Internship at the United Nations in New York

Sara Mills, MSc International Development: Governance and State Building

Internship impact

“To work for the United Nations is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is recognised as being one of the most highly sought after and competitive internships globally and is highly respected by employers and recruiters from every sector.”


I was delighted to be offered an internship with the United Nations Global Compact. I spent a month of the internship working remotely from London while my visa application was processed and then travelled to work at the UN Headquarters based in New York.

The UN Global Compact is the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative. Through partnering with the private sector it engages companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals. I also worked in dual partnership with the PRI, the world’s leading proponent of responsible investment.

My duties as an intern included:

  • Conducting policy research on sustainable finance and related topics.
  • Drafting and editing publications, papers and other documents.
  • Liaising with United Nations Global Compact and PRI stakeholders on key issues.
  • Supporting the organisation of meetings and events.
  • Assisting with outreach activities.
  • Performing administrative tasks as assigned.

Photo 3 - UN Headquarters 1

What were your main achievements?

  1. I am really proud to have contributed to the publication of the joint United Nations and PRI report titled:  Coping, Shifting, Changing: Strategies for Managing the Impacts of Investor Short-Termism on Corporate Sustainability.
  2. I undertook policy research on US Senators to challenge harmful aspects of the proposed US legislation The Financial Choices Act.
  3. Assisted with two high level events during the 2017 UN General Assembly week, The Private Sector Forum and the UN Global Leader’s Summit.
  4. Assisted with the organisation, logistics and content creation for SSE’s Technical Workshop hosted in Berlin in September 2017.  This roundtable event brought together exchanges, investors, regulators and companies from around the world to discuss closing the sustainability data gap and financing the Sustainable Development Goals.

What did you enjoy the most?

From day one I was treated as a valued member of the team and given a wide range of engaging projects to take ownership of. My team actively sought my input and respected my feedback, whether that was reviewing the final draft of a report or deciding how best to approach a policy issue. Working within a smaller team gave me unprecedented opportunities to interact with senior management and to gain an understanding of the high level objectives of the organisation. My manager gave me the autonomy to manage my own projects while also challenging me to consider new ways of approaching tasks and develop new skills. It was also great to be able to be creative and bring new ideas to the team and these were always met with enthusiasm and support.

As a United Nations intern I was also able to observe debates, assemblies and panels on a range of topics from the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the unfolding escalation in tensions with North Korea to the global advancement of gender equality. This was an amazing opportunity to see first-hand how worldwide issues are tackled on a global scale and is something that will stay with me for the rest of my career.

I also really loved the opportunity to live in and work in New York. It is such an exciting city to explore and over the summer months there were so many great events to enjoy. From free jazz concerts in Central Park, to outdoor Shakespeare productions under Brookyln Bridge to watching the tennis at the US Open, I had an amazing experience and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Photo 5 - Sara Mills Rockefeller Viewing Platform

What were the hardest aspects?

  1. While my previous role at JPMorgan provided me with a solid foundation in investment finance, there were lots of technical aspects of sustainable finance that I had not come across before and I needed to quickly get up to speed on the key concepts, trends and terms used.
  2. The United Nations is a huge organisation with many departments and affiliate organisations. This was a challenge as a newcomer to the organisation trying to navigate the best contact person for different projects but I quickly built up my contacts and developed a strong professional network.

What skills have you developed? 

  1. This role has given me the opportunity to greatly enhance my research skills.  It has developed my ability to provide concise summaries on a range of topics, the ability to research and create a compelling narrative and the ability to structure a range of corporate documents from grant applications to policy proposals to consultation responses.
  2. Another skill I have developed is the ability to work collaboratively across multiple organisations. The United Nations partners with of a range of internal and external private and public sectors organisations and it was great to see first-hand how projects would progress through various rounds of input and discussion and eventually reach a consensus.
  3. Prior to this internship I had not had any exposure to event management. My role gave me the opportunity to contribute to the content creation, logistical support and evaluation of events. 

How do you think your internship will benefit you in the future?

To work for the United Nations is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is recognised as being one of the most highly sought after and competitive internships globally and is highly respected by employers and recruiters from every sector. I am delighted to have now secured a place on the Civil Service Fast Stream and I will begin my new role with Ministry of Defence in November 2017. I am excited to be able to bring the skills I have learnt from working in an international diplomatic environment and apply them to the UK government.

Thank you to donors

All United Nations internships are unpaid and commonly for a minimum duration of three months. Without the generous support of the alumni and donors of my university I would not have been able to financially afford pursuing this opportunity. After four years of rejected applications, being successful for a UN internship was truly a dream come true and I am so grateful to the donors who helped make this dream a reality. I am so proud to be University of Birmingham alumni and to have been awarded two degrees from such a well-respected academic institution. My education has inspired me and given me the confidence to apply for jobs that I never thought possible and I hope to continue to be an ambassador for the university in all that I do.


With grateful thanks to the alumni donors who made the PGT Professional Development Bursary possible. AIF_logo_200x200


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