JAMAICANS are an endangered species at the UN Secretariat housed in New York in the United States.
Of the roughly 43,000 people employed there, only 136 are Jamaican. Of that number, only 28 fall within the professional category, with "very few" in senior-level posts.
"Jamaicans, therefore, remain underrepresented at the senior levels within the United Nations. Further, as at June 30, 2013 Jamaica's representation status across the board was classified as being at risk of being underrepresented," permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ambassador Paul Robotham told a small group of journalists at the ministry's Dominica Drive offices in Kingston yesterday morning.
What's worse is that the UN said the country could become unrepresented all together if immediate action was not taken. The situation is equally dire in the region, with Antigua & Barbuda as well as St Lucia being unrepresented; and Trinidad having 10 nationals serving.
That's why Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources Management at the Secretariat, Catherine Pollard has accompanied her Outreach Unit on a week-long visit to the Caribbean to raise awareness among tertiary level students and young to mid-career professionals about the opportunities that exist in the international civil service organisation. Among their specific objectives is to familiarise people with the UN's job application process and its recruitment system.
The unit hosts between six and nine outreach events a year, but it's the first ever intervention in the Caribbean and it holds special significance to Pollard, who is Guyanese.
"I am the most recent of a long line of distinguished Caribbean nationals who have served the UN system and I'd certainly hate for it to end with me," she told.
"We are here to raise awareness of how important it is for Caribbean nationals to be part of the United Nations and to be able to enter the United Nations and make a career there," she said, adding that the occasion was "particularly poignant and joyful" for her as a Caribbean national and a graduate of the University of the West Indies.
"I think of myself as living proof that it can be done," Pollard said.
Last year, according to the Secretary General's report for 2012, Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago were all "within range", but as Human Resources Officer Lynne Goldberg explained, the status can change every year according to a number of variables that include financial contribution and retirement.
Also in 2012, Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines were underrepresented, while Saint Lucia, Grenada were unrepresented.
The report explains that the representation of member states falls into four groups: unrepresented; underrepresented; within range; and overrepresented. A member state is considered "unrepresented" when not a single one of its nationals, after having gone through the established selection process, is serving in a post subject to geographical distribution. It is "underrepresented" when the number of its nationals appointed to such posts is below the lower limit of the desirable range; it is "within range" when the number of its nationals appointed to such posts is between the upper and lower limits of the desirable range; and it is "overrepresented" when the number of its
nationals appointed to such posts exceeds the upper limit of the desirable range. Jamaica's range is between two and 14.
The categories refer to posts funded by the UN's regular budget and do not include those of specialised agencies, nor field, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
Explaining the low numbers in the region, Pollard said they were a result of a general lack of awareness about the UN system among the region's people, a failure to meet certain prerequisites, as well as staff changes.
"A lot of Caribbean nationals have retired over the years, but other Caribbean nationals have not joined the organisation, which is why, at this point the countries are in danger of being unrepresented," the assistant secretary general said.
Ambassador Robotham added that people sometimes automatically disqualify themselves because they feel that they don't have the profile that fits the UN criteria. He warned against that.
The team said the UN needs "very many specialised skills in every conceivable profession", including engineers, statisticians and mathematicians.
The awareness building activities will include demonstrations on how to prepare an effective application and how to prepare for competency-based interviews. They will be conducted at the University of Technology and the University of the West Indies.
The mission, Pollard conceded, is a first step that will not yield results overnight.
"There are no silver bullets. We won't see the results overnight, but the first step is to reach out to everyone so that people are aware so that the openings for the future, they will be good candidates.
"I think it's very important that we build the pipeline of people to come through it so that the next generation continues to carry the torch," she said.
The team will travel to Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago upon leaving Jamaica.