You are coordinator of the UN Dual
Career and Staff Mobility Programme:
what are the aims of this programme?
Organizations of the UN system had for many years recognized that inadequate support to UN families, particularly those in so-called “dual career” situations, where both spouses/partners wish to pursue a career, was becoming an impediment to staff mobility.
The UN Dual Career and Staff Mobility Programme (DC&SM) takes its mandate from the UN Development Group’s (UNDG) 2004 Joint Guidance Note on the Employment of Expatriate Spouses. While employment is the largest focus area, DC&SM’s aims are in fact wider: to address the hindrance to the UN system’s ability to recruit and retain the highest qualified specialists for overseas assignments, particularly women.
Geographical mobility is a big issue
in the UN system nowadays. What do
you see as the “hindrances” to this
type of mobility?
The issue of most concern is the potential for disruption to “dual career” couples, which is a way of life for a large and increasing number of UN personnel and their families. When a staff member moves to another country the family often feels it must make a choice between staying together on one hand and maintaining two careers on the other.
Other disincentives are unrelated to employment and involve the ability to “settle in” to a new place. A lack of timely information on issues such as school enrolment deadlines or the availability of treatment for ongoing medical conditions can easily cause a negative experience of transition.
How does the programme propose to
achieve its aims?
We are currently working in three broad areas. Firstly, we aim to provide UN families with good information early in the decisionmaking process around new assignments. How many of us who moved for the UN appreciate the “welcome packs” we receive on arrival but wish we had the information much earlier? We are working to make the best parts of organizations’ welcome packs comparable and put them online.
Secondly, we are working to improve access to work permits so that spouses/partners of UN staff are able to work in the local economy at a new duty station. In this we are playing catch-up with national diplomatic services: for example the US State Department has work permit agreements allowing diplomatic spouses to work in nearly all countries of the world.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we assist with the establishment of Local Expatriate Spouse Associations (LESA) around the world, which give a voice to the spouses/partners of mobile UN staff.
How many organizations take part in
DC&SM is a new programme and we are still in the early stages. An important step was the programme’s relocation to the CEB secretariat in Geneva in mid-2008, which has given us more exposure at the interagency level. This move also coincided with an increase in the number of participating organizations from eight to fourteen. In 2009 we welcomed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), bringing the total to sixteen.
Local Expatriate Spouse Associations:
what are they and why does the UN
system need them?
The idea of establishing a network of Local Expatriate Spouse Associations (LESA) around the world is found in the UNDG Joint Guidance Note. Organizations felt it necessary to have a source of feedback on the strategies adopted to assist UN families. LESAs provide this feedback to management via the DC&SM secretariat and, in the field, to the UN Country Teams (UNCTs). The associations, which benefit from official recognition by the UN system, often also do much more than this: for example the Panama LESA was instrumental in securing a change to the law facilitating access to work permits for UN families. In other countries LESAs focus on issues such as childcare, education, training and networking.
What does the future hold for the
As the duty station with the world’s largest number of expatriate personnel, Geneva is very important to us. The launch event proved that there is interest and a need for such an association, as well as the overwhelming support both of management and the cantonal authorities. We wish the Geneva LESA the very best, and look forward to continued dialogue with the association to achieve our common interests in promoting the highest standards of well-being for UN system personnel and their families.
UNLESA partnership: ILO, IOM, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNOPS, UNRWA, UN Secretariat, UNWTO, WFP, WORLD BANK.