Shannon Fitzgerald O’Shea ’01 MAIR  

Programme Specialist, Post-2015 Development Agenda Unit
Office of the Executive Director
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 

 O'Shea 2


Shannon Fitzgerald O’Shea is currently a Programme Specialist in the Post-2015 Development Agenda Unit in the Office of the Executive Director at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Originally from Berlin, CT, and now residing in New York City, Shannon holds an MAIR from the Maxwell School, as well as a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

UNICEF is the United Nations’ agency for children, working in over 150 countries across the world with the overall objective to see that every child’s rights are fulfilled through their survival, health, development, safety and education. Shannon started working for UNICEF three weeks after finishing her MAIR coursework at Maxwell in June 2001 and has been with the organization ever since. For a number of years, Shannon worked on internal knowledge sharing and communications for the organization--with UNICEF being in so many places, how does the organization ensure that staff in field offices have the information they need, when they need it?  For example, Shannon says, “I set up the very first intranet sites for programme-related information (e.g. on child survival, education, child protection, etc) for programme specialists in the field.  Before that, the intranet was more or less just a space to look up someone’s phone number or email address.” Shannon also started a research alert service for staff globally to keep them informed on the latest and most important reports, studies and research in their area of work, covering nine subject areas every month.

In February 2012, Shannon was asked to be part of a team in UNICEF's Executive Office to work over the next few years on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, under the leadership of Senior Advisor Richard Morgan. “This is actually a very exciting and once-in-a-generation opportunity to help define what the next Global Development Agenda -- to follow on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- should look like,” she says.

There are two main goals of the Post-2015 team in UNICEF. The first is to help bring in and amplify the voices of various people in the debate and mobilize them to help define what the next agenda should look like – Civil Society, Academics, Activists, Government, and the Private Sector, to name a few.  Shannon explains that there would be a “bottom up” approach to defining development priorities based on what people actually want and need in their own lives and communities.  Already much has been done here.  For example, as part of the UN System, UNICEF helped to lead 5 global thematic consultations and was involved in some of the 85+ consultations happening in various countries through its strong field presence at the national level.  Shannon helped to design and lead the consultation on Addressing Inequalities (which UNICEF co-convened with UN Women).  These consultations were used as a major source of input for the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Post 2015, chaired by the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia as well as the Prime Minister of the UK.  Their report was released at end of May.

The second goal is to ensure that issues of importance not addressed or under-represented in the MDG Agenda – particularly those affecting children and youth – are adequately addressed in the Post-2015 Agenda.  For example, this would include issues such as addressing growing inequalities (both within and between countries), protection from violence (particularly for women and girls) and sustainable development (the intersection of economic and social development with environmental sustainability and how this affects people, prosperity and the planet.)  

A typical day for Shannon involves “a lot of communications and advocacy” – for example, Shannon was very involved in crafting UNICEF’s key messages on Post-2015 and also worked on the paper that positions children centrally in the discussions on Sustainable Development (as both drivers of sustainable development and the people with the most to gain…or lose).  Shannon also keeps UNICEF’s 10,000+ staff informed through a regular newsletter and running a Community of Practice.  There are lots of meetings with key stakeholders  -- from government, civil society, academia  -- to discuss and debate issues, bring forward the voices  and aspirations of those typically excluded and, of course, to advocate for the issues that most affect children and young people.  “I am particularly proud of the work we did on the global thematic consultation on Addressing Inequalities,” Shannon says. “We were able to mobilize thousands of people to contribute to the debate, and the voices that were heard went far beyond the ‘usual suspects’ who typically are offered the opportunity. The Post-2015 work is unprecedented and uncharted territory for the UN system – to truly and meaningfully engage and mobilize millions of people at every stage of the process in crafting what the next era of development should look like.  I am excited to be a part of it.” 

Shannon says one of the most interesting aspects of working for an organization like UNICEF is the opportunity to travel and see so many different cultures and societies.  “I travelled to Myanmar in 2007, when it was still under military dictatorship and very closed off from the world.  It was both eye-opening and humbling to see how the people there craved information – about the outside world – but also about issues like health and education,” she says. “The freedom we enjoy to have access to information is something almost taken for granted here in the United States, but it is certainly not a given in many parts of the world.”

Having attended SU as both an undergrad minoring in political science and as a graduate student, Shannon reflects fondly on her Maxwell memories. “As a freshman in the ‘Critical Issues for the United States’ course, I remember one of the first assignments was to read the book “Savage Inequalities” by Jonathan Kozol -- about the massive inequalities persistent throughout the public education system in the US.  It is something that still sticks with me today, especially in my current work on Post-2015 and co-leading the thematic consultation Addressing Inequalities,” Shannon says. “When inequalities are so wide and persistent, it’s not just bad for those ‘affected’ – it is bad for all of society.  Furthermore, this is not just an issue for so-called ‘developing countries.’  It’s a problem for many rich nations as well.”   

As for her favorite Maxwell professors, Shannon enjoyed Ambassador Goodwin Cooke’s classes, particularly his amazing stories about being a foreign service officer and Ambassador in the Central Africa Republic.  She added, “In graduate school, Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky was great in challenging students to think about issues in a different way – he also really helped me with public speaking and I still remember and use his tips today!”

Her advice for current Maxwell students? Always take any assignment you are tasked with -- no matter if it is seemingly menial -- and do a great job at it.  “We all have aspects of our work that are not the most glamorous, but still need to get done.  When you are assigned something, don’t just take the task ‘literally’ – think about what is the ultimate goal or objective that is supposed to be achieved and apply your judgment, knowledge and personal and professional experience on how to best accomplish the task.  Don’t be afraid to suggest a different way to do something.  Even if ultimately not chosen, most supervisors will appreciate fresh ideas and the fact that you are thinking about the most efficient or effective way to accomplish a goal.” She says, “In terms of applying for jobs, I think we all know there is no magic bullet.  Make good contacts at organizations you want to work at and do internships whenever possible.  For working at the UN, I often suggest looking at short-term consultancy positions as a way to gain experience that can ultimately lead to a more permanent position.  Apply for these types of assignments.  It is a combination of perseverance and a bit of luck -- being in the right place at the right time.”

Shannon can be reached at soshea@unicef.org.