WHO IS CLAIRE HAJAJ?
Claire Hajaj is an independent political analyst and writer who over the course of her career has produced recommendations for G20 responses to the Arab Spring, the UN’s first integrated strategy for Iraq, and advised the UN on a five-year plan for development and peace consolidation in Kosovo. She has also worked as a journalist, and a public affairs consultant.
Hajaj walked into the development world right after 9/11, when she seized an opportunity to make a dramatic change in her life and flew from London, where she worked in the entertainment industry, to New York, where she had wangled a secretarial job at the United Nations. Although she had been told it would be impossible to move from that position to something with more responsibility (and that better leveraged her experience), she eventually managed to do just that, and successfully launched a new career.
She says, “This is something that I tell people looking to get into the UN – you have to bring something to the table that shows real experience. The UN is a world unto itself. If you try to get in with just a degree, you’re competing against thousands and thousands of people. But if you bring real experience and skills, you have a much better chance. You need to have something to offer.
“Development is a word like ‘love’ – much used but rarely understood. We’re still arguing about what it is. We’re still arguing about what constitutes doing it well. You need to ask what value you will add to that incredibly challenging discussion. You need to show up with a practical and transferrable skill. Its also worth thinking about how you can contribute to your own community – in your own country. Before you try to take those skills elsewhere.”
You can follow Claire here:
IN TOR 001 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Hajij’s uplifting story of living between conflict since birth, her early realizations of helping advance world peace, how it seemed like her childhood dreams were coming through as she stepped into the UN headquarters in New York, and the things that still move her.
- Her anecdotes of struggle and ingenuity in Nigeria, Myanmar and a half dozen other countries, the value of having skills available to people, and the belief that it is possible to reach anyone.
- How her thoughts and ideals have evolved but optimism and innocence are still not lost on her, despite living through difficult and complex situations, such as post 9\11 UN Security Council, and her newfound empathy towards children, now that she is a mother.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- United Nations
- UN Security Council
- Intercultural tension
- PR and Media
- Pristina, Kosovo
- New York
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
“I took the long and winding road“
“The needle was always pointing to the north“. She knew she’d be involved in some form of peace building. “My parents are from warring cultures“
Jewish mother, her father is a Palestinian muslim
She did not live wars, but inside two countries in war. Kuwait. All of her life she witnessed displacement, families broken, tensions, spillover effect.” I always wanted to contribute in some way to end that“
’01 UN HQ. Right after 9\11. “NY was still grieving. International development would never be the same again“. Fresh out of the music industry. For years she was looking for ways into development
Hajaj walks in. It was like a childhood dream was made real. “Everyone should have that experience at least once“. There were people from all places speaking in many languages. “I did not know about the challenges, the distance between ideals and reality, but it did not matter. It was an extraordinary moment, even to this day”
Egos in the Security Council are not far from those you find in the music business
“A serendipitous bit of luck“. An acquaintance was leaving a job for the UN Security Council, the skill set and pay mix was very specific. She did a phone interview, a job as a secretary opened
Information Coordinator for the Terrorism Committee
10 year UN career
“If you enter as a secretary, you will stay a secretary“
She met a contact that knew her before the UN. “There are 20 year olds with international affairs backgrounds having trouble getting in, but if you are in your 30s with a great public or media relations background, you have something to offer“
The contact pegged her to UNICEF
“Now I’m in Kosovo“
After Pakistan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Indonesia, Jordan, Iraq. “So many adventures“
Her field work occurred post 9\11, post Afghanistan war, post Iraq invasion. Was in the Security Council when Colin Powell was making the case. “Palpable, impending doom and sorrow“. The invasion would end some of the lives present
In Nigeria, she was completely disconnected. Radio was the only medium. People ranted at her: “You are killing around the world and we’re supposed to believe you are here to bring vaccines? You must think we’re stupid!” She desperately needed to connect
The ingenuity of the private sector can easily get lost in development
Myanmar. Very authoritarian government. Traveling across the country required permission from the Defense Minister. Itineraries were reviewed. She had to reach lots of people within 3 days, which was hard to understand for officials who always seem to make people do whatever they want. But people were afraid. She could not talk to leaders but under military supervision, and was outright forbidden to talk directly to locals
She met doctors and nurses, they showed her pictures and that was it. The only way she knew how to talk to people was through “an acute attack of diarrhea“. This way she could have quick talks with families, and check up on children. Finally, she healed. The military was actually amused, her strategy would not get them in trouble
“You can be authoritative but you cannot tell a woman she can’t go to the bathroom“
Now a single mother
“I had not come with a desire to save the world. It does not deserve saving. I wanted to feel part of the world’s history. I didn’t necessarily love kids“
It was about the game, the challenge, up until her early 30s
She started to feel deeply moved by children. In a Nigerian village, the cleanest place of all was where school girls did their homework
“I did not start to feel furious about what happens to kids until I had my own“. Ever since there was a lot of sympathy for injustice towards children
Emotional twist, a vulnerability that needs to be addressed “I’m not sure that makes me better at my job“
“Friends ask me advice for their children coming out of school, interested in development, as if there was a formula that you plug into a computer and out the other end comes development professionals. Perhaps there is, I certainly haven’t found it”
Start in the field. Begin where you are. Skill up in another area
JFK’s Don’t ask your country… applies to development
Energy, check. Enthusiasm, check. What else? Practical transferable skills
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