Lessons Learned at the Intersection of Civil Society and the United Nations

By: Ali Foote, NGO CSW/NY Advocacy & Research Intern

At New York University's Center for Global Affairs, I have had the privilege of enrolling in courses that inspired and informed an interest in working at the intersection of civil society and the United Nations. I was drawn to the idea of bringing these two spheres together to contribute to positive change and work towards a more just and equitable world. However, it was my internship at NGO CSW/NY that truly brought this endeavor to life, providing me with valuable experience and insight into the realities of what this entails.

During my time at NGO CSW/NY, I quickly realized that bridging the gap between civil society and the UN involves glamorous and unglamorous tasks alike. On one hand, there are exhilarating and truly transformative moments. I participated in insightful discussions with the NGO CSW/NY Executive Committee, gaining valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment at the global level. I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of Advocacy & Research Group’s Zero Draft recommendations that were read by Member States, learning about the intricacies and politics of international policy-making and witnessing firsthand the impact of civil society advocacy. Additionally, receiving my UN badge and stepping into the headquarters for the first time was a moment of excitement and awe, while watching my supervisors lead civil society briefings on the ongoing CSW negotiations was truly inspiring. I also learned and grew so much from the spontaneous discussions in the office with my supervisors and fellow interns. The team consisted of passionate individuals who shared a common goal of advancing gender equality and women's rights. Collaborating with them allowed me to witness firsthand the dedication, resilience, and resourcefulness required in this field. We supported one another, shared ideas, and worked together to overcome challenges. These relationships fostered a sense of camaraderie and reinforced the importance of collective action in achieving our mission.

Yet, behind the scenes, there were the everyday challenges that tested my flexibility, adaptability, and multitasking abilities. Scrambling to mute a rogue microphone during a Zoom call with participants from around the world became a regular occurrence, as did the constant influx of questions and requests from our members, which required diligent inbox management by our small team of five. Scheduling and rescheduling hundreds of events, often facing last-minute changes and coordinating with multiple stakeholders, became a juggling act. Drafting numerous letters of support for visa applications, knowing that the approval outcomes were uncertain, added to the pressure. Additionally, navigating the intricacies of an unfamiliar virtual platform to ensure that event pages were set up perfectly was a challenging task that tested my technical prowess. However, it became clear that these tasks were not mere administrative duties but an integral part of ensuring the success of the NGO CSW67 Forum – one of the largest civil society gatherings at the United Nations. Each email sent, event scheduled, and technical glitch resolved contributed to the seamless operation of the Forum, enabling participants to engage, collaborate, and advocate effectively.

One of the most profound aspects of the NGO CSW67 Forum was the opportunity to engage with women from diverse backgrounds who attended the forum. Their kindness, appreciation, and enthusiasm for being part of such a significant event were truly inspiring. Whether I was sitting in the audience of in-person Parallel Events or holding down the fort in our temporary office on the 8th floor, I shared special moments with women from all over the world –  networking with a land right’s activist who generously agreed to be interviewed for my thesis, helping an older participant download the Whova application to her phone and giving her a crash course on how to use it, watching two women from different corners of the globe celebrate together when one’s missing phone was found. These interactions highlighted the importance of creating spaces for dialogue, collaboration, and solidarity among women. It reinforced my belief in the power of inclusivity and diverse perspectives in driving social change.

My internship at NGO CSW/NY affirmed my passion for working at the intersection of civil society and the UN. It highlighted the complexities and challenges involved in this field but also emphasized the transformative potential of collective action and advocacy. The experience deepened my understanding of the critical issues facing women globally and reinforced my commitment to making a difference. As I move forward in my career, I carry with me the invaluable lessons learned from my time and colleagues at NGO CSW/NY. I am fueled by the memories of the courageous women I met, their stories of resilience, and the knowledge that our collective efforts are essential in building a more equitable world. Working at the intersection of civil society and the United Nations is not just a professional pursuit; it is a personal commitment to social justice and the empowerment of all individuals, regardless of their gender or background. Together, we can create a future where equality and inclusivity thrive.