World leaders come into the office regularly to discuss ways to implement the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth is accessible on a daily basis. Coworkers, dedicated to global sustainable development, collaborate to promote the same ideals. This is a normal day as a UN intern for Lehigh alumna Sydney Glenn.
“The networking opportunities, the UN badge that gets me into the building, the ability to attend any briefing I choose…. I pinch myself every day,” said Glenn. “I can’t believe the work I’m doing.”
Glenn graduated from Lehigh in 2017 with a bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies and sustainable development and continued her education at Lehigh by earning a master's of science degree in business management this past May.
Fast forward a couple months, and you can find Glenn commuting into Manhattan from her new apartment in Brooklyn.
“My life did a complete 180 from college life and studying for a degree at Lehigh to living on my own and interning at the UN headquarters,” said Glenn, an Administrative Intern for the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake.
Wickramanayake, of Sri Lanka,was selected in a global search by Secretary General Antonio Guterres in 2017 to be the second Envoy on Youth. According to the website of the Secretary General, the Envoy is tasked with expanding “the UN’s youth engagement and advocacy efforts across all four pillars of work – sustainable development, human rights, peace and security and humanitarian action – and serves as a representative of and advisor to the Secretary-General.”
The Envoy acts as the global voice of youth, working to address issues and concerns facing today’s youth and connecting them to avenues of participation in the United Nations.
The networking opportunities, the UN badge that gets me into the building, the ability to attend any briefing I choose…. I pinch myself every day
Glenn credits the robust and dynamic Lehigh-UN Partnership that she actively participated in as an undergraduate as key preparation for the position she landed. Visits to UN headquarters encouraged Glenn to speak to world leaders.
An Orientation Leader for two years and an Orientation Coordinator for one, Glenn attributes her ability to handle logistical and communication work under “pressure and high stress environments” to those positions with the Office of First Year Experience at Lehigh.
In her fast-paced internship, Glenn, fueled by her passion for sustainable development, operates alongside the individuals working to make the United Nations 2030 Agenda come to life.
“I knew from studying sustainable development and learning about the SDGs that I wanted to be at the UN to help with any type of work related to implementing these SDGs,” said Glenn.
Her position at the Envoy on Youth office provides a unique lens to the challenges of making these goals a reality and how to affect change globally.
“What the Envoy on Youth does is advocate for youth all across the world in a way that relates everything back to the SDGs,” said Glenn. “I love going to work and being around people who are passionate about sustainable development, just as I am.”
When asked how she initially got involved at the United Nations, Glenn recalled that she was first contacted by the former Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea.
“He reached out to me to discuss some of the world’s most pressing challenges to sustainable development, and afterwards, we met individually. I then invited him to speak at Lehigh, and facilitated a relationship between the university and the ambassador,” said Glenn.
From there, Glenn worked on a project with the ambassador, focusing on empowering women and young girls who live in countries where education is discouraged.
“That experience just opened the door to what is possible at the UN,” said Glenn. “I wasn’t sure what kind of internship I wanted, but knew I was passionate about sustainable development and youth related issues. I heard of an opening at the Envoy’s office and jumped on it.”
Now on a given day, Glenn might be drafting emails, speeches, or writing letters to high level individuals. She helps with travel logistics for the Envoy when attending official UN missions and manages the Envoy’s email account.
And then, of course, there is the occasional game of pickup basketball Glenn coordinates with her office. She proudly reported that she even played one-on-one with the Envoy.
“This job can be a little bit magical,” said Glenn.
Lately, Glenn says, she has been helping with the Young Leaders Program, which is convened by the Envoy on Youth. The title of “Young Leader” is awarded to 17 individuals in the world, each serving as a representative of their designated SDG. These leaders, between the ages of 18 and 30, have a history of creating a platform to advocate for the SDG they wish to represent.
With nearly 10,000 applicants worldwide, the office needs all hands on deck.
“Going through these applications is very inspiring – and demanding,” said Glenn. “It just sheds light on what young people around the world are doing to help implement the UN’S SDGs, and what kind of work is possible despite the challenges people face in different countries.”
As for her own application, Glenn called the internship process competitive but touted the partnership program’s impact on her success thus far.
“I was able to receive recommendation letters from both the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea and Dr. Bill Hunter,” said Glenn. “The partnership program opened up so many doors for me. Everyone should be taking advantage of the program and the ability to interact with high profile individuals.”
Glenn discussed the significant influence of Mark Orrs, director of Lehigh's Sustainable Development Program, who first introduced her to sustainable development, and Todd Watkins, Arthur F. Searing Professor of Economics at Lehigh and the leader of the entrepreneurship and microfinance programs. She refers to those men as two of her “strongest supporters and mentors.”
She went on to highlight Hunter’s role in her success thus far.
“If I didn’t have Bill Hunter there to say, ‘go up and say hi’ to important officials, I would’ve never had the courage to do so,” said Glenn. “Now here I am - I interact with the Envoy every single day.”
While this internship ends in December, Glenn is actively looking for her next opportunity – with some ideas in mind for her long term future, too.
“My long term goal is to be a global leader in corporate sustainability,” said Glenn. “That’s why I got my masters in business management. I’ve always had that feeling, and still do, where I want to make an impact. I want to work for an international corporation to help implement their sustainability strategy, whether they already have one or not. I believe that’s where I can have the largest impact.”