Kari Lucas, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Corruption and Economic Crime Branch
“Americans Voices at Vienna-based International Organizations” Post #2 Monday, 10th April 2023
Our second spotlight is on Kari Lucas. Originally from Long Island, New York, Kari entered the United Nations through the Young Professionals Programme (YPP). She now works as a Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer in the Corruption and Economic Crime Branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
1. Where do you work and what’s your role?
I work as a Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer in the Corruption and Economic Crime Branch of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. UNODC is the guardian of the UN Convention against Corruption. We support States parties in further implementing the provisions of the Convention by providing direct technical assistance, developing guidance materials, facilitating reviews of their implementation and supporting exchanges among countries. My particular role is to support our field colleagues and the delivery of our technical assistance to governments and other key stakeholders from Southeast Europe through the Pacific.
2. What encouraged you to apply for this position?
I was working in Myanmar as a Country Director for a locally-based organization focused on providing legal empowerment, integrity and human rights trainings for lawyers and key stakeholders in the criminal justice field. I was interested in obtaining a global perspective where I could contribute to systematic change. I applied through the Young Professionals Programme – an absolutely wonderful opportunity and way to enter the UN!
3. What are your favorite things about working for an international organization?
I love the diversity and breadth of the work we get to do. My energy and fulfillment comes from engaging with the counterparts we’re supporting, whether it’s here in Vienna or in a specific country, to better understand their challenges and design initiatives that really fit their needs and achieve impact. And on a personal level, international organizations bring people together from everywhere and it’s truly the best experience to meet people from different places, connect and create a home away from home with people you would have otherwise never met.
4. What is the best part of living in Vienna/Austria?
Austrians get it right. There are endless amounts of outdoor cafes (even in winter, with blankets!), vineyards right above Vienna where I often go for wine hikes with my husband and friends, crystal clear blue lakes and trails and mountains for skiing. Public transportation runs like clockwork and the city is so accessible to other locations in Europe – it’s been a dream to hop over to Italy or France or Croatia for a weekend and get lost in cobblestone streets and delicious food. It’s such an easy, fun place to live. I feel very lucky.
5. What’s it like living outside of the United States?
Living outside the U.S. is like having your heart (and favorite foods) in multiple places. I miss my family and friends back home, I miss the vibrancy and pace of New York and the ease of conversation with people I’ve known forever. But it would be hard to trade what I’ve found here, too: I’d miss the community I’ve built in Vienna and the incredible experiences that have helped make me who I am. In international organizations, most of the people you’re with are also away from their homes. I’ve hosted Fourth of July parties and Thanksgivings and that helps to keep the U.S. close, while also sharing U.S. traditions with others.
6. Where in the U.S. are you from? How has your upbringing influenced your decision to pursue a career at an international organization?
I’m originally from New York (Long Island). I am lucky that my family was supportive and encouraging of my interest in working at an international organization, likely away from the U.S., even if it meant I wouldn’t be physically close to them. Growing up in New York, with NY being home to the UN headquarters, I think it was always in the back of my mind. I used to walk past the building and think about the kinds of conversations happening inside, with people from all over on all different world topics. I was also lucky to have teachers who often talked about our connections with others around the world and were honest about the types of challenges we and others face. Like all the cliches, I felt like I wanted to contribute in some way to making the world a fairer, more just and inclusive place.
7. Do you have any tips for people considering a career at an international organization?
There is no one path to this kind of work – people come from very different backgrounds and previous experiences – and I think that’s what contributes to making this work so interesting and impactful.
In terms of taking the leap, put yourself in places where you want to work, volunteer for organizations that you’re interested in (while working at jobs you may not love) and talk to as many people as you can who work in the field. I originally worked at a private law firm and I wanted to transition into the international field. I booked a one-way ticket to Myanmar (everyone thought I was crazy). I initially volunteered for organizations and after being there for a while and meeting people working where I dreamed of working, I was lucky to receive consultancies and ultimately ended up as the Country Director for the organization where I originally volunteered. Through that process, I met incredible, inspiring individuals from everywhere – one of whom told me about the Young Professionals Programme at the UN.
Don’t be afraid to consider moving abroad for your career! You never know where each step will lead you. I believe it was my experience working outside of the U.S. for three years in different roles that made me an attractive candidate for the UN.
Tune in next week for our third #MondayMotivation post, where we will spotlight another American pursuing a career in international public service at a different international organization based here in Vienna.