Tag Archives: UN Refugee Agency

Goodbye to fancy flags and awesome people -Kayla Bruce


My summer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was the most incredible learning experience, and in many ways that I never would have predicted. This summer has deepened my understanding of international humanitarian organizations and the complex setting within which they must function. It has shown me that several of my preexisting criticisms of the U.N. system were superficial, while I developed others as the summer went on. I was truly learning new things every single day in Geneva, and as excited as I am to be headed back to NOLA, I wish I could have stayed a bit longer.

During my last week at UNHCR, I wrote up a list of my internship tasks and accomplishments to review with my supervisor. It was great to have an opportunity to sit down and discuss how my work impacted the office and well as how my time at UNHCR impacted my own learning outcomes. I was proud to see this impact, and there were a few major projects that stuck out in my mind. I think my greatest contribution to the team were the creation of Key Messaging Outlines, something my office has talked about making but never actually had until now (view my last post for a more detailed description of this project). I completed Key Messaging Outlines for Syria, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi, Yemen and Ukraine. Now that the foundation is laid, the team simply has to review their countries’ outlines once a week to make sure they are up to date. I produced an outline template that can be filled out if (alright… when) new crises arise. This project will allow anyone on the team to confidently speak at a press briefing on an issue that may be outside of his or her area of expertise.

Watching my desk neighbor do a French News 24 interview down the hall

Watching my desk neighbor do a French News 24 interview down the hall

I also developed a clear media monitoring outline, a project I have been working on since the beginning of the summer. This required a combination of getting the hang of our media tracking software, doing follow up research on different media outlets, understanding which media sources were priorities, and working with the PI team to develop a format that would be concise and useful on a weekly basis. It was satisfying to see that by the end of my internship, people were checking in with me right after a briefing to ask when I would get the data on their note, anxious to analyze its reach (I had to wait at least 24 hours to start evaluating media pick up). I developed a template for future interns to use and have offered to Skype with a future intern to discuss how I went about the media monitoring process. Other project I worked on included writing interviews, expanding publicity for media pieces, creating country blurbs for a website featuring refugee musicians, and writing a comparative media report to try and convince Angelina Jolie to finally speak on BBC instead of CNN. While there were a few major projects I worked on throughout my ten weeks, every week brought new and different tasks and new opportunities to learn.

One thing major thing I have come to terms with is that if I want to continue in this field I will have to get several years of field experience under my belt. This is not only an important next step in getting hired in this field, but important in understanding how administrative work at head quarters translates to services in the field. While this has always been something I have distantly considered, I’m now aware that I will need to make that decision soon. It will mean a minimum of two years abroad, and ideally three to five. It will mean leaving a lot behind and missing major life events; graduations, weddings, births and deaths. It will also mean spending enough time somewhere to gain a more permanent community, and to deeply understand that culture. It will mean working in direct services and connecting distant planning and fundraising to real people. It will allow me to determine whether this is the right path for me, and if it is, it will allow me to continue along that path. Whichever path I chose, the next few years will be a period of major change for me, and I’m excited for all that lies ahead.


High Commission Guterres welcomes the President of Tanzania to UNHCR headquarters (unfortunately, the red carpet was temporary)


Beautiful performance by a Syrian refugee on World Refugee Day

Sad to leave, but glad to have made such great friends

Sad to leave, but glad to have made such great friends

Key Messaging Outlines for UNHCR -Kayla Bruce

A few weeks ago I started working on a project I feel will truly benefit the Public Information team at UNHCR, as well as myself. Currently, the PI team is set up so that each employee covers the refugee crises/situations in a certain part of the world. These divisions are unequally drawn based on how much conflict is happening in a given part of the world, and therefore how often a UNHCR will want to share information on a topic. For example, one person covers only Syria and Iraq, another covers all of Europe, another covers the horn of Africa, etc. This allows each team member to develop relationships with our people in the field and to understand the UNHCR’s role in each situation on a deeper level. However, it also means that when someone is on leave, on mission, or even out for the day, our coverage of their area of focus can be limited. It is a huge amount of pressure for a spokesperson to speak at a press briefing on a topic with which they are not incredibly familiar, as they could truly be asked anything about it. So, that’s where this project comes in.

I’m working on creating Key Messaging Outlines for all the major refugee situations in the world; essentially Public Information “cheat sheets.” My goal is to compile outlines that will enable any PI team member to present on a given topic and effectively express UNHCR’s perspective on an issue. These one page outlines include background, UNHCR’s key needs/messages, important facts such as numbers and locations of refugees, and funding requirements. Then I have a key documents section that includes recent reports, funding appeals, etc. It also links to the latest UNHCR briefing note on a given situation, which the PI team has said is the most useful key document to have in mind while you’re speaking at a press briefing. It shows how your colleagues presented on an issue, what terminology they used, etc. Finally, I include an infographic map at the end of each document. This helps people to visualize a conflict in the context of its neighboring countries. It often includes which areas are the least stable or where the main refugee camps are located.

CAR map

Refugee map used for the Central African Republic outline

Another goal is to create these documents in a way that can be easily reviewed and updated at the beginning of each week by the spokesperson for that area. The background information is less likely to change. However, we often get updated numbers from the field every week or two. All the key numbers, financial requirements, etc are bold and written so that a spokesperson should be able to simply update the numbers as necessary and essentially leave everything else. I have also made a blank outline that can be easily filled in if a new crisis arises or a minor situation becomes more significant.

I have met with the each spokesperson to discuss key UNHCR messages, which I think has helped accomplish several goals. By meeting with them one on one about their countries, they have also been able to provide input as to how to structure the key messaging outlines in the most useful way, one suggesting to include a map, another suggesting a link to the latest briefing note. This information is valuable because it tells me what will make this a project that the team will actually use when I am gone. It also makes the spokespeople feel more involved in the making of these documents, which I believe will encourage them to actually keep the outlines up to date after I leave. Finally, it has allowed me to work on something one on one with each person on our team. This has been a great opportunity for me to get to know them each better in a professional context.

This project has been a great learning experience for me. I have learned so much about each of these refugee crises, how UNHCR is involved, and more importantly, when the UNHCR should not be involved. There are many sensitivities that UNHCR has to work around in order to serve refugees. Sometimes this means separating the organization from the political discussion around it, and sometimes it doesn’t. I hope that when I check up with UNHCR in a few months, the spokespeople will still be using these outlines to keep the whole team up to date on major issues.

My desk, hidding behind the tree

My desk, hidding behind the tree


The boss, Melissa Fleming, and I


That time I followed the high commissioner around for a day

Getting slapped in the face with UNHCR knowledge -Kayla

I’m in the middle of week five at my internship with UNHCR. As I described it to one of my friends, I feel like I’m getting slapped in the face with knowledge every single day that I am here. I have learned so much about the UN system, humanitarian logistics, and international communications in the past five weeks, and I can’t believe I’m already halfway done.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is the importance of confidentiality and carefully monitoring any and all information put out by the UNHCR. At the beginning of the summer, I would have said that everything about UNHCR should be completely open and transparent. However, being here has allowed me to see how confidentiality and self-censorship within the UN can be vital for the safety of refugees and humanitarian workers in the field. It is incredibly complicated to run an organization across so many countries, and it involves dealing with many conflicting governments, individuals, and cultural norms. Unfortunately, I can’t really provide specific examples because of the exact confidentiality I’m trying to defend. However, as I continue to study international humanitarian work at Tulane, I feel I will better understand decision making in terms of information sharing at the international level.

Though I have had an array of projects in my time here, the ones I have enjoyed most were research based. Not only did I learn more about humanitarian management through these projects, but I also got to improve upon my ability to present information in a clear and concise manner. For example, I was recently asked to come up with talking points for a press briefing on cash assistance programs for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It was interesting for me to learn more about this type of assistance, and in which contexts these programs are feasible. It also gave me a chance to improve my writing and communications skills in presenting the most important information in the most concise way possible.

I am glad to be working in communications because I believe skills in communications and writing will be applicable to all aspect of my academic and professional life. This ranges from my academic writing, to my position with the Tulane Center for Global Education, and even to job applications. I feel incredibly lucky to be here and I’m excited to see what the rest of the summer holds.


Suited up for my first day of work


Ok fine… I actually work NEXT TO the building with all the flags

the hills are alive

Jura Mountains in France with fellow interns