Genevieve Pinnington spent six months as a youth representative at the UN. Photo courtesy Genevieve Pinnington

Global mission begins on a global stage at UN

  • May 29, 2019

Genevieve Pinnington is on a mission to spread the good news of global citizenship. 

After six months working at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the 22-year-old returned to Toronto with a passion to engage others in world issues — not to mention a personal sense of appreciation for the greener spaces of home.

“I think where young people get stuck sometimes is our worlds tend to be very small. We can know a lot about our localities but I think that especially in high school and elementary school, we aren’t challenged or encouraged to engage in some of the bigger issues,” she said. 

From October to April, Pennington worked as a full-time UN youth representative for the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Loretto Sisters), which was granted consultative status by the UN in 2003 as a non-governmental organization (NGO). 

Pinnington is the first Canadian youth representative for the Sisters of Loretto’s UN office. When she arrived at the UN offices, she thought she’d be working in a small room somewhere and only visit the UN for formal sessions. But she was there every single day.

“You’re in and out all that time. Just being in that environment, going to the general assembly and the different committees and all the side events, and meeting different diplomats and delegates, you learn so much,” said Pinnington. 

Every day, she attended NGO briefings and commission meetings where delegates talked about issues like public health, the environment and education. 

She was also in constant communication with the Loretto Sisters’ communities in 23 countries and talked to them about the UN discussions affecting them at the grassroots level. She drafted oral and written recommendations on behalf of the Loretto Sisters for the UN delegates about the most urgent needs of their local missions. 

Pinnington said she constantly reminded herself how rare an opportunity it was to be able to rub shoulders with the world’s leaders and diplomats in the most famous city in the world. 

“When I was at the UN, I wanted to really put as much of myself in the internship as I could,” she said. 

When Pinnington was not at the UN offices, she spent time exploring New York City. She lived in an extra room of a family friend in Manhattan and took the subway to and from her internship. 

She loved exploring the city and once in a while she and some fellow interns spent nights out together. She began to feel like a New Yorker.  Sometimes, she missed her parents and four younger siblings, but what surprised her most was that she missed the green space. 

“It’s really exciting, it’s a great place to be, but I’m really an outdoorsy person and so that was really hard for me, not having a car and going away camping or skiing,” said Pinnington. “It’s a lot of concrete and a lot of feeling like you’re underground because the buildings are so tall. So I think after a while, it can be a little bit exhausting.”

Pinnington had just finished her undergraduate degree in life sciences from University of Toronto when she heard about the internship from Sr. Evanne Hunter, the provincial superior of the Loretto Sisters in Canada. 

Her mother had been a Loretto Abbey alumni and had remained close with Hunter, who was her former teacher. Her mother mentioned the internship when Pinnington had already been thinking about applying her interests in global public health.

“I remember in second year, I had a professor whose mindset was like, ‘Okay, you can do science, but what can you actually do with science,’ ” said Pinnington. “It’s not enough to just do science, you really need to think about everything to make that science meaningful to everyone.”

Near the end of her internship, she participated in the UN’s annual Economic and Social Council Forum (April 15-18). She also worked with fellow youth representatives to organize a youth forum about the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. 

“There’s a really big push to bring youth to the table,” said Pinnington. “The secretary general has a youth envoy now. I worked with a lot of the different youth delegations and then a lot of NGOs now have youth representatives. … And a lot of the time it’s just about bringing in the youth insight on how we’re affected in a lot of these issues.”

Now that she is home, she wants to use her experience to encourage more of her peers to be a part of the program. 

The Loretto Sisters have arranged for her to speak to different student groups. 

“It’s always better for young people to listen to young people and she’s excellent,” said Hunter. “They wanted her e-mail. They wanted to talk to her about what she did and how she got there. She was just barraged with questions.”

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