Meet Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
When did you join the UN (year or time period)?
I joined in April 2000 in East Timor as Associate Legal Officer P2 and as part of the UN Transitional Team
Why you joined the UN?
I was interested in an international career; I studied international law in Paris. The UN was the most prestigious international organization and the idea of saving people and being involved with peace was the perfect fit for me.
What is your main motivation to work in UN peace operations?
UN Peace Operations (PKO) has the same ideals, hopes and ambitions today as it did when I joined 17 years ago. This is to make an impact on the world which is not about money; I am a lawyer and could have gone to the corporate world and have always thought to go back to the private sector, but I am still here. But, like having a child you can not leave the UN behind, you become hooked and you can’t leave this commitment. The concept of a civil servant comes from this feeling, the purpose and goals of this organization. In PKO you see the results of your work immediately. In 2000-2002 I was involved in all the legal instruments to transition the Indonesian province into an independent country – this includes the laws and all integration, which is such important work. After that I went to Afghanistan – and I look back at just these two examples with such pride. Not a tourist, but I did my part. I was involved in the Election of the first female head of state in Liberia, I was there! My contribution is not meaningless; I leave my comfort for places like East Timor and Juba to have purpose.
Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?
My success is related to my family. PKO is a tough environment, whether it is a crisis in the country or I have had a tough day; my family, my sister and parents have helped me move mountains in my personal life. This has helped me get through and see new challenges in a different light. They have been critical. I am a people person and I like to be in contact with people from around the world and at different levels. Knowing the value of all those around me, interacting with others and helping others gives me strength.
Is there anything about working in this field that you did not expect when starting?
Sometimes there is a differential treatment that comes when you’re a woman working in the field. There is this issue of entourage sometimes, particularly because there are many layers within the organization that are unwritten and understanding how to navigate the various layers can be the tough part. Sometimes it seems demotivating and inefficient, but you must remain confident.
What is a typical work day like for you?
I start early and things begin quite early for me, checking emails starting at 7am, I typically work until 8:00pm each day. I spend the first 40 minutes going through all my emails because it is quiet and peaceful. At 8:30am, things get crazy. Usually I have lunch at my desk, this is my preference because I can get a lot of work done. At times my day is meeting centric, but then I focus on the substantive work.
What’s special about working in UN Peace Operations?
You can see the impact of your work almost immediately
What are the most important lessons that you would like to share with anyone interested in pursuing an international development career?
Don’t be intimated, apply! Don’t be misled, no jobs are earmarked for someone – I give my best performance and often I get the job. Lead with a nurturing hand, this is the power of a woman in her career.
Why did you choose to work for PKO?
There is a military, police and civilian combination and interaction. This integration is what I like, we are solutions providers in a complex environment. PKO is teat of your character and you grow in this environment.
We know that many of our followers would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with the organization. Do you have any good tips to share?
Work on your PHP, check Vacancies, get on rosters and become a United Nations Volunteer (UNV).
What is your core mandate/mission?
Chief of staff – take care of all issues and problems from staff, security and conduct so that the Head of mission can carry out the mandate of the mission.
Can you share with us a story or personal experience of how your work made a difference for the people of the country in which you are working?
My impact now is to support the institutional relationship between the African union and the United Nations and I see that it has been impacted. My role is essentially a conduit for HQ to deal with the African Union and any issues. My office brings these two entities together.