Thinking of becoming a UNV?

If you’re an American, you may have heard of the Peace Corps and decided it’s not for you. I know I did. I’m not an outdoorsy person willing to live in a very remote location. I don’t want to teach English. And most of all, I already had a career path that I was relatively happy with: I just wanted to apply my skillset in a different sector. Enter the UNV program, short for United Nations Volunteer Program.

What is the UNV program? On paper, the UNV program is an incredible opportunity for professionals to volunteer for anywhere from 3 months to 4 years. Those who sign up for longer stints are placed into a job with the same responsibilities as any other staff member in a comparable job. While placements are mostly in developing country offices of UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, and WFP, international conditions of service are pretty generous (2500 USD per month+ allowances for dependents), with health insurance, transportation to and from the country of assignment covered. In the end, most people find that the package more than enough to live off of in a developing country.

Who can volunteer? Any professional above 25, with a minimum of 2 years work experience, who speaks at least one of the UN’s working languages can be a UNV. Nurses, midwives, and doctors are particularly sought after. But in my short time here, I’ve met a number of volunteers, of all ages, and from the four corners of the planet. There are engineers, lawyers, and social workers, security experts, IT people. Basically, all professions are represented.

Who are typical volunteers?
According to the latest annual report, there are over 6000 volunteers. From over 120 countries, the typical field service UNV is about 37 years old with five to 10 years of work experience… North Americans are very underrepresented (about 2% of all participants worldwide). Given many Americans’ aversion to travel, much less living overseas these low number sort of make sense. Our lack of international experience also puts us at a disadvantage since people who have lived or worked abroad are often given a leg up in the process.

Becoming a UNV Most UNVs don’t apply to specific postings. Instead they create a profile detailing their educational background, work experience etc.
When will I be contacted?  I created my profile shortly after my 25th birthday. I was called for an interview within 6 months, but didn’t get an offer. However, I diligently updated my profile each time I changed jobs and was called back almost 3 years later.


Are UNVs paid? Yes they are! Then what makes it volunteering? UNVs agree to work in a full time position, at a fraction of what the UN would ordinarily pay to staff that position. In agreeing to take a drastic pay cut, the volunteer is recognizing the power that donating foregone income via his labor has. Obviously, the more senior the volunteer, the larger the foregone income will be.

Watch this space for more upcoming information about being a UNV...