A Day in the Life of a Junior Professional Officer at UN Women

An interview with Miriam Modalal, Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.

by Nicole Winchell, February 9, 2023
Junior Professional Officer at UN Women

Tell us about your background, what led you to pursue a career as a Junior Professional Officer? 

I hold a German diploma/ equivalent to MSc in psychology from the University of Marburg, Germany with a focus on social psychology and peace and conflict studies. A Postgraduate Coaching Diploma from the University of Cambridge. Specializations as a Peace and Conflict Consultant (Academy of Conflict Transformation, Germany), Trauma Counselor (Institute for Trauma Treatment, Germany), Candidate for Certification as Trainer for Nonviolent Communication (Centre for NVC, USA).

I’ve been led by the idea that there is an actual possibility for world peace, that violent conflicts are transformable, trauma is healable, and peace can be a reality. This idea of course is rooted in my upbringing and biographical background, including my German socialization which taught me the principle of solidarity in society. Several encounters during my life, particularly working with and learning from survivors of violence, have manifested this idea further.

My motivation to work for UN Women stems from my alignment with its feminist vision. In its core, this is to overcome patriarchal systems of oppression where every women and girl can live a life free of violence and can pursue their full potential. A world where everyone gets to enjoy the same human rights. I also resonate with UN Women’s mission to use its privileged position between women rights defenders, feminist civil society organizations and movements on the one hand side, and governments, policy makers, decision makers on the other to advocate for feminist values, justice and peace. I am eager to contribute to the work.

The JPO program has diverse roles with a number of international organizations, can you tell us a little more about your specific position and the mission of your work?

In my role as Portfolio Manager at the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, I oversee the grant making process for 23 women’s rights organizations in the Asia and Pacific region. The grant volume is about 10.9 Mio US Dollar. As portfolio manager, I fulfill a number of oversight functions. These include programme management, financial and operational oversight, report reviews and approvals, close accompaniment of the partner’s implementation cycle including quarterly missions to the project sights, M&E, communications and knowledge management.

What does a “normal” day at the office look like for you? 

A typical day might start with me screening my emails and then having a call with one of the partner organizations in Fiji to hear how the implementation is kicking off and how their work on finalizing their indicators is progressing. I’d then switch gears and work on a review of a knowledge product on feminist movement building and a webinar that I am organizing with my colleague on what crisis and disaster preparedness means for women’s organizations. Then I might end the day with a call with my team to coordinate work around our next call for proposals to give grants to women’s organizations around the globe that aim to end violence against women and girls.

Alright, time for some insider advice. What are three pieces of advice that would you give those considering a similar career path? 

It helps to ask your colleagues when you have questions. Don’t think you are not important enough to knock the door of seniors. It is crucial for any organization that everyone is able to carry out their tasks efficiently and conscientiously. The UN has a great interest in empowering youth and junior staff. Having this in mind, you as a junior can contribute to an empowered work culture by being present. I personally have experienced that my engagement was welcome by my seniors. I started my JPO remotely during Covid so seniority levels somehow felt more fluid, perhaps since camera zoomed into the private houses of all staff, while in the office it may be more difficult to overcome physical boundaries.

Another piece of advice I would give is to prioritize learning despite heavy workloads. What I find helpful is not to schedule calls on Fridays to read policy briefs and background information. I also try to remember the 80/20 rule. Oftentimes, you achieve a satisfying result in 80% of time. And instead of wasting another 20% for getting it to perfection, use the remaining time to invest in your knowledge and skills set. In the end, it is also to a certain extend in our hand to prioritize our own learning and growth.

For those that are applying, what should they expect if they get a JPO position? 

  • At the UN, you work in multinational teams which is very special as you will be exposed to different perspectives and ways of working. Strong team orientation is key to success and it is rewarding to pull these world challenges together!
  • Expect that you will sharpen your skills to handle high-intensity workloads and competing tasks, getting to fast deliveries through prioritizing, planning, keeping oversight while maintaining attention to detail.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years time? 

I continue seeing myself in the field of diplomacy, peacebuilding and international cooperation, always applying a feminist, inclusive and trauma-informed lens. I can’t tell whether this is at the UN Trust Fund since contractual conditions at the UN are not as secured anymore as they used to be, but I am sure I will remain committed to the cause.


Are you interested in becoming a Junior Professional Officer? The Bundesagentur für Arbeit currently has 35 JPO positions in more than 20 different international organizations! Learn more and apply here.