U of S pioneers UNDP Internship Program

Students to intern at United Nations offices around the world

As part of the new UCAN-UNDP program, seven University of Saskatchewan students are travelling travel across the world to pursue highly coveted internships in United Nations offices. These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are provided by a unique partnership between Universities Canada (UCAN), represented by the College of Graduate Studies and Research at the UofS, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The aptly named UCAN-UNDP initiative has a major goal in mind: providing opportunity for Canadian graduate and law students to gain international experience in poverty reduction through legal empowerment of marginalized groups.

Spearheading the UCAN-UNDP initiative is Judge Gerald Seniuk, a man with a strong vision for change and a long list of credentials to back him up.

Graduating from the U of S in 1969 with a Law degree, Seniuk pursued a career in journalism before returning to law to work at a legal aid clinic in Saskatchewan. After his appointment as a judge, he wrote about judicial independence in Canada for the Globe and Mail. He was later invited to be a judicial consultant for the Government of Canada, working on a project that assisted Ukraine in reforming their Soviet-based judicial system.

“Along with other international projects, my experiences as a judicial consultant exposed me to the world of international aid and development and got me thinking about the encountered gains and frustrations,” says Seniuk, who became inspired after reading the final report issued by the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (LEP) in 2008.

The report discredited the current mechanisms for helping the underprivileged, which were based on large development projects envisioned to produce enough economic activity that the trickle-down effect would eventually benefit the poor. LEP provided an alternative strategy that was based on the underprivileged recognizing their assets and using their own skills and knowledge to promote wealth. This final report encouraged the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to adopt a LEP perspective, and has since guided its support of global efforts to allow the poor access to the legal system which ultimately breaks the cycle of exclusion and poverty.

“When I read the UNDP report on LEP I was inspired that the report recognized the important role of law in creating a meaningful and productive life for societies,” says Seniuk. “However, more important than it being inspiring, the report was filled with wisdom and insight into the practical application of law as a tool for development and liberation. It was a blueprint, albeit one that had to be filled in locally by those it was meant to serve.”

In the report, LEP recommended that equitable and inclusive law play a key role in labour rights, property rights, access to justice, and rights to livelihood and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the report recommended protocols for enabling this movement, which included strong government support and strategies for action.

“The integrated approach of LEP is fundamental to filling the gaps in some development projects which may be too piecemeal in their approach and measurement of success,” says Seniuk.

In support of this integrated approach, Seniuk and his team put some of the LEP recommendations into action. In collaboration with the College of Graduate Studies and Research at the U of S , they developed the UCAN-UNDP internship program.

The U of S was chosen as the first university in the world to pilot the UCAN-UNDP program; in May, six graduate students and one law student will be sent to various UN offices around the world. Students’ involvement will add to the knowledge base of the initiative, and the unique protocol of the UCAN program will provide numerous benefits for the host university and the students themselves.

The internships are stationed in seven different UN offices including Cairo, Montenegro, Bangkok, Ukraine, South Africa, Vietnam and Slovakia. During their four-month internships, the students will take on various fieldwork assignments that will contribute to the LEP initiative. Most of the work will involve identifying assets in communities and determining how to best cultivate them to permit economic gain for the people.

“It is important to the UCAN that the internships be meaningful,” says Seniuk. “We are clear in our protocol that their work contributes to the LEP framework, and that the work and learning experience will be of value to the intern.”

- Tara Donovan