Correspondance of the Fair Internship Initiative with Dr. Danilo Türk, Former President of the Republic of Slovenia

E-mail sent by the Fair Internship Initiative to Dr. Danilo Türk, Former President of the Republic of Slovenia, on August 30, 2016:

Dear Dr. Türk,

The Fair Internship Initiative (FII) is congratulating you for your nomination as a candidate for the next SG of the United Nations.

We are a youth-based advocacy group, who is militating for better conditions for internships in the UN system.

Regarding your candidacy, we are writing as we would like to raise the question of providing basic allowances to interns at the UN to make the internship program more accessible and diverse. During the past weeks, we have compiled the different answers to that question, which we received from many of the SG candidates. This collection was published here. This collection was published on the Fair Internship Initiative website. The link to this page has been published as part of an article on the issue in the Guardian and will soon be in the BBC Magazine, Le Monde and some other medias. We would like to offer you the opportunity to clarify your statement on this issue, to help us update our website in this regard.

We believe that the question of paid UN internships is of crucial importance for the UN to be recognized as a credible actor being coherent with all  principles it stands for, especially in light of  the 2030 agenda vis-a-vis, such as SDGs 8 and 10.

Internships at the UN provide a valuable experience for young people to improve their skills and  career prospects, but also to train new generations of leaders who will bear the responsibility of implementing the SDGs. However, as highlighted by the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit in its 2009 report, due to their largely unpaid nature, UN internships remain inaccessible to young people coming from an underprivileged  background.

The discriminatory effects of this policy are demonstrated by a recent survey, according to which 74% of all interns at the UN come from high-income countries, while only 3% come from low-income countries. Moreover, 78% of the interns would not have been able to afford the internship without the support of their families, which clearly indicates that household’s income constitutes a major element of discrimination for prospective applicants.

Furthermore, as internships constitute a main entry-point to a career in the UN, the lack of regional and socioeconomic diversity among interns also has a direct impact on the diversity of the UN staff in general. If, as the motto says, “the UN is about everybody”, then this situation should not persist.

Fortunately, some of the UN specialized agencies, such as the ILO, FAO, WFP, UNOPS and WIPO, already provide their interns with a stipend to cover basic living costs, while UNICEF has recently started a similar pilot program. This shows that a solution to the problem is possible.

We hope that you can take into account these arguments, when formulating your position on this important issue.

We wish you all the best for the upcoming Secretary-General selection, and look forward to your answer.

Best regards,

Fair Internship Initiative (FII)

E-mail received by the Fair Internship Initiative on the 3rd of September 2016:

Dear Friends,

I have read your message of 30 august carefully and I agree with you when you point  out the  importance of the contribution of interns to the work of the UN. At the same time, internship provides a  wonderful opportunity for the young people to gain important knowledge and practical experience. When I worked at the UN as Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs I had the privilege to witness the many valuable contributions that interns were making to the Organization.

Let me therefore say right away that I am fully in favour of the proposal to provide the basic allowance (stipend) to all interns and thus make internship  more accessible and more diverse. The question is how to go about the proposal. Here are my ideas:

First, the Secretary General should designate  Mr. Ahmad Alhmendavi, his Envoy on Youth as the focal point for the project.
Second, The Department os Social and Economic Affairs (DESA) should provide assistance based on their previous work.
Third.  UN member states should be invited to offer, without delay, voluntary contributions to develop  a general UN internship system. Later on, a way to the regular budget should be established.
Fourth, a system wide approach is necessary. You mention that some UN agencies already  provide their interns with a stipends. This is very good. However, I believe, that the UN  has to develop  a system wide approach that would make internships possible in all UN funds and programmes, as well as in peace keeping operations. I understand that there are, in addition to financial problems, also restrictions that would have to be looked at and adequate solutions found.

This is as much as I can say at this stage. There will be more when I am appointed as UN Secretary – General.

With kind regards and best wishes,

Danilo Türk