Matteo Bezzi | Political Affairs Officer, UNVMC-Colombia
So welcome to the United Nations Secretariat career journey podcast brought to you by the Office of Human Resources and UNDP. In our conversations, we talk to colleagues from around the world about their career paths. We explore what career satisfaction means to them, what keeps them inspired and motivated in their daily work. My name is Kate. And today we’ll hear from Matteo Betsi, a political affairs officer with the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Welcome, Matteo. And thank you so much for joining us today.
Yeah, thank you for the opportunity to share with you.
So, to start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
This? Sure, my name is Matteo Betsi. I’m from Italy. And since 2016, I’ve been engaged with the United Nation political missions in Colombia first with the first mission nowadays with the Verification Mission. I’m currently working in the capacity of P for political affairs and as an officer, as the deputy head of one of the regional offices based in V STS, you’re in the meta department. This region where I’m currently working was back in the years heavily hit by the conflict. And nowadays, how first glimmer of hope for the 1000s of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ex-combatants, who, five years ago, decided to sign a peace agreement with the government of Colombia, and who truly believe that the peace was the only solution. And well, besides my experience with the UN political mission in Colombia, I have also other working experience with the United Nations system, I actually served on a peace keeping mission in East Timor in 2009, and 2011, as well as was involved in several UNDP electoral projects in Guinea Bissau and Afghanistan, in 2014. And finally, I also have some experience with knops, in Kenya in 2013, as part of a service provider, which was implementing the European Union Election of submission mission back in the year.
Thank you. And that’s a very interesting and varied experience that you have. How did you begin your career in the United Nations?
Well, thanks. Well, as previously mentioned, my first experience with the United Nation was back in 2009, in East Timor, where I joined as a un volunteer the United Nations integrated mission in East Timor, working with the UNDP electoral support team for the implementation of the 2009 local community elections. And during that period, I was based in Delhi, the capital city of East Timor, and there was working directly with the national institution with the office of the technical Secretariat of electro ministration as an electoral advisor, providing back then guidance and assistance for the proper transfer of skills to the National Electoral Officer, which were implementing the elections, and more than 10 years have passed since that very first year experience. But I can still recall that group of things we were 64 enthusiastic young volunteers from all over the world, who landed in Delhi, full of hope and excitement and eagerness to contribute our grain of sand to make that electoral process as smooth as possible. And for myself, it was particularly in reaching for my first year and experience to be working with individuals from so many different nationalities. They were mainly actually from Portuguese speaking countries since Portuguese is also official language in East Timor. So, there were people from Mozambique, Angola, copperware, Brazil, and Portugal, but also from all other countries, like remember for Bhutan, from Bangladesh, among others. And learning so much from working on this tiny island in the Indian Ocean, just deepened my desire to engage more with the United Nations.
Thank you very much. So, it sounds like you had a very formative and interesting experience in Delhi all those years ago. Now you’re with the mission in Colombia. What skills would you say are essential for your job that you’re doing today? Well,
at the moment, I’m working as a PA for political affairs, and there’s an officer and I’m the head, the deputy head of one of the regional offices here in Colombia. And since my daily activities are mainly related to facilitating the reintegration of former FARC up as ex-combatants into civilian life, I do consider that one of the most Essential Skills for my position is actually the ability to understand others emotion, the capacity to actively listen to all interlocutors involved in the peace process. And this includes government official victims of the armed conflict communities, local communities, military officials as well. So as a result, I think that active listening emotional intelligence in the above all empathy with people that would open up opportunities to better understand the local context to gather quality information, and also ultimately to implement the political mandate by verifying the reintegration of this in the security guarantees of former fired up as ex-combatant and local communities. That’s what we are here for.
What do you find satisfying about your job?
Yes, well, after working for five consecutive years, with the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, I found profoundly satisfied with the level of knowledge that I acquire about the Colombian peace process, as well as about the disarmament demobilization and reintegration of one of the oldest guerrilla group groups in Latin America, the so called FARC EP, then, throughout the past five years, I really had this, this opportunity to meet with many important FARC EPS commander, and that to dialogue with also a lot of government official, and with the local communities, and really listened to people. And this gave me the opportunity to understand the deep root causes of this conflict, which is a conflict that led to marriage that lasted for more than 50 years, and the cause, according to the Colombian National Center for historical memory, more than 220,000 deaths, among them, mainly civilians, and as also force approximately 5 million people to flee their homes. So nowadays, having acquired all this knowledge, and due to my consolidated experience in this country with the peace process, I can really talk quite frankly, with all my interlocutors. And since I have in confidence and trust, so it’s very easy to communicate them nowadays. In the beginning, there was a lot of mistrust, I have to say, when I arrived in December 2016, there was a lot of mistrust with regards to the to the United Nation presence in the territories. And nowadays, this open dialogue free of prejudice and uncertainties, has been extremely rewarding and satisfying for what I’m doing here in Colombia.
So, it sounds like you’ve derived a lot of satisfaction out of the expertise you’ve developed about the political affairs and the peace process in the region. What about things that you’ve learned about yourself along the way,
I’ve been charged for two regional offices for more than one and a half a failed to regional office in Colombia. And I found out that I have a strong capacity to implement the operations in this area to supervise colleagues to manage people. And so, I found that very interesting for myself, and I think in the future, I would like to have opportunities again to lead operations within the nation or as well with other organization like the European Union.
So, you’ve been living in VIP Sensio, Colombia for five years now. What do you like about living there?
Well, I would like to mention that after many years, leaving and working in really remote locations, or in very pressing high security countries like Ukraine during the conflict in 2013, or in Afghanistan, in Bissau, Nigeria, South Sudan and Kosovo among others, where you have the opportunity to work. Nowadays, I’m based in a relatively calm and a large city located only 80 kilometers from the capital city of Bogota, from Bogota, you, you’re going down to the mountain range where the scenery alternates between the beautiful rainforest and the grassy fields. And it’s needless to say that this contrast in conditions compared to other duty station is quite a breath of fresh air. And here we have Ascencio the weather is really pleasant and mild all year round and also makes a perfect spot for leaving and enjoying life by exploring amazing waterfalls for instance, in the middle of the forest, or as well give you the gets the opportunity to visit local town weekends for cultural culinary. On our program, so I have really varied. There are really, really three opportunities here. And I will ask you to recall and to mention that the people not only be sensitive but in general in Colombia are genuinely very caring and pleasant. And it’s been very rare to encounter rude or impolite behavior with anyone here in this country. So, I would say that this is this is also something that is priceless in the in the daily life.
You paint a very beautiful picture. It sounds like a nice place to live. It is indeed. And how has your work and your life change during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Yeah, during the corona virus pandemic was based here and then the remain almost sold through the pandemic period in VIP Sensio. Things really changed because we quickly adapt, I was really surprised because we quickly adapt to new working dynamics. And we took the opportunities back then, during the pandemic restriction lockdowns to reach out local authorities and interlocutors and stakeholders that were based far away from our duty station from our regional office. So, we read to this opportunity to organize a lot of meetings, remote meetings with authorities. And we and this was a huge opportunity, because normally, we would have travelled to this area maybe once or a couple of times every six months. So, we during the first six months, I think it was very important for us to ensure the communication with these remote locations. And however, after while we felt that was needed to go back to normality to again have this human contact with our interlocutors. But that’s what is happening today. Nowadays, we are combining remote working with presidential meetings, especially with our interlocutors and excellent button as well. But back then was something that was very interesting, the dynamics change very fast, and we adapt very quickly to the new circumstances.
Interesting. So, it sounded like you had more contact with some of your stakeholders than then previously, at least in the initial stage.
Yes, that was the case during this period. It was very interesting and important for us to maintain this context. Yes.
Okay, so let’s now turn to the future. Where would you like to be career wise? And say, five years or so?
Yeah. Well, I have recently, last week turned 31. And I celebrated my fourth birthday in Colombia. And during the next five years now, I would like to gather more experience with the United Nations or also their organizations like the EU, or they will see or, or solar international NGOs. In five years, I would like to have the opportunity maybe to work in HQ in New York and Department of peacebuilding and political affairs. And for instance, in the Americas division, where I see that this Latin America experienced Nepali, Colombian, but also in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, and or assume the electoral system divisions. Since very strong background in elections, re-election, election observation, electoral assistance.
We don’t have many waterfalls near New York City, though it won’t be as beautiful place,
I can definitely adapt to that.
Okay. And so finally, could you tell us what makes you proud about working for the United Nations?
Yes. Hi, I have I would like to say that working with the United Nations in a mid-management position, is a very high personal and professional achievements. However, frankly, speaking to you, I have to admit that I spent the last 10 years serving the United Nations even more actually serving the United Nations as well as working with the EU. This has not been really an easy journey. Since the high level of personal sacrifice that is needed to work in often remote in difficult conditions and being away from family can be a real challenge. And that being said, I would also mention that the difficulties in the sacrifice I’ve experienced are somehow counteracted in very real and meaningful ways. By now that this work is making at least a tangible impact in the lives of people who are vulnerable to very difficult circumstances. And then and this is actually the grounding principle that helps me through knowing that there is a purpose to what we are doing, and that I must be working alongside other colleagues who genuinely want to several manatee that’s why I That’s how I feel proud about working for the UN dimension nowadays.
Thank you so much, Matteo, that was really inspiring to hear about, and I wish you the best of luck in your in your current job and a wonderful holiday vacation.
Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to share with all your colleagues with others my experience and and that was really nice to talk to you and thank you.