vienna, Austria in 1982 and later spent five years at the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a Social Affairs Officer. Mr. Ericson was involved in the evacuation of UN staff from Ethiopia in 1991. He moved to United Nations Headquarters in New York in 1992 to work as a Human Resources Officer.

john ericson

1. What do you find most exciting about your participation in LIMUN 2013?

For me personally, it is the first time attending LIMUN. I am very excited and honored to be here because of the historical setting – it is where the first UN General Assembly was held – and it is the first time I am attending and addressing a huge Model UN gathering. I am really interested in being here and excited to talk to the students who are probably going to represent their countries in the UN General Assembly some day. I think it is a great experience to meet people who support the UN and who are also going to be its future.

2. Can you name three highlights from your career with the UN?

There are several things I find special about working for the UN. One is that you can somehow be part of history. When I was involved in the civil war in Ethiopia, I was evacuating staff who were caught up in the civil war. I lived there in 1991 when there was a change of government, so it was very unusual and special to be in the midst of historical change in this country. Another highlight of my career is my work in Cambodia, where I was running a polling station during the local elections. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the people when they were voting and once again I could be part of the history of that country. Another special moment to me is when I get to meet the presidents, prime-ministers, kings and leaders of the world at every UN General Assembly, where they are actually working on crucial global issues that the UN has to address.

3. What about the main challenges you are facing in your work for the UN?

To work for the UN you have to believe in its mission and what it stands for. It is an organization dealing with difficult problems. It is an intergovernmental body that consists of 193 member states; they all have different opinions, goals and perspectives. Trying to reconcile – that is a huge challenge, but it is also rewarding. Many times it can be frustrating, because you do not understand why things have to be done in a certain way, but after all this is the nature of the UN. And you have to understand that despite all these struggles we face, the organization is absolutely necessary. So the challenge is really to be able to work through that and still maintain the enthusiasm and idealism about the organization.

4. What is your advice to younger generations interested in becoming part of the UN?

The advice I would give them is to maintain their idealism and belief in the purpose of the UN. It is not perfect but it is the best we have right now and we can always work to improve it. Whether they actually work for the UN or not, they should always try to work for the benefit of humankind and to support the mission of the UN. It is really the most global international forum for solving world problems. As imperfect as it is, it still constitutes the hope of many people in the world. So I would ask for their support for the UN, no matter if they end up working there, or not.

5. What do you appreciate most about working internationally and being currently based in New York?

I grew up internationally and I cannot imagine working in any other type of environment than this one. It is fascinating and energizing to work with people from all over the world, so as I said, I cannot imagine working for any other type of organization at this point. What I like about New York is that when you walk out the door of the UN, you are sort of still in the UN because it is very cosmopolitan. No matter what you look like, you are part of the city. I really appreciate that about New York, and of course it is the heart of the UN – the headquarters are there, the General Assembly, Security Council, etc. So there are always a lot of activities going on and it never gets boring as far as the UN is concerned.

Proofreader Louise Fahey

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