UN Today logo

The official magazine of United Nations
international civil servants in Geneva

The official magazine of United Nations international civil servants
in Geneva

After 20 years I lost my job at the UN, now I am a consultant
After 20 years I lost my job at the UN, now I am a Consultant
1 Feb 2021
After 20 years I lost my job at the UN, now I am a Consultant
1 Feb 2021

What is like to lose your job after 20 years on a permanent contract? A colleague, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells us his journey.

I had a permanent position in one of the most respected UN specialized scientific organizations. After an internal restructuring exercise, I lost my job from one day to another. I faced financial problems made all the worse by the cost of living in Geneva. 

But the nightmare was only just starting 

With a family to sustain, I had to find solutions quickly. The pandemic situation made it more difficult. However, I didn’t give up. I became a UN consultant, hoping for it to be temporary until I could find a more suitable solution.

I can’t say I disliked it. In fact I have embraced this new opportunity because it is also a wonderful opportunity. It has made me understand all the efforts, the difficulties, the hard work and dedication this type of position is exposed to. I have been able to live both sides of the coin, first as a permanent staff and now as an external specialist. At least I did not lose my dignity in working. 

Of course this is something my same organization could have offered me as an alternative from the start, instead of just cutting my contract from one day to the next. The money seems there and it can just be spent in a different way. The same tasks I was doing did not stop, neither did they stop me, and as a consultant I could have continued to help them.

I ask you to please consider consultants as you do your own staff. They perform a task which, at the end, will essentially benefit the achievement of any Sustainable Development Goals. In fact this is why most of the time agencies recruit them, to fulfil an expertise they need or are missing in their relevant environment. 

Nowadays UN agencies rely more and more on consultants

It is an emerging workforce. Just look at the different vacancies on-line on each organization’s job portal. It has become part of the new job economy and it is predicted that in ten years we will all be or become consultants working from home. 

The COVID-19 pandemic situation has increased the need to get consultants on board and to deliver projects quickly. So, on the positive side, Coronavirus is creating new opportunities and priorities for consultants. 

Are consultants trusted less because of social distancing? It’s much tougher to go beyond the people you already knew before lockdown. Consultants need to show that they have not only been given recommendations but have been involved in the ‘production of outcomes’ in the past. Most of the time these consultants eventually become staff members, at least who succeed in their work. So I would not just treat them as an external workforce.

Of course my day is now different as a consultant, even more complicated than before as I feel completely on my own during the lockdown. I don’t sleep more than five hours every day and have very limited contact with colleagues. Some days I work until my body hurts and my hands shake.

Things constantly change, and there is always a new thing to be done – dealing with different issues and different people is also one of the advantages and drawbacks of consulting. But at the end of my uninterrupted 14 hours of daily work, I feel satisfied that my work and accomplishments will contribute, together with those of staff directly or indirectly to the success of our big UN family.

I also hope that one day this consultant caterpillar will turn into a beautiful official staff member butterfly. Times are difficult at the moment, economically and because of how Covid-19 has impacted the social aspect of work. But this won’t last forever. So to all consultants and UN staff out there: “Where there’s a will there’s a way!”

* Ian Richards is an Economist at UNCTAD and a UNOG staff representative.
Read more articles about Inside view | Vu de l'intérieur
Read more articles about Inside view | Vu de l'intérieur