2019 marks the 40th anniversary of UNDP in China. It also marks the 37th year that I have been with the agency. Over my long tenure, I have seen firsthand the incredible change and development, both in UNDP and the country as a whole. I have great pride in knowing how far China has come over the last 4 decades and the important role UNDP has played along the way.
I joined UNDP China in 1982. Back then, there were no fax machines or computers. In place of email, Telex machines were the main tools used for communications and my first role was as a Telex operator. There were only around 30 people in the office when I started, all of whom had been assigned to UNDP by the Chinese government. The agency was not permitted to hire employees independently until 2001, at which point I officially became a UNDP staff member.
For me, the development of UNDP China can be viewed in three phases. In the first phase, during the 80s and 90s, much of the agency’s work consisted of technical assistance in the form of importing equipment and machines, including office supplies and furniture. With the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the portfolio expanded to include capacity building projects, and a greater emphasis on energy and the environment. This period was also marked by an increase in UNDP financial resources and the formation of partnerships with entities in addition to the Chinese government including NGOs and private sector corporations. Today, UNDP China is in its third phase, which has been defined by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and a heavy focus on South-South cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative.
As a consequence of UNDP’s growth, which was in many ways a reflection of the wider development of China, I was fortunate enough to be afforded opportunities to progress in my career. Following my role as a Telex operator, I would go on to become an administration assistant, administration officer, an HR officer, a procurement officer, and ultimately operations manager. Before I knew it, former resident coordinator Kerstin Leitner, who led the country office from 1998 to 2003, began referring to me as “Madame Ge”, to show respect for my years with the agency, and the rest of the office eventually followed suit.
Over the course of my time at UNDP, I have seen 5 UN secretary generals and 9 resident coordinators. Despite managers, colleagues, and entire teams having come and gone, I have continued on because to this day, I still love my job and I feel honored to work for the UN. For me, the impact of UNDP’s work in China is best seen not on a policy level, but in the daily lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. For example, certain vegetables such as broccoli, which were once unavailable to people in China, were introduced into the country by UNDP and are now considered commonplace. We also brought some of the earliest computers into the country back when few people had access to them as part of a UNDP initiative to establish an information management infrastructure and provide technology training. Today, not only are computers quite ordinary, but China itself has become a global hub for technology and innovation.
Now an office of more than 80 people, with staff from all over the world managing both domestic and global initiatives, UNDP China has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1979. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front row seat for it all, and I don’t plan on going anywhere until the day I retire. When that day comes, I will surely take time to reflect once again, but for now, I’m excited to continue my journey alongside that of UNDP and China, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Authored by Ms. Ge Yunyan, UNDP China Assistant Resident Representative and Operations Manager