Name: Lam Po Yee Vivian
Degree: Bachelor of Business Administration (Law) / Bachelor of Laws, University of Hong Kong
UN Host Agency: UNDP China
Assignment: Poverty, Equity & Governance Team (Rule of Law and Governance)
Duration: 3 months (June to August 2016)
I still remember how ecstatic I was when I received the internship offer from UNDP China. Working at the United Nations (UN) has always been my dream. Coupled with the fact that I was always curious about work life in China, I did not even hesitate to accept the offer and embark on this amazing journey. Special thanks to Peace and Development Foundation (PDF), without its generous support, the past three months of internship would not have been possible.
The three-month internship at UNDP China was truly transformative and life-changing. If I have to pinpoint three things I miss the most from the experience, they will be the challenging job nature, the perks of being a UN intern and the diversity of people.
As a law student and an aspiring human rights activist, I was lucky enough to be assigned to the Rule of Law & Governance Team in the Poverty, Equity and Governance (PEG) Portfolio, where I could directly apply my legal knowledge and expertise in fields I am deeply passionate about. I originally came to the UN in hopes of broadening my exposure to gender and minority rights issues in China. I ended up achieving much more, most probably because I joined the PEG team at an opportune time. As the Rule of Law Intern, I got the privilege to attend four major legal events in the summer: i) the 2016 Annual Rule of Law Roundtable, where representatives of 26 organizations from the international community, civil society organizations and academia gathered to discuss the role of lawyers in judicial reform; ii) the Multi-stakeholders’ Consultation for Environmental Rule of Law, where environmental activists, experts and lawyers alike were consulted on building an online platform of common knowledge for environmental litigation; iii) the Conference on Rural Women’s Access to Land Rights, where legal scholars and experts jointly wrote a report on women-specific land rights issues in China; and iv) the 2nd Multi-stakeholder Roundtable Discussion on Legal Gender Recognition in China, where the foremost LGBT experts and scholars discussed the gaps and challenges faced by transgender people in China. My responsibilities in the above events ranged from taking meeting minutes to offering concrete recommendations for improving relevant UN publications. Through active participation, I gained a comparative perspective on various public interest issues in China.
Other than the conferences I attended, I was encouraged to step out of my comfort zone to work on areas which I am not necessarily familiar with, such as smart city and governance, youth empowerment, poverty alleviation, sustainable development goals and public participation in government performance assessment. The most unforgettable task by far was to organize a study tour to Russia for the National People's Congress (NPC) from scratch. Without any prior knowledge in the Russian system (nor the Russian language), it was quite challenging for me to conduct research on relevant institutions for the visit. Nevertheless, it was incredibly fulfilling when I identified interesting elements of public participation in Russia (like the Russian Public Initiative, where citizens could directly initiate petitions for the parliament to consider), and successfully arranged meetings with state institutions such as the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. It is hoped that the study tour would offer new insights and perspectives to NPC officials, who may in turn introduce new mechanisms to enhance public participation in law-making in China.
UN interns enjoy a lot of perks, one of them being the opportunity to meet Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. By luck and by chance, UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited China during my internship period. It was a hot and sunny day where every colleague at UN agencies gathered together at the lawn for a massive group photo. Although everyone ended up being a small “dot” on the picture, this reminds us of the large number of people working together at the UN, dedicated to making the world a better place.
Moreover, UN interns were also invited to major events such as the launches for the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the China National Human Development Report 2016. In particular, for the latter event, we visited the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a hotel complex used to house visiting foreign dignitaries and provincial government officials. Listening to different speakers’ viewpoints regarding human development in China was thought-provoking to say the least.
Unsurprisingly, being affiliated with PDF also has its perks. Josie, one of the founders of PDF, invited all PDF members to an Oxbridge Alumni Event hosted at Rongbaozhai Mansion. Not only were we able to admire national treasures and learn about art business in China, we also got to interact with interesting people from different backgrounds. Table-tennis Champion Deng Yaping was among the participants in the event and it was such a surprise to meet my childhood idol!
As much as I love the work at UNDP China, my experience would not be half as fulfilling without the inspiring people there. There is that saying: “there is one person for everyone that walks into your life and changes everything forever. And they will forever be a part of you.” I feel blessed that I have met not only one, but a few people who have changed (and will change) my life forever. Nearly everyone at UNDP China has an interesting story to tell. What inspired me the most is the amount of passion and drive they each have for the work they do.
UNDP China also has a non-hierarchal structure, where everyone’s opinion matters. For example, my supervisor gathered members of our team and the communications team to brainstorm for a crowdfunding project regarding disability equality training. All of our ideas were thoroughly considered and eventually adopted. The crowdfunding project turned out to be a great success. We were all extremely pleased that an empowering rather than sympathizing approach was adopted to promote disability rights.
The social life at UNDP China was also vibrant. Interns and colleagues regularly hosted karaoke parties, late night movie sessions and visits to Beijing attractions such as Beijing National Stadium and Yonghe Temple. One of the most entertaining experiences was watching Na Da Ding’s Mime and Improv Comedy, which I would recommend to anyone visiting Beijing. After spending a summer together, we all became great friends and formed a tight bond. Saying goodbye to everyone was extremely difficult, but I guess the only comfort we got was knowing for sure that we will meet again in the future.
Traveling within and outside Beijing was also incredibly fun. Other than the traditional Beijing attractions I visited (Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Beihai Park, Wudaokou, Wangfujing, 798 Art Zone, Nanluoguxiang, Houhai, Chuandixia Village etc.), I also went to Inner Mongolia. I especially loved riding horses, driving go-karts, and admiring the beautiful landscapes and scenery.
All in all, I am very thankful for all the opportunities offered throughout this unique working experience. It has forever changed me as a person and shaped my future career plans. It has also given me ample exposure to rule of law, human rights and development. I am forever grateful for this internship of a lifetime.