Ryo Sekiguchi, Associate Programme Management Officer at the Civil Society Unit in the UN Department of Global Communications recently sat down with Aida Ghazaryan (UNSSC Learning Portfolio Manager) to share his experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme. Ryo describes how the programme is starting to help him to think differently and embrace the UN’s new leadership culture.

Aida : Ryo tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as a Junior Professional Officer (JPO) in the UN so far?

Joining the UN two years ago through the Junior Professional Officer Programme was one of the most important turning points in my life. In my role as Associate Programme Management Officer at the Civil Society Unit in the United Nations Department of Global Communications, I plan and execute communications strategies to engage civil society audiences globally. I have led digital outreach initiatives and designed stakeholder engagement opportunities at high-level events to promote COVID-19 response, climate action, gender equality and other UN priorities.

As a student I was always passionate about global communications and development and participated in internships and volunteer initiatives within the UN and for NGOs in Asia and Africa. I started my first job at Dentsu, the top fifth communications company globally. In this role I developed multimedia content and then went on to manage international and national communications campaigns following a promotion. After nearly nine years of working at Dentsu, I started my career at the UN as a JPO.

Aida: Your work in the Civil Society Unit of the Department of Global Communications involves cooperating with a large number of UN staff members, and external stakeholders on a variety on UN related initiatives. How has your experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme helped you become better at what you do?

Ryo: Indeed, my role as a primary UN focal point for civil society involves collaborating with internal partners across the UN system, and with thousands of civil society organizations (CSOs) worldwide. During the UNEL-e programme, I was leading the preparation for the unit’s flagship event — CSO Town Hall with the President of the General Assembly. I worked closely with the Office of the President of the General Assembly (OPGA). Organizing this event seemed enormously challenging from the onset given it was the first event in the General Assembly, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with hundreds of CSO participants. How would we realize the inclusive engagement of CSOs while ensuring safety under the pandemic?

UNEL-e’s transformational leadership module which focusses on relationships, helped me to build strong ties and engage with stakeholders throughout the event preparation and implementation. While designing the event format and the communications, I actively solicited and incorporated ideas from the team and OPGA, ensuring that we co-create the leadership vision promoted in the UN System Leadership Framework. When corresponding with external stakeholders, I employed communications and emotional intelligence skills to identify the true needs of CSOs, and propose alternative solutions. This event achieved active engagement of 150 in-person and some 500 virtual participants from over 75 countries.

Aida: Have you observed the programmes’ impact in your role as a JPO?

Ryo: I think the UNEL-e programme is very relevant for all JPOs especially those in the second or third year of their assignments, and those with certain managerial roles. As a JPO I aspire to become a UN leader and I sometimes felt that the content of this course was designed for JPOs like me. Most of the other course participants were P3-level professionals, which in my opinion is also beneficial for JPOs as we can learn from our closest role models who can bridge the seemingly big gap between us, and our experienced supervisors at P5+ levels.

Further to this, the UNEL-e programme significantly enhanced my internal motivation to be a leader who brings change within the UN. Some UN leaders who are  webinar speakers on the course, shared insights on how they practice  transformational leadership in their work. It is stories like these, and rich peer exchanges that have inspired me to become a transformational leader who inspires positive change in the United Nations. It has only been a few weeks; but I have initiated several concrete steps to change my behavior. I have  started to see the impact on my  relationships with team members and clients.

Aida: Which aspect of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning, did you find most helpful in addressing your areas of development. How has this contributed to your leadership development milestones?

Ryo: I thought all components of UNEL-e programme were really helpful. I especially liked the sessions on emotional intelligence, the peer-to-peer exchange and the 360-degree assessment and coaching. As a communications professional working at headquarters, I routinely manage relations with diverse stakeholders. My unit is composed of eight professionals from eight different nationalities, and my clients include member states, CSOs and UN entities who have different views on the work that we do. Through the emotional intelligence module, I learned ways to recognize my emotions and those of others with the aim of understanding and addressing hidden but relevant needs of other parties. On the 360-degree assessment I appreciated all feedback and found new tips from my supervisors, colleagues, direct reports and internal clients. I had never had the opportunity to receive direct feedback from such diverse evaluators. With advice from the coach, I could identify several specific actions to enhance some of my skills. This would not have been possible without the 360-degree assessment.

Aida: Could you tell us what you found extraordinary about your learning experience on the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme?

Ryo: I found the UNEL-e programme to be innovative both in terms of the structuring and depth of the learning experience. I was always pleasantly surprised by the diverse faculty every week. They included UN practitioners across different duty stations, and other professionals from different  industry segments. This diversity allowed me to acquire new knowledge and skills about transformational leadership. I also found that the course is well structured to ensure that knowledge can be put into practice in the workplace. In my experience, three aspects of the course, namely the online interactive modules, live webinars and coaching sessions, allowed me to first get knowledge through the content, and then to share and practice my learning with peers at live sessions and get support from my coach.

Aida: Have you embraced any new leadership that you learned on the programme? What helped you adopt and put new behaviors into practice in your daily work?

Ryo: Certainly. My newly adopted leadership behaviours include providing future-oriented “feed forward” practices, saying “no” with alternative solutions to hidden needs, pro-active listening and many more. What assisted my application of new behaviours is the coaching sessions. During the first coaching session I was able to identify specific leadership areas and actions by analyzing the 360-degree assessment report with extremely helpful guidance from the coach.  A few weeks between the first and second session, I was encouraged to try, make mistakes and learn through actual applications of the leadership behaviours in my workplace.

I was also honored to be selected for the “UN Emerging Leader Limelight Award” by fellow participants. The prize was a book called “Atomic Habits”. With the help of this book, I’m currently building my new leadership behaviors as lasting habits in my daily work.

Aida: Would you recommend this training programme to other emerging leaders and why?

Ryo: I would strongly recommend the UNEL-e programme to other young and emerging leaders across the UN system and other international organizations. This course brings essential perspectives and knowledge that are required to become a transformational leader. It provides incredibly innovative approaches (diverse content, interaction with peers from across the globe, coaching sessions, etc). In my view, this is thanks to the high quality of the course and materials which UNSSC staff coordinate and prepare. Furthermore, by taking part in this course you get to meet a diverse group of peers and leaders from across the UN system. Given the travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, I truly appreciated the opportunity to have immersed myself in an engaging online learning environment with fellow UN colleagues whom I respect.

Stay tuned for upcoming UNEL-e Spotlight interviews from UN organizations and alumni that benefited from the UNEL-e programme. If you are keen to step up your leadership in the UN, and align your leadership behaviors to the principled and visionary leadership in the UN, we are happy to welcome you to our 2022 edition of the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning (21 Feb - 07 Apr 2022 ). For testimonials from UNEL-e alumni please watch the trailers and testimonials here or search for #UNELE2020#UNELE2021, #UNELEeca across social media.

You are welcome to have a look at the open house webinar recordingpresentation and programme e-book. For any inquiries on UNEL-e and customized programmes for emerging leaders or to reserve a seat on the upcoming editions in 2022, please email leadershipandmanagement@unssc.org.