Heriot-Watt Student Makes a Difference with United Nations in New York



Abigail Dodds was awarded the Fiona Watson Memorial Prize at her Graduation Ceremony in June 2017 in recognition of her outstanding performance on MA International Business Management & Languages.

As part of the prize, she was given the opportunity to complete an internship with the United Nations in New York and has kindly reflected on the experience for us.

The prize is provided by the Fiona Watson Memorial Fund which was established in memory of Fiona Watson, a Political Adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Sergio Viera de Mello, who was one of 22 peacekeepers tragically killed in the terrorist attack on the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad 2003.

Fiona was a First Class Honours graduate from Heriot-Watt University and an inspirational woman who dedicated her life to helping others. In order to perpetuate her memory, her family and Heriot-Watt University established the Fiona Watson Memorial Fund which grants one exceptional fourth year student the opportunity to undertake an internship at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Read on to find out more about Abigail's expereince as the recipent of this prestigious award.

Reflection by Abigail Dodds: United Nations Internship, New York City

After a competitive application process for the Fiona Watson Memorial Fund, I am honoured to have been selected as the 14th recipient of the prestigious award.                      

As Political Affairs Intern at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York, I was assigned to the Policy and Best Practices Service (PBPS) which comes under the umbrella departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and Field Support (DFS) and is located on the 21st floor of the Secretariat Building in Midtown New York City. Over the course of my internship I was afforded the opportunity to work with several teams within the department, covering an array of significant and challenging issues.

In my first post I worked with the Policy Planning Team where I was given the task of writing 3 reports on the future risks of Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology for peacekeeping. These reports served as background working papers for the Under-Secretary General in his High-Level Committee Programme meetings hosted in Geneva.

I then transitioned to the Child Protection Team where I was involved in the organisation of the Biennial Workshop for Child Protection Advisors. There are 15 Peacekeeping Field missions with a Child Protection mandate therefore I was dealing with a diverse group of feisty characters who I great admired for their efforts in preventing violence against children. This year's Workshop focused on showcasing best practices and the impact of Child Protection, and identifying next steps to implement the Child Protection Policy mission-wide. Going forward, Child Protection Advisors will have additional tools to assist their missions in strengthening the protection of children, who are the most vulnerable in conflicts.

Whilst I worked with the teams in Policy and Best Practices Services, I also managed to attend several side events and conferences which enhanced my understanding of the topics I was dealing with. The first event I was fortunate to attend was titled 'HeForShe Impact 10×10×10 Parity Report Launch' which is a UN Women body which invites people from all over the world to stand together to create a bold, visible force for gender equality.

Their values recognise that gender equality isn't just a women's issue but an issue of human rights. The Impact 10×10×10 targets leaders to take actions in their countries, organisations and beyond. It was a truly inspirational day hearing each leader (Prime Minister of Japan, President of the Republic of Malawi, Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays and Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts, amongst others) share their tangible solutions towards achieving gender equality in our lifetime.  I also was lucky to get a front row seat!

I attended several conferences which helped me immensely with my projects. I attended the conference on 'Countering the Threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)'. My knowledge of IEDs was relatively limited beforehand but having listened to presentations and a conference call with Middle Eastern UN ambassadors I am now better informed about the serious threat these mechanisms pose to the peacekeeping landscape, both to peacekeepers and civilians on the ground.

Pursuing my fashion interests, I was also able to volunteer for PeaceBoat US, a NGO which strives to promote peace, human rights, equitable and sustainable development, and respect for the environment throughout the United States and the world. I joined PeaceBoat US at an exciting time as they were in the process of organising for their biggest event of the year, 'Floating Festival for Sustainability' which hosted 1,500 international guests and UN Ambassadors on board the ship docked at Pier 90 in Manhattan. During the evening I modelled in the Eco-Fashion Show where several famous sustainable designers showcased their respective missions to raise awareness on environmental sustainability, material and manufacturing transparency, and human rights.

Aside from the fast-paced working life in New York, I also made some fond social memories. A few weekends were spent away from the smoke, hiking in Upstate New York which offered some impressive scenic views. Living in Brooklyn had its pros and cons but attending a church in a warehouse was certainly nothing I was used to back home. They often had famous guest pastors and I always came away feeling so inspired.

Another fond memory is my first experience of Thanksgiving which is for Americans the most important celebration of the year. Although it was a time to spend with family and loved ones, I was fortunate to spend it with thirty Irish folk who lived in the surrounding neighbourhoods in Brooklyn. The food and banter made a night I will never forget. Additionally, some weekends away included a trip to Washington DC and Miami to top up the tan before heading back to sunny Scotland.  

Reflecting on this amazing experience interning in the UN HQ, I am truly honoured to carry on the relentless work of Fiona Watson as not only did I get a unique insight into the everyday life of a UN Peacekeeper, I learnt that no matter who you are or where you come from you're able to make a difference, be it big or small, to someone's life.

Recipients of the Fiona Watson Memorial Fund:

  • Gemma Tracey – 2004
  • David Henderson – 2005
  • Stuart Kirkby – 2006
  • Richard Carberry – 2007
  • Rhona Amos – 2008
  • Lorna Kerr – 2009
  • Kate Rougvie – 2010
  • Claire Lucia Grant – 2011
  • Colleen Tait – 2012
  • Natalie McKay – 2013
  • Eleanor Peacock – 2014
  • Marianna McLauchlan – 2015
  • Emma McDonald – 2016
  • Abigail Dodds - 2017