18 Apr 2018

MILE Alumni Profiles: Verona Collantes

Choose a thesis topic that is ‘cutting edge’, something that is emerging. It pays off.

A graduate of the second MILE intake, Verona Collantes advocates for gender equality and the empowerment of women in the climate change process and was a contributor to the Paris Agreement. She says the WTI master’s programme opened doors for her at the WTO and UN in Geneva paving the way for her future career.

You work for UN Women. In what capacity and what does your work involve?

At UN Women – the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – I work as an Intergovernmental Specialist. In this capacity, I work with governments, UN entities and other non-government partners to ensure that intergovernmental deliberations and their negotiated outcome documents and statements integrate or capture mandates and actions that promote gender equality, the human rights of women and girls and their empowerment. Among the intergovernmental processes that I led and oversaw for UN Women and whose outcomes integrated strong gender perspectives were the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, several conferences of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, and conferences on least developed countries, small island developing states, migration and desertification. For my main area of work, which is advocating for gender equality in the climate change process, I am very proud to say that my work, of course together with that of other actors and governments, contributed to the adoption of the Paris Agreement which recognises the importance of gender equality and the empowerment of women in all actions on climate change.

Underpinning our advocacy for gender equality in the intergovernmental sphere are our knowledge products, our training and capacity-building work and our work with experts and partners which strengthen capacities of gender focal points and sectoral experts in understanding and utilising concepts and strategies to empower women and girls and mainstream gender in policies and actions at the national and sub-national levels.

You were part of the MILE 2 cohort. Can you summarise your career over the past 15 years?

I took a leave of absence as a Foreign Service Officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines to attend MILE 2. When I was working on my thesis, I was offered an internship at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) where I worked for two months. After that, I interned with the World Trade Organization (WTO) where I was offered a research position which I held for a year. I then moved to UNCTAD to take up a post as Associate Economic Affairs Officer.

After a few years on temporary posts, I got a fixed-term post, first at the United Nations Office in Geneva and then at UNCTAD. In 2010, eight years after MILE 2, and after eight years working for international organisations in Geneva, I moved to New York where I worked first as a Programme Officer at the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

In 2011, I moved to UN Women where I am now working. My work in these international organisations has spanned research and analytical work, technical cooperation and capacity-building, and inter-agency and intergovernmental functions – all with a relation to development/sustainable development.

What for you have been the main benefits of the MILE?

The MILE introduced me to the wider world, to the global community – both in terms of the focus of the course and the subjects covered and the faculty/lecturers and students. It was the first time I was in such a multicultural, diverse group of very talented, interesting and creative minds representing all regions of the world. Coming from Asia, with a culture that is very hierarchical and ‘passive', where one is almost shy to speak out in a crowd of intellectuals, the MILE pushed me out of my comfort zone – to believe in myself that I have something meaningful and useful to contribute to the class and to my classmates and friends. That I graduated summa cum laude and with a thesis grade of A meant a lot. First of all, it is a great thing to have that on your CV. Secondly, and most important of all, it reinforced my confidence in myself and finally, with my MILE diploma, I really felt the meaning of the MILE that had attracted me to do the course – that I was a MILE ahead. I shouldn’t forget to mention that the MILE opened up doors for me to interact with the WTO and the United Nations offices in Geneva, which brought me to where I am now.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering the MILE programme?

Do it! It’s all worth it. When you are in the programme, make full use of it. It’s ok to have fun and there are so many things to see and do in Switzerland and in Europe but focus on your studies. It’s only for 10 months, do it right. Choose a thesis topic that is ‘cutting edge’, something that is emerging. It pays off. I did my thesis on Mode 4 of the WTO (movement of natural persons), which has a connection to migration. The WTO was at its early stages of understanding this issue and my thesis caught the interest of experts in this field.