As part of our “Americans in the UN” project to share the stories of Americans who work for the United Nations, we connected with Sandra Mitchell, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Prior to joining the UN system, Mitchell worked in the legal field where she held senior roles with the American Bar Association and the International Human Rights Law Group.
Originally from Seattle, Mitchell holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Washington State University and a Juris Doctorate from Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Watch the full interview:
Below please find excerpts from the interview, which have been edited for context and clarity.
What is your message to Americans about the importance of the UN?
Sandra Mitchell: I can’t imagine the world without the UN. There’s no other forum that brings countries together as quickly on such critical issues. It may not be perfect, but it is the only forum available for the large powers of the world to meet on a daily basis.
Without the UN, I think the gap would be significant. It would be extremely noticeable, and it would lead to further isolationism.
The UN is critical for the stability, security, development, and growth of the United States. It’s an important instrument. It may not be perfect, but there is no substitute.
What motivates you to work for the United Nations?
SM: This is a once-in-a-lifetime, one-of-a-kind kind of job.
When you compare the jobs in the United Nations, usually you would either have to be elected to them or they would be some sort of an emergency services type of job. They’re very unique and I think that’s the reason for my attraction.
From your experience, what is an example of how the UN has made a difference in someone’s life?
SM: Speaking from the organization I work for right now, UNRWA, every day we educate 525,000 Palestinian boys and girls. If we weren’t doing that, then this is a whole generation that could possibly grow up without an education. So, in that regard, the impact is tremendous. It gets them out of the house, they get to be with other children, they get to be in a safe environment, and they get an education that will prepare them for their futures.
How did you first hear about the United Nations?
SM: Like anybody, you hear about the UN on the news. It has always seemed like the only organization in the world where you could work on human rights, humanitarian issues, and political issues. The UN is something that’s always been there in my lifetime.