By CID Staff

Harvard students gathered at United Nations
Harvard students spent a day at the United Nations on April 17, 2024.

Experiential learning is a core part of our strategy to build talent at the Harvard Center for International Development (CID). On April 17, CID held its first field trip led by Executive Director Fatema Z. Sumar and CID Student Ambassador Angelica Remache Lopez, bringing 26 graduate and undergraduate students from Harvard College, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to the United Nations (UN). These students actively participated in at least one of CID’s Student Seminars and were eager to see firsthand how the United Nations works in practice on issues like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and peace and security.

In meetings with senior UN officials including H.E. Dennis Francis, President of the General Assembly and UN Development Program (UNDP) officials Laurel Patterson and Shantanu Mukherjee, students heard about the limits and opportunities the UN platform provides for multilateral diplomacy and action.  At the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Christopher P. Lu offered a perspective of how diplomacy works from the largest bilateral donor to the UN. 

Over dinner, students engaged with civil society leaders including Mandeep Tiwana and Jesselina Rana from CIVICUS, Hannah Kohn from Outright International, and Laura O’Brien from Access Now to appreciate how civil society influences the UN agenda. The students even enjoyed an inside tour of the United Nations including visiting the UN Security Council and General Assembly rooms where so much action takes place!

What were the key takeaways for CID students? Read on for their thoughts on the SDGs, the future of the United Nations, and the collective responsibilities we must bear to build a thriving world for all. 

Mannat Singh, MPP student at Harvard Kennedy School

"The meetings revealed a growing recognition that the UN was born out of World War II and no longer reflects the current realities of the world. The role of the UN in ensuring peace and security rests largely on its membership which needs to undergo transformation and a change in power structure. Lagging in the SDGs has created a sense of urgency which requires collective and sustained action.  

Participating in these conversations was not only a fascinating experience but also allowed me to directly apply my learnings from the CID student seminars. These included leveraging development diplomacy skills, using a gender lens, and taking development strategies to action. 

​​My main takeaway from the one-day excursion is that we all have a role to play in solving the global challenges we are facing. We have to show up and ask tough questions. We cannot just critique, but must actively work towards finding solutions." 

Aditya Bhayana, MPA student at Harvard Kennedy School 

"Despite criticism that the UN is falling short to address 21st-century crises, I now have deeper appreciation for its role as a global convening platform and the monumental task of achieving consensus among 193 member states. Four reflections from the trip that stay with me: 

🏛 The UN was created post-WWII to address the challenges of the 20th century. How should its structure evolve to remain relevant in the 21st century? 

🛣 As we approach the midpoint of Agenda 2030, only 15% of our targets will be met by 2030 at current pace. How can the upcoming Summit for the Future reinvigorate momentum towards the SDGs? 

🤝 Lately, the Security Council's decisions contradict the General Assembly's ethos and resolutions. How can ongoing discussions on UN reform help in building coherence amongst all UN bodies? 

🌏 Despite gender equality rightfully taking up significant priority in all multilateral outcomes, women's representation in UN remains abysmally low. What steps are necessary to unlock women's participation and potential in multilateral fora to uphold the true spirit of SDG5?" 

Maria Andreina Cantele Sáenz, MPA/ID student at Harvard Kennedy School 

"It was inspiring to feel the diversity and value of a place that convenes the world. It is also easy to sense the weight of the complexities behind the UN, but I left hopeful for the many opportunities for interactions and dialogue that otherwise would be unthinkable."  

Jean Luc Nsabimana, Ed.M. student at Harvard University

"We had a memorable exchange covering themes such as U.N. reforms, the evolving role of the U.N. in an evolving world, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom picked up on what needs to change to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: 

✨ To give up is to fail; failure is not an option; far too many depend on it. 

✨ The world is changing, and so must the U.N. This may not be an event, but a process. 

✨ Getting comfortable with discomfort. Taking action and never stopping or actively choosing to continue to stop. 

✨ Letting go of development buzzwords that render one a non-critical actor. 

It is easy to criticize, tear down, and fight; it is harder to do and to fix. Be a doer, fixer, & peacemaker." 

Learn more about experiences for students through the Harvard Center for International Development.
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