Why do Countries Invest in Art for the UN but not its Interns?


Last week I visited my brother in Geneva. If you go make sure youvisit the United Nations. Not only will you get to see the grand meeting chambers but also the quietly underappreciated art pushed to the sides of its corridors. These are gifts from various nations with the ceiling of one chamber being a piece of art from Spain. This gift cost Spanish taxpayers 20 million euros.

You may have heard of David Hyde, the 22-year-old International Relations graduate from New Zealand, who earned a coveted UN internship in Geneva. The reason he’s in the press is because he was discovered to be living in a tent as he could not afford the rent in one of the world’s most expensive cities as UN internships are unpaid.

As an arts graduate I appreciate the importance of art and positive gestures in fostering good relationships but I can’t help thinking that investing in people is often far better than investing in things and Spain’s 20 million euro gift could have been put towards a UN intern fund. All the other countless gifts spanning the UN campus could have been used to inspire and equip young people rather than gathering dust. At present, as David Hyde has alluded to, only those with wealthy parents can sponsor their children to do the six month internships. International diplomacy should not just be for the wealthy. As a graduate of International Public Policy myself I would have loved to have interned at the United Nations but know I could never have afforded it in a million years. Having paid my way through my MSc, the previous summer I also paid my way through unpaid internships in London. At a foreign policy think tank people travelled from all over the world to intern for them, all at their own expense. One girl worked her full-time internship during the week and pulled pints in the evenings and weekends to pay for her living costs. The experience was golden but working all the hours in existence or sleeping in a tent to make it work just isn’t. David Hyde said he could only find internships available, not jobs, and this is a frequent problem for young people.

Mandatory payment for all internships is not a good idea as small charities and public bodies may genuinely not be able to afford it and taking away these opportunities will not help people wishing to seek experience in these sectors. However, the UN, funded by all its member nations, who can clearly afford to donate millions of euros worth of art can afford to put this money in a fund to help people all over the world become immersed in the UN’s work. The UN is an organisation for everyone, all over the world, and a great champion for human rights, especially for the vulnerable, including the young, poor and unemployed. The world has many problems and it is David Hyde’s generation who is inheriting them. People of all backgrounds and nationalities need to be involved in finding solutions and only offering foot-in-the-door opportunities to the wealthy is not engaging the world’s potential. Let’s hope they can find some funding for their interns from somewhere.

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