"Be prepared for new challenges and stressful situations, but also for a fulfilling experience", Mirco Keller

Mirco Keller spent one year in Burundi as part of the talent programme "Swiss Youth at the United Nations". He talks us through some of his most memorable moments.

Water, Sanitation in Africa
Milena Cuzzucoli


Former staff member

About the talent programme

Each year, the Swiss Government funds around 30 one-year positions within the talent programme, "United Nations Youth Volunteer (UNYV)". This programme allows young professionals to gain valuable field experience while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. Swiss nationals, under 29 years old and holding a master’s degree, are eligible for this unique international opportunity.
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What was your assignment?

My assignment in 2013 was as a WASH Specialist for UNICEF in Burundi. I was based in the capital Bujumbura and supported various aspects of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme, mostly targeting rural areas of Burundi. My tasks included among others the follow-up of emergency relief activities for returning refugees, the supervision of partner organisations and contractors who implemented project activities and the development of proposals on WASH innovation.

What happened after your assignment?

I continued to work in the field of international cooperation, but decided to apply for jobs with NGOs where I was more directly involved in the implementation of project activities. Following my time as a UN Youth Volunteer, I first worked with ACTED in Jordan for 6 months, then with Inter Aide in Malawi and after that with GOAL in Sierra Leone, for periods of about 1.5 years each. All of these positions were in slightly different areas of the WASH sector.

Mirco Keller, ICRC

Where are you working today?

In early 2018, I began working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a Water and Habitat Engineer, and I am currently based in Kirkuk, Iraq on a one-year assignment. I am responsible for managing infrastructure projects related to drinking water supply and housing/construction in the disputed territories in Iraq.

Can you remember a particularly exciting time/situation you experienced during your assignment as a UN Youth Volunteer?

There were countless exciting and memorable moments during my assignment in Burundi, such as field visits to project sites in remote rural areas, staff events and team building events with UNICEF colleagues, or the excursions and social events that I experienced or organised together with friends and colleagues.

There were countless exciting and memorable moments.

Do you remember a difficult situation or moment that you experienced?

One of the challenges I faced during my assignment was the supervision of local partner organisations that were implementing project activities for UNICEF. As some of these organisations were poorly managed by people who did not always have the skills and attitude for the job, this led to significant gaps in the quality of the work I had to supervise. Through capacity building efforts and advocacy, some of these issues were addressed during my mission.

Through capacity building efforts and advocacy, some of these issues were addressed during my mission.

What was your biggest learning from this assignment?

I got an insight into a UN agency (UNICEF in my case), learned how it works and learned about its strengths and limitations. This learning experience was extremely useful later in my career when dealing with UNICEF, as I had a good understanding of its structure and mode of operation, which facilitated relevant discussions and negotiations.

Would you recommend the programme to other Swiss graduates?

Yes, I would definitely recommend this programme to Swiss graduates who are looking for an entry point into international cooperation or to gain additional experience in this field. It is a very good opportunity for young professionals who have the required skills and are motivated to work with the UN for a year, especially if they wish to continue working in international cooperation afterwards.

Would you do anything differently?

I would probably be more proactive during the assignment to make sure that I can do relevant and interesting tasks that match my expertise and interests. In my case, the job description did not really match what I was asked to do during the assignment. For this reason, I think I could have been more assertive in finding tasks that were more suited to my interests and skills.

I could have been more assertive in finding tasks that were more suited to my interests and skills.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to apply?

If you have found a position that really interests you and if you have all the necessary requirements and qualifications, I can only recommend that you browse the information material on the cinfo website for more information on the recruitment process and that you get advice on how to prepare for the application and the interview.

What advice would you give to someone who has been selected?

Prepare as much as possible for the assignment by researching the country, the UN agency involved and the professional issues to be covered. Networking with former UN Volunteers who were in the same place can also be very useful, as they can give specific recommendations and contacts.