What a work day is like – so far

A few of you have asked what my work day here at the UN is like. So, for those interested:

I have a driver that takes me to the office every day, something my host, an American that’s lived here for many years, so generously arranged. I don’t think he’s an official taxi, but he gets the job done. It’s a 5-10 minute drive, or a 40 minute walk. I’m keeping the car for my entire time here to drive me to work, but once it cools off, I’ll start walking home every day.

I try to get to the UN offices a few minutes before 9 a.m. To me, that’s a really late start to the work day – at home, I often start before 8! Because of the time difference with the West, you get much more out of your day here in Kyiv at the UN HQ, in terms of being able to connect with people outside the country, if you work later rather than earlier. Because of that late start to the day, I can do a lot from home before I come into the office:  check my personal email and other personal communications, then my own professional email for my consulting, etc. I also check my UN email before I come in, to see if there is anything urgent, but I don’t reply to anything, unless it’s urgent, until I’m in the office. I prohibit myself from personal social media activities at work. I’ll post work-related items to my Facebook page and a bit to Twitter – and reading those is a good way to be most up-to-date on what I’m working on – but anything fun has to happen outside of work hours (some things do sneak in over lunch here).

I share my office with the UN communications manager, who is from Ukraine. I go through several tasks as soon as I plug in and start up my computer to catch me up-to-speed for the day:

First, I read ReliefWeb’s updates from various resources about Ukraine. Sources are from all over the spectrum: from the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia Today, Amnesty International, UNICEF, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Guardian (in the UK) and more. This let’s me know what my colleagues are going to be dealing with most urgently, what the press or donors might be calling about, etc. I don’t have to deal with the press or donors, but I’ve got to be ready to help my colleagues do so. My colleagues can’t wait for me to get up-to-speed in a meeting – I’ve got to come into the meeting with a basic understanding of current happenings. This is how I do it.

Then I glance through the tweets of everyone on my Twitter list for Ukraine. This further educates me about what’s “hot” in the country right now, particularly regarding political opinion, something that’s vital to know, as public opinion influences government and donors. Again, my colleagues can’t wait for me to catch up in meetings – I’ve got to come in already understanding ever-changing contexts.

I also look at some Twitter feeds specifically, in the morning and afternoon:
@UN_Ukraine (my office mate manages this account)
@UNDPUkraine (manager of this is just down the hall)
UNICEF_UA
and I do a search on OCHA Ukraine (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to see what comes up. This keeps me up-to-date on what all the various UN offices are doing, in terms of communication and public programs. I’m here for just two months, and there’s no time for weekly meetings – this is how I stay up-to-speed on what’s going on so I can make appropriate recommendations regarding communication, especially in reports to donors.

And amid all this, or after it, I work on various projects: writing something, editing something, researching something, meeting with someone – as directed/needed by colleagues. I never know when a project or meeting will demand my attention until just a few minutes before it arrives, usually. I always makes sure that I have a project to work on in-between the sudden spurts of urgent things to do – I’ll create one if I have to. That’s essential in this work, to always be able to look for something to do – not just busy work, but something needed, that will actual help colleagues in some way.

In my first two weeks I’ve:

  • Drafted a very important strategy briefing document (took a LOT of research and rewrites and meetings)
  • Drafted a Twitter guide to help ramp up and evolve Twitter activities by UN offices here (also took a LOT of research), and bugged my communications colleagues with “try this” emails regarding immediate adjustments to make re: social media.
  • Advised on an app to help citizens report infrastructure issues to the government
  • Researched whether or not our offices might need a policy re: editing Wikipedia (such editing is easily monitored by citizen activists and even some hostile “bodies”, and conflict of interest editing can turn into a PR nightmare; I doubt anyone is editing Wikipedia from the office, but this is a VERY tech savvy country – I’m trying to think preventatively).
  • Had various ideas bounced off of me by the communications staff here for various events, announcements, activities, etc.
  • Participated in various meetings, mostly about coordination of humanitarian and aid programs.
  • Asked a lot of questions, listened, taken a lot of notes, listened to drafts of speeches, read lots and lots of information so I can write about various topics when called upon, read and responded to a lot of emails…

Unlike Afghanistan, I have complete freedom of movement here, there’s consistent electricity, everyone has a smart phone (not just a cell phone), no one has asked me for a bribe, and the country’s most urgent aid and development needs – and they are urgent, and sad, and often horrific – seem so far away… and that makes this experience surreal at times.

The first week, I left every day at 6, but this week, I’m leaving at 6:30, and next week, who knows, perhaps I’ll stay even later. The car is waiting for me and takes me home, and my work day is done – though I admit to checking work mail one more time before bed, and responding as needed.

That’s how my days have gone my first two weeks here. The glamourous life if aid and development work…

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