AM-5 Myrna Cunningham Kain
Myrna Cunningham Kain, Woman of Distinction Awardee, and me

1. When did you become First Vice-President of the Conference of NGOs in consultative status with the UN (CoNGO)?
I was voted First Vice-President in August 2014. I was elected Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, New York in July 2011 and now serve as Immediate Past Chair on the Executive Committee. On the CoNGO Board and NGO CSW/NY Executive Committee are outstanding people, each accomplished in voluntary work and professional expertise.

2. Why did you decide to do this voluntary work? 

I wanted to devote my energies to these organizations because of their extraordinary place in UN history. Since the first UN women’s conference in 1975, the NGO CSW/NY has joined with other women’s committees – in Geneva and Vienna—and under the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO) to organize the NGO Forums around the UN Fourth World Conferences on Women—in Mexico, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing.

AM-5 Interview
Celebration March, 2012

3. How would you describe your job?
My LinkedIn profile says that I work for the UN and sometimes I get paid. The NGO CSW/NY is a 99.9% volunteer-based organization that provides a forum for the international women’s movement to interact with the United Nations. As a member of the NGO CSW/NY, I help my organization weave the world’s women together during UN events such as the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women.

AM-5 Interview badge
UN badge

4. What is that badge hanging around your neck?
This is my security badge to enter the UN. Most of our members are accredited through the Economic and Social Council or ECOSOC.  There are about 3,900 NGOs that currently have this privilege. In theory, the UN accredits us because our organizations have something to offer. Sometimes that means challenging UN policies to improve them.  The process of accreditation can take forever—up to three years–but it is well worth the effort. If you have ECOSOC status, your organization can make official statements at the UN and access most of the UN meetings.

AM-5 SG Ban Ki-Moon at dedication of the Security Council 2013
Ban Ki-Moon at dedication of the Security Council, 2013

5. Do you get to vote for the UN Secretary General or vote in the Security Council?
As the Chair of an NGO accredited to the UN, my privileges don’t extend to picking the UN Secretary-General or voting. We have to remember that the UN is, above all, an intergovernmental process. Sometimes the best way to influence the UN is to disagree with your own government delegation so it can make good decisions.

6. What advice would you give to a student who wants to work for the UN?
First, if you want to save the world, then you have to ask yourself “What can I offer that it needs?” That is why getting a good education is so important. What skill do you offer that poor people don’t already have? Are you going to be a help—or—a burden to local people? And do you have the experience and wisdom to represent your country at the UN or advise governments? One of the most common mistakes is for someone with a lot of book learning to think that he or she is qualified to give advice on “how to do it right” according to lofty theories, without any hands-on experience. Get that experience as much as you can, even if it is in your own community. Second, you have to be prepared to make sacrifices—your own comfort (we don’t stay in luxury hotels), your time (overtime hours are mandatory), and spend a lot of your own money on personal travel for your family’s sake. The ultimate sacrifice is also part of the job. Many UN workers and officials lose their lives doing their work.

Do you have a question for me? Please email