On her summer at UNICEF in Namibia
Marie-Noelle Steinig, MPP'17

Second-year MPP student Marie-Noelle Steinig spent the summer in Namibia working at UNICEF, a humanitarian and development agency focused on children’s rights. Steinig recently sat down with Harris Public Policy to discuss her experience, including the importance of fieldwork and working in a team.

Tell me about your internship at UNICEF.

My summer with UNICEF was very interesting, challenging and just a short glimpse of what that United Nations agency does every day. I think UNICEF is doing great work, and the local population I encountered during my work in the field was thankful for what UNICEF does for children in Namibia.

During my summer in Namibia, I supported four main projects, all focused on education:

  • I helped to develop a framework for the implementation of an Inclusive Early Childhood Development (IECD) program between three ministries.
  • I worked on the introduction of a new education bill. This included presenting the draft bill to a parliamentary committee, making the draft bill accessible to the public and helping the public understand how the inputs from public consultations were incorporated in the draft bill.
  • I supported the so-called Social Accountability and School Governance (SASG) project, which is linked to the aforementioned education bill and tries to increase the accountability of communities for quality education under the slogan “quality education is our shared responsibility.” Within this work I got to go into the field for one week to represent UNICEF as part of a monitoring and capacity-building process. This experience was very valuable, as I got to see a different side of Namibia.
  • I assisted with a conference on Out-Of-School Children (OOSC) in Namibia. During this conference, the results of an extensive study were presented that was conducted by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture and UNICEF, as Namibia has a huge problem with school drop out rates, as well as school health and school safety.

What was a major lesson you took away from your time with UNICEF?

This internship taught me once again how important it is to work in a great team, especially when dealing with topics that are rough but a reality. I was fortunate enough to work in a highly motivated and professional team. I encountered colleagues that are incredibly motivated to make a difference and change things for the better for all Namibian children.

Everybody is contributing to this greater goal, even if the task is not directly related to rewriting policies or coming up with new programs. I think this is something people often forget, but is immensely important to appreciate. Everybody is contributing toward the bigger goal, from the driver to the country representative.

How has your internship informed your future career path?

Before this internship, I had a very clear understanding of what I want to do, and now I am not so sure anymore. My academic advisor told me that this is called “development and progress”, but it is also an odd feeling because I usually always have a clear plan.

During my summer in Namibia, I learned a lot about how the UN operates and how difficult it can be to work in development and humanitarian aid. I believe that if you want to make the right policy decisions in this field you should have a better understanding of what is happening on the ground where the help is needed. Often people go into development with established perceptions of what is the “ideal solution” to a problem without analyzing the context first, including myself.

My work in the field was very eye opening: you begin to better understand what is happening on the ground. Otherwise you make up things in your head—another reality—and you fail to find and implement policies that can be successful. Plus, you can see your impact directly when implementing policies in the field. Therefore, I realized that I needed to gain more field experience.

The United Nations offers a kind of career where you can have field experience—it is actually desired—and then you can work in headquarters on a strategic level, using data, and following evidence-based public policy. But it is the fieldwork that will give you the evidence and the data you need to make good decisions. It is very interlinked.

Coming from my background in the business world, Harris has been a good transition to prepare me for a career at someplace like the United Nations. It helped me a great deal to expand my understanding of the world aside from the economy, and look at things from a more global perspective.