Monday, October 24, 2016

Give me 5!

Austin Schiano, the Partnerships Manager at GiveMe5Campaign shares his story as a humanitarian worker using networking and digital media.

My name is Austin Schiano. I first came in contact with the UN system when I was a student at Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey. Drew is one of the very few schools in the United States that has a program which allows students to enter the UN as observers while they would simultaneously take classes at night about the UN system from a professor. The Drew Professor was assisted by an individual called Jean Grazarian, who was in his nineties at the time, but had been one of the leader administrators in the UN Security Council for many years. That offered us all unbelievable insight into the organization, along with peace and conflict at the highest levels since the founding of the United Nations. He told us he regularly had lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt.  It was amazing!

This led me to do my Masters at NYU, which is when I first started interning with the UN, specifically for the UN Millennium Campaign. From that point onwards, I began to work on mobilizing the earliest stages of the MY World 2015 Survey, which at the time was still in its early stages of development. From that point onwards, I became involved with the World We Want 2015. For the entire time in Grad School at the NYU Center for Global Affairs, I was the World We Want 2015 coordination associate.

When I was participating in the UN semester, I met a girl named Shamilla Kohestani. She was Afghan, and had started the Afghan Women's Soccer team. She had lived under the Taliban Rule, and had come to the USA to study. Luckily for me, she was in my program at Drew. Travelling into the city with her every week to learn about the international system was something I can never underestimate as an experience in my life. She was given the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2006! When I was at NYU, I completed a thesis on the Taliban, because I thought it was something I needed to understand.  

It was after this that I became involved with the Give Me 5 campaign. It was founded by Mr Juan E Chebly.  Juan had been the coordinator for the World We Want 2015, and I always had tremendous respect for his work. So, when Juan came to me with this idea, we knew it was something we could build on, having engaged in various advocacy platforms, campaigns, and committees. I have truly come to see that the value of the UN is not always in the direct strength which the organization can exert, which ultimately can be quite limited. It’s challenging, for a variety of reasons, for an institution to exert power over member states.

The strength of the UN however, is that it creates and facilitates a space for numerous dialogues to ensue and be fostered.  The Give Me 5 campaign is built to support in this process. Apart from our direct mission of advocacy, we are designed around an innovative team of young global professionals, who are trying to further citizen engagement with the UN, and various political systems.  

We are supportive of various projects of citizen engagement, including the MY World 2030 survey, the World We Want platform, UNICEF's the World's Largest Lesson,  the MY UNEA site (which has innovative data tools and consultations and is fostered by UNEP for the upcoming UN Environmental Assembly), The Sunscious live site (which culminates POSITIVE news from around the world), and an innovative media project called climate 2020 or bust, which is seeking to create videos around the pressing issues of climate change. Our partners are always growing, and we do all we can to support.
As partnerships manager, I have spoken at several events in the UN representing Give Me 5, most recently the UN Association members’ day, which was a fantastic daylong conference by the organization which fosters and encourages UN participation at local levels in the US. I had the privilege to speak alongside a representative of (who organized the climate march in NYC), the director of the NYC office on sustainability, and a long time employee of the US Environmental Protection Agency. At the very end of the event, the UK and Jordanian PR's spoke on their nations position in the Security Council, and discussed the need and possibility of SC reform.  That was great. 

One of our challenges so far has been that as a growing organization, of course, there is always the concern of balancing out your team members’ time, as we are all doing this out of a passion to make a change.  Next to that, what is difficult, but I would really like to think of more as an opportunity, is being able to identify exactly what your narrative is, and how people can communicate it.

The biggest fact is that when you are dealing in issues of military spending, or domestic funds going internationally, there is an entire bureaucracy of complex issues which exist simultaneously with your cause. Anyone who has dealt in these issues, knows that you are not going to achieve success without presenting yourself in a way that can be interpreted and understood, without being confrontational to nations interests. It’s not about taking away money from anyone to be less safe, it’s about trying to raise awareness of the paradigm for a peaceful society. Things only really happen if the people want them to, and that’s what makes citizen engagement and awareness so important.

In the environment we are working within, our colleagues have been incredibly receptive of our work.  That being said, I think one of the most difficult things is building a space for yourself in the UN system, which is an overarching, and occasionally difficult bureaucracy to operate in. I feel as if the best way to deal with this is by working with established partners, committees, practitioners, and supportive nation-states to build social capital. It’s a matter of figuring out what you do well, and how this can be of benefit to others. There is often a huge intellectual awareness divide between domestic military institutions, and the UN in general. For this reason, it is integral to grow and further research which attempts to bridge the two gaps.

What keeps me going in the work that I do is that inert beauty and surprise which you find in international environments, and global discussion. We come into this work with the understanding that you’re not going to be able to solve every problem, and that can be really challenging for many I think at an emotional level. We exist in a society that allows for previously inconceivable ways to use  and promulgate  information. I have also worked with a News Organization, News Deeply, that builds single issue expert news sites around global issues. We have sites on Syria, Ebola, Water Scarcity, the Arctic, Financial Inclusion, and recently, Refugees. Centralizing information is key. Decisions are often made with limited information, and it's not always policy makers fault. We need to create the tools and spaces which promote this work.

The Give Me 5 campaign has plans to activate to our fullest extent. It's really about creating networks, and getting our message out there. The upcoming DPI/NGO Conference in Korea, along with the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey will be a space for us to work with partners that can help bring our work to political forum. We are open to many different options, and look forward to a hopeful fundraiser in the coming months.