United Nations Association of Australia Young Professionals Network Conference (October 26/27)

Close to 150 young Australians descended on Sydney to address issues of human rights, humanitarian relief and international peace at the inaugural United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) Young Professionals Network National Conference.

The UNAA Young Professionals Network is a newly founded and expanding chapter of the UNAA that aims to help every young Australian understand the positive role the UN and UNAA play in our worldwide community. The National Conference sought to recruit and inspire these delegates to lead, promote and foster the UNAA Young Professional network in every Australian state and territory.

Keeping relevant

The UNAA Young Professionals Network was initiated in 2011. The Hon. Robert Hill welcomed the creation of the UNAA Young Professionals Network, saying that if the UN wants to remain relevant, it must adapt to change. The UNAA is doing exactly that, with both the introduction of the Young Professionals Network, and most recently the conference.

The progressive mindset of the executive team is impressive. Elisabeth Shaw, the Executive Director of UNAA, encouraged the delegates to seek out opportunities to act on the challenges and ideas addressed at the conference. Rather than a call to action which championed just the United Nations, she encouraged participants to seek out opportunities with whichever organisation was appropriate. We are moving into an era of increased collaboration – by both individuals and organisations – as we realise that by working together we have the opportunity to harness each of our respective strengths.

From the ground force to the executive suites

Over the course of the two day event over 20 sessions were held. A number of very high-profile guest speakers attended and presented, including Sam McLean, the National Director at GetUp! and the Honourable Michael Kirby. Some of the particularly popular sessions were: Seeking Refuge, Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

1) Seeking refugee

The ABC’s Debbie Whitmont facilitated a session with both individuals that have been refugees themselves and others that have extensive experience supporting refugees. They discussed the precursory circumstances that create refugees and the impacts of this on both individuals and broader society.

  • David Nyuol Vincent
  • Professor Stuart Rees AM, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
  • Ben Farrell, External Relations, UNHCR
  • John Dor Akech Achiek

2) Youth Ambassadors for Development

Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development shared their experience of living and working overseas in developing countries.

  • Kristy Fleming, Information Analyst, UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in Cambodia (AYAD 2004)
  • Prash Murthy, Enterprise Development Officer, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Institute, Philippines (AYAD 2008)
  • Frederic Jeanjean, UN Office of the Resident Coordinator, Laos (AYAD 2009)
  • Ming Yu, Capacity Building Trainer & Advisor, UNDP Mine Action Project, Sri Lanka (AYAD 2005)

3) Corporate Social Responsibility

Julie McKay, Executive Director at UN Women, led a session on Corporate Social Responsibility and encouraged people to share their own experiences and opportunities. Break out groups identified best practices and effective tools for increasing the awareness of and participation in Corporate Social Responsibility activities.

Be courageous, keep it in perspective and be ready for hard work

Elisabeth Shaw summarised the event and left the audience with several themes to consider.

Courage: From individuals that have been refugees to everyday Australians – there’s opportunity for each of us to demonstrate courage by challenging issues in own life.

Perspective: It’s important to put things into perspective. There’s over 40 million refugees around the world and 80% of them are supported by developing countries. It makes the perceived challenges Australia has in terms of refugees seem relatively insignificant.

Hard work: From the youngest presenters to the ‘more fossilised’ (as Kirby described himself), all of the speakers had demonstrated discipline and hard work to make the changes in society which they were seeking.

To connect with the UNAA Young Professionals Network, you can join their Facebook Page and subscribe to The Fetch for future event updates.

About our Ambassador // Caroline McLaren is the Activator at Hub Sydney, which will be Sydney’s largest coworking space when it opens in April 2013.