‘I Was Like A Kid In A Candy Store:’ Senior Member Of The U.N. On Success

When Simona Petrova’s daughter disagrees with her, Petrova never resorts to “because-I-said-so” parenting. Instead, she encourages her daughter, if she thinks she knows best, to write a rebuttal to her mother and engage diplomatically.

Tonight, the Boston College Model United Nations team and the Islamic Civilizations and Societies Program hosted Petrova for a talk entitled “The U.N. at 70”. Petrova discussed the history of the U.N., its new Sustainable Development Goals, and her personal path to a diplomacy career. As she admitted to doing with her daughter, Petrova encouraged students to explore diplomacy.

Petrova, a Bulgarian national, has spent almost 25 years at the U.N. and currently serves as director of the Chief Executive Board Secretariat. A graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, Petrova worked for the Bulgarian National Commission for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and negotiated the establishment of UN offices in an array of post-Soviet countries through the UN Development Program (UNDP). Petrova found the climate of diplomacy and Fletcher far different from that of her native country.

“Because I grew up in a society where this was not an option, we were basically told in a communist country, ‘Well, this is right, this is wrong.’ And we accepted it,” Petrova said. “I was like a kid in a candy store because I was allowed to speak up in class … and no one was going to kick me out.”

On Sept. 25, the UN launched its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an extension of its Millennium Development Goals, which expired this year. Both sets of goals set checkpoints for social and economic development in the world, which guide UN and national planning.

“The UN at 70 is facing many challenges, and it can only be successful if we the people, the ‘we the people’ mentioned in the charter, want it to succeed.”

Petrova explained that the two sets of goals differed mainly in the amount of work and involvement they entailed. The Millennium Development Goals, she explained, were formed by a few countries and targeted developing countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals are, on the other hand, a product of two years of work in the General Assemblies, with input from all 193 member states. They are, Petrova said, “explicitly universal.”

“The UN at 70 is facing many challenges, and it can only be successful if we the people, the ‘we the people’ mentioned in the charter, want it to succeed,” Petrova said.

In a new age of globalization, Petrova said, the UN has found success in partnering with wide-reaching international corporations to deliver aid. In one example, Petrova remarked that the most effective way to deliver HIV/AIDS treatment to remote villages was through Coca-Cola’s pre-existing system. Petrova noted how the growing efficiency of the international community can make previously insurmountable goals foreseeable.

“You are the first generation that can see extreme poverty eradicated,” Petrova said.

But above all else, Petrova emphasized the importance of new entrants to the field of diplomacy and urged students interested in international relations careers to consider it.

She also noted the importance of women in the diplomacy process, especially because she grew up during a time when few women held such posts.

She asked students to continue to participate in international relations-focused activities and conferences and to stay engaged with the international community. In Petrova’s eyes, the current generation of new diplomats is inheriting a world formed by an adolescent UN that still has potential to enact positive change.

“It’s up to women, [and] it’s up to young people like you who are interested in international relations to make the best of it,” Petrova said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Staff