According to statistics of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 800 Japanese are working for international organizations. Such professionals include those doing clerical work at the organizations’ Japanese units, appointed to lead an organization by using expertise gained through their careers and others sent to help developing countries build key infrastructure with Japanese technology.
The Japan Times asked workers of international organizations the following three questions. They are; Q1) What do you like about your current job? Q2) What talent is needed to work for international organizations? Q3) What message do you have for people who want to work for international organizations?
Organization strives to help members achieve sustainable development
Obtaining a B.A. from Waseda University; and master’s degrees from both Pennsylvania State University and Waseda, at the latter of which he also completed doctorate course work, Masataka Fujita has been the ASEAN-Japan Centre secretary-general since September 2015. He is the former head of the Investment Trends and Issues Branch, U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and was a U.N. economist from 1984 to 2015.
A1: With 31 years of U.N. service, I was privileged to work for world development. The U.N. is not just an organization to resolve conflicts and maintain peace; it also helps member states achieve sustainable development. My work in economics was not only to analyze, but also to provide policy recommendations for members to maximize benefits and minimize negative economic impacts.
The center promotes partnership between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through trade, investment, tourism and personal exchanges.
Working for international organizations means directly interacting with government officials, the private sector and the public. You are an integral part of policymaking and institutional building of other countries.
A2: It is important to think of the U.N. as a place where anybody can work, not as something outside our world. If you are an experienced professional with substantial education, you may be eligible for a vacancy. The U.N. does not need generalists. If you are under the age of 32, the U.N. Secretariat offers an examination for the Young Professional Programme. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has a Junior Professional Programme that allows young Japanese to work for two years at U.N.-related agencies.
A3: You need to think strategically how you could work for international organizations. Given the difficulty of entering the U.N. Secretariat, you should take any opportunities to get involved in the U.N. even if they are short, fixed-term jobs. As for personal traits we want to work with the people who can express their ideas and opinions backed by professionalism.
Every dollar international organizations spend is from taxpayers, including those from poor countries. You need to be accountable for your spending and understand money’s value.
World Health Organization supports countries in raising health standards
After graduating from Keio University’s Medical School, Takeshi Kasai initially worked for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare before taking a position with the World Health Organization.
A1: WHO is the specialized U.N. agency for health that supports member states in attaining the highest level of health possible for their people. With experts from all over the world, the work environment is dynamic and challenging, but also rewarding. I have devoted many years to improving health security and providing technical support for preparedness and development of core systems to detect, respond to and control infectious diseases. While we still have more to do, member states have significantly improved preparedness and response capabilities since SARS in 2003 and we are much better prepared.
A2: Technical knowledge and the skills to translate your knowledge into a results-oriented, hands-on work attitude to serve member states. People are expected to maintain their technical excellence, so their support is always based on the best available evidence. As the range of WHO support expands, so does the knowledge and skills we seek. More and more, we need people who can support policy development and exercise health diplomacy. We have to understand the historical, political and cultural dimensions of the countries we serve. The guidance we provide must contain options for countries to decide what best suits their needs and priorities. Though we are constantly tested, we have built relationships of trust with member states — trust we have earned over time through consistent support and measurable results.
A3: Global health means there are no gaps between national and international efforts. The knowledge and experience of Japan is highly valued by the organization and our member states. You may wish to focus on what you can contribute and cultivate your abilities in that area before applying. WHO is an interesting and challenging place to work and I hope to see many more Japanese working here in the near future.
U.N. Information Centre works to engage Japanese public in U.N. agenda
Kaoru Nemoto has been director of the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo since August 2013, bringing in her professional experience in journalism as announcer/reporter at TV Asahi as well as in the U.N.’s humanitarian relief work and human rights protection at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees both in the field and at its headquarters. She earned a master’s degree in International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Law.
A1: The primary work of the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo is to communicate about priority agenda of the organization and its values, localizing its global messages into Japanese context. At the same time, we are acting as a bridge between the U.N. and Japan, connecting expectations from the Japanese public toward the organization with New York. We are also performing as coordinator across the 28 U.N. offices based in Japan in terms of communications, to raise in one voice as “One U.N.” concerning issues of common interest.
A2: In working at the U.N., which employs a staff coming from a wide variety of different backgrounds, you need to be a good listener, as well as a good coordinator able to find a common ground. Also, at the U.N., competencies possessed by many Japanese, such as forward planning, keeping promises and respecting others, are regarded as a valuable asset.
A3: People often ask me about how they can join the U.N., but what is important is what you want to do. It is “what” that matters, not “how.” You first decide what you want to do in your career, then you consider working at the U.N. as one of various options. I want the younger generations to be interested in many different things, with focus on what kind of expertise is to be developed to pursue “what” you want to do.
UNHCR leads the way in efforts aimed at the protection of refugees
With a Hosei University bachelor’s degree and master’s from Ohio University, Atsuko Furukawa works for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
A1: I love what I do. The UNHCR works to lead international action for the protection of refugees and resolution of global refugee problems. Today, the number of refugees worldwide continues to grow due to ongoing conflicts, and there are significant challenges in helping those fleeing such situations. The UNHCR is one of the few field-oriented U.N. agencies and works closely with the people it serves. I see directly the difficulties refugees face and the dire needs they have and I’m often encouraged by their resilience and their smiles as they try to move forward in such challenging environments. It’s rewarding and humbling to help protect them and bring positive change to their lives.
Also, because the UNHCR is so diverse, I work with people from around the world; I enjoy getting to know them and exchanging views that expand my perspectives.
A2: Like other professions, it’s important to have relevant knowledge, but having skills and expertise specific to your field of interest is particularly useful. Being able to communicate effectively in English is essential, but other languages will make you even more valuable.
“Soft” skills are also important; you have to be open-minded and flexible. You may also need to move to countries where things are quite different, so you need to be respectful of cultural differences and have a high tolerance for ambiguity. I’ve been working for the UNHCR for many years, but everyday I learn something.
A3: Don’t be afraid of leaving your comfort zone; volunteer in your community, and work on issues with local and global impacts. Through different experiences, you’ll learn about yourself and discover your passion. Try to be engaged in what you want to be involved in; keep your eyes and ears open and look for opportunities.
Work in various countries provides opportunity to expand personal views
Obtaining a master’s degree in Development Management, London School of Economics, and a bachelor’s degree from Rikkyo University, Hisashi Izumi worked at the Embassy of Ethiopia before joining the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP). He is currently posted in Papua New Guinea.
A1: Working at the U.N. offers the chance to be dispatched to any country in the world. This gives me an opportunity to widen my scope of views and grow as a human being, as I can have chances to touch on value sets different from mine.
We are not working for the interests of just one company or one country, but for overall global issues such as international peace and stability and poverty reduction. I find myself very happy in this job and my pride and commitment motivates me to live positively and move forward in hardships or difficult situations.
A2: In working at an international organization, I think the most exciting and challenging element is to work on the front lines in developing countries. But, things often don’t go as planned in such countries, because of problems in the living environment and security issues.
Adding to the challenge, the common unspoken agreement prevalent in Japanese culture is not present in every country. When faced with difficulties, you need to have a positive and optimistic attitude in your work.
A3: There is no right answer in building your career toward working in an international organization. You can find a way if you work hard with passion and commitment. I am looking forward to working with you somewhere in the world.
An opportunity to work in a challenging and multicultural environment
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Kwansei Gakuin University and master’s degrees from Osaka University and the Institute of Social Studies, Yasumitsu Doken joined the U.N. Development Programme Pakistan Office as a junior professional officer. He then worked with a management consulting firm in Osaka and has returned to UNDP Tokyo Office and moved to the UNDP headquarters.
A1: One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is to be able to contribute to helping people in crisis situations such as natural disasters and conflicts.
As part of a team based at the UNDP headquarters, it’s a challenge, but also exciting to work across different offices and time zones under time pressure and come up with coordinated support for our country offices engaging with these issues on the ground.
A2: Strong communications and people skills, including the ability to build trust and consensus in a multicultural environment, are the keys to working effectively in an international organization. Technical expertise is required to engage with substantive issues the organization deals with. Perseverance is important to promoting common understanding and collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds.
A3: International organizations such as the U.N. offer unique opportunities to contribute to solutions for today’s global issues. At the same time, you also need to demonstrate what added value you can bring to the organization. To start with, it’s important to find out what specific issues you are really concerned about and then build the knowledge, skills and experience around the issues you want to work on.