As the UN Young Professionals Programme embarks on its search for the best of the best talent among its Member States, The Laotian Times invites Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun to discuss his journey in becoming the first Lao national to work at the UN Secretariat in New York City, and how this paved the way for his position as Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer at the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
“I may have been the first, but I certainly won’t be the last,” says Dr. Anoulak optimistically.
According to Dr. Anoulak, working for the UN at the famous matchbox headquarters in New York City was a dream come true. He recalls that the members of the cohort with whom he entered were not only the best and brightest but also idealists.
“My colleagues wanted to use their wits and intelligence to save the world from conflict and poverty. Everywhere we went as UN staff from NY, we were respected and taken seriously.”
The highlight of his time was leading the preparation for the UNSG’s official visit of the Pacific Islands countries and participation in the Pacific Islands Forum’s Leaders Meeting in 2010, where he remembers stressful hours, tight deadlines, and multiple parties and factors to consider. But in the end, he got to travel with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as a member of his caravan.
Given the contributions made by Laos to the UN, there should normally be at least six or seven Lao nationals employed at the UN Headquarters in New York, says Dr. Anoulak. But somehow he is still the only Lao national to have worked at the UN Secretariat, between 2010 and 2014.
Dr. Anoulak suggests that those who hope to go abroad for work or be a part of international organizations need to be more proactive, and try their best to have a wider perspective along with a global viewpoint.
The first step to achieve this is to improve foreign language skills, especially English, said Dr. Anoulak, adding that while receiving a foreign education could be a great help, it is not as necessary these days.
More importantly, he stressed the need to develop good foundations in skills, including soft skills such as critical thinking, writing, and speaking precisely and clearly.
“This is because these are the foundations to acquire more knowledge, make friends and networks, and reflect on your successes and failures,” he said.
Recalling the year 1988 when he first left Laos for the United States, Dr. Anoulak said the environment and infrastructure for education in Laos have dramatically improved.
In particular, he cited easier access to online resources.
“YouTube did not exist when I was young,” Dr. Anoulak said with a grin on his face. “Resources are out there. The important thing is to have a more proactive attitude and be ready to utilize them.”
It is often pointed out that “brain drain” is an issue for developing countries like Laos when too many students wish to study or work overseas, but it appears that Dr. Anoulak has a different approach to the subject.
This is because one of the main motivations for him to work for the UN was his desire to contribute to his home country by being a part of an international organization as a Lao citizen. A similar motivation played an important role when he decided to join the MRC in 2012.
Dr. Anoulak has spent almost eight years with the MRC, and during his tenure, the MRC has become an essential agency in the region, to which the international community pays close attention.
“I feel like the MRC and I have evolved together,” he said cheerfully. Dr. Anoulak sees himself being able to grow professionally within the MRC, and his face lights up when sharing his outlook with the organization and how he wants to and can contribute.
It was not difficult to tell that he was fully ready as ever to pave the way for a new path yet again.
With a new book entitled River Basin Organizations in Water Diplomacy coming out in November this year, Dr. Anoulak is contributing to the theory and practice of international rivers management and the critical role of river basin organizations such as the MRC.
“Although I’m in quite a good position with lots of great responsibilities at the moment, I want to see myself taking up a more important role within the organization in a few years, which would naturally help me contribute more to Laos, the Mekong, and the world,” said Dr. Anoulak.
Watch an interview with Dr. Anoulak on Lao Youth Radio (in Lao language) where he discusses his journey to becoming the first Lao national to work at the UN Secretariat.