There are a number of leaderships skills and competencies that are considered important if you want to become a better leader. Whether it is learning how to communicate efficiently, or learning decision-making skills, one must always challenge themselves to lead effectively and make a meaningful contribution. In our latest UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning (UNEL-e) spotlight interview Aida Ghazaryan (UNSSC Learning Portfolio Manager) speaks to Aida Zecevic (Head of Counter-Trafficking and Protection Unit at the International Organization for Migration), who tells us more about taking up the challenge and gaining new insights on her transformative learning journey on the UNEL-e programme.

Aida: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey at the United Nations.

Aida: I joined the United Nations over two decades ago in my native Bosnia and Herzegovina. I started my career during the Bosnian war where I worked as  a language assistant for the United Nations Military Police within the UN Protection Forces. These were the years that shaped my life and my career. I was on the road a lot. My role involved escorting aid convoys, accompanying engineers who were demining the roads, patrolling the lines of separation, and visiting remote villages and police stations. Since then, I have held different positions in several duty stations, but my work has always had a focus on assisting vulnerable mobile populations. This focus steered me towards IOM where I found my home and calling. Now, I lead the Counter-Trafficking and Protection Unit at the IOM in Washington.

Aida:  In your opinion how does the new UN leadership culture    support your efforts to lead better as a National Programme Officer?  How do you see your role as a leader after attending the UNEL-e?

Aida: At IOM, over 90 percent of our global workforce is made up of national staff. I meet and talk to many of them on daily basis and I am always fascinated by their dedication, knowledge, and resourcefulness. I see them as leaders   who are able to contribute to our work regardless of their grade or terms of reference. The new UN leadership culture which is enshrined in the UN System Leadership Framework has been particularly useful because it reinforces some of the important values and principles that my colleagues already embody. . It is an important reminder that we are all called to lead and inspire our teams to do the same.  The UNEL-e experience helped me to better articulate the new UN leadership culture.   It brought together so many impressive peers and presenters who shared valuable experiences about the need to commit to the inclusive, transformational, and self-applied leadership that is based on the norms and principles that are enshrined in the UN Charter. 

As a leader, I have a renewed pride about serving in the United Nations at a time when the 2030 Agenda is being implemented. For me this course was an amazing confidence booster and a networking opportunity. It also helped me reflect on my goals through a more strategic and long-term lens. In a way, it allowed me to step back, reflect and look forward.

"The UNEL-e experience helped me to better articulate the new UN leadership culture. It brought together so many impressive peers and presenters who shared valuable experiences."

Aida: When the UNEL-e training started, you mentioned your desire to be better equipped to represent the United Nations as a whole instead of having a team, thematic or organizational focus. How has the programme helped you get closer to this goal?

Aida: I had some doubts about whether I should apply for the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning experience. I did not know what to expect and whether I would be a good fit given that I have been with one organization for a long time. My work also focusses on a specialized area.

The UN System Staff College experts, the presenters and my peers made me feel welcome from day one. The entire course promoted a sense of belonging. Participants are encouraged to think bigger and focus on the work of the United Nations as a whole.

At times, the sessions felt like very immersive team building experiences that featured practical and engaging exercises. For example, I enjoyed the session with the newly appointed Resident Coordinators who spoke about the obstacles that they face and the opportunities that exist when    representing the entire organization and not a single agency. 

The UNEL-e experience also helped me to get a sense of how the people we serve a) see the organization and b) contribute to its mandate and mission. The people we serve seldom distinguish between the agencies. In every interaction with them, we represent the entire UN. I found the lessons and interaction valuable for my work going forward.

"The entire course promoted a sense of belonging. Participants are encouraged to think  bigger and focus on the work of the United Nations as a whole."

Aida: How has the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning programme contributed to your journey as a female leader?

Aida: The UNEL-e gave me great exposure to other women leaders who face difficult challenges when it comes to   balancing their family obligations and careers. Every session made it clear that inclusion is important in the UN family and that we   can support each other to succeed.  I was particularly inspired by the women leaders who called on   us as emerging leaders to find our own voices, and career paths. I learned that UN leadership is not about linear corporate ladders. It allows each of us to factor in our experiences, commitment, and passion to serve.

"The UNEL-e gave me great exposure to other women leaders who face difficult challenges when it comes to balancing their family obligations and careers. Every session made it clear that inclusion is important in the UN family and that we can support each other to succeed."

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

Aida: The programme was genuinely immersive and somewhat of a road to self-discovery and self-awareness. The most memorable lessons were the ones on finding ways to unlock the potential and talent of those we work with. I also enjoyed the discussions on leading negotiations. It was truly eye-opening and interesting to see   how tiny changes in our daily behaviour and approaches can make a difference in the way we bring out the best in our team members, and win over contrarians. I also appreciate how the course was designed to include   smooth transitions from overarching high-level concepts and frameworks to hands-on and practical exercises and tips. For example, I am now dedicating time to journaling at the end of every workday. This minor time investment has proven crucial in building up plans and strategies and organizing my thoughts as well as following up with co-workers and stakeholders.

"It was truly eye-opening and interesting to see how tiny changes in our daily behaviour and approaches can make a difference in the way we bring the best out in our team members."

Aida: The UNEL-e cohort that you were part of was one of the largest in the history of the programme.  What was your experience of engaging with different peers from across the UN system?

Aida: At the beginning of the course, I expected the very limited interaction that is often associated with virtual courses. I also thought I would only get to know a handful of participants. Somehow the Programmatic Team managed to organize work groups and peer consultations in a way that allowed me to meet many participants who left a lasting impression on me.

One of the presenters highlighted that leadership can be overwhelming and lonely if we do not reach out to our peers for help and support. I valued my interaction with the peers. It further demonstrated that peers can be    a good source of guidance, wisdom, and companionship whether they are from your agency or other agencies, or whether you meet them in person or virtually.

"Peers can be a good source of guidance, wisdom, and companionship whether they are from your agency or other agencies."

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

Aida: It is easy to get lost in daily tasks and endless to-do lists and forgo opportunities to reflect, meaningfully engage with co-workers and partners, and truly listen and understand their perspective. We do not often have the opportunity to build the trust, confidence and value with our teams.

This training is a must for current and aspiring managers who are at times too busy to lead or are thrown into the complexities of projects and programmes with little or no preparation. It was the first leadership course I ever took and I will remember it for the rest of my career. I have much more to learn, but thanks to this experience I look forward to it with excitement in lieu of trepidation.

"It was the first leadership course I ever took and I will remember it for the rest of my career."

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 behaviours 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 (19 October-1 December, 2022). Should you wish to see the testimonials of our alumni please have a look at the trailersand testimonialshere, the graduation speeches from the last cohort here, read spotlight interviews here or search for#UNELE2020,#UNELE2021, #UNELE2022, #UNELEecaacross social media.

You are welcome to have a look at our latest Open house webinar recordingpresentation and programme e-book. For any inquiries on the upcoming editions and customized programmes for emerging leaders, please email leadershipandmanagement@unssc.org.