UN Volunteer Hugo Juarez in Guatemala

Taking a pause from the private sector to volunteer

A genuine desire to help in responding to COVID-19 challenges prompted Hugo Juárez to apply for an assignment as UN Volunteer Information Management Specialist in the Dialogue and Innovation Team of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Guatemala. From the start, Hugo noticed the differences between the scope of this role and his years of experience in the private sector: "I did not see it as me asking for a job. It was more like, 'I'm here to help you, tell me what you need and I will do it.'"

Hugo brought to UNDP his strong background in communications and digital marketing, technical skills, as well as a drive to contribute to the development of his home country, Guatemala. He has made a significant impact in various projects.

One of these is En Marcha Digital, a strategic initiative that supports entrepreneurs in adapting their business models during the COVID-19 pandemic, equipping them with free digital tools to reach their clients in novel ways.

The pandemic accelerated the planning and execution of the project. The development of a landing page – a task that was expected to take approximately three months – was completed by Hugo in just three days. Besides the personal satisfaction that came with being able to contribute his skills to such a meaningful project, Hugo found it gratifying to see the favorable reception of En Marcha Digital and the involvement of various government institutions.

It was an opportune moment for government institutions to turn to UNDP for guidance in this crucial area of the digital divide in Guatemala. This is also where my passion for volunteering comes from, because I believe that the use of technology can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. --Hugo Juárez, UN Volunteer Information Management Specialist with UNDP, Guatemala

Another project Hugo played an important role in was that of Reactiva Guate. In this, the Municipality of Guatemala and UNDP, with the support of a local crowdfunding company, created a joint venture for a crowdfunding process to support national entrepreneurs face the challenges posed by the pandemic to their businesses.

One of the requirements for participation was that the entrepreneurs invest the aid in job creation, thereby providing opportunities for others and creating a ripple effect in their communities. Hugo’s expertise in digital communications made him invaluable to the project team. He helped create the landing page for the campaign and promote activities through social media to increase donations. Reflecting on his contribution, Hugo comments, "Aid is a cash transfer. There’s a lot of semblance to selling a product online. However, what’s being sold is being part of something bigger."

This seems to be a common theme amongst the projects which Hugo feels fortunate to have been able to contribute to as a UN Volunteer. He experienced this through his role in Innovation Week, an annual initiative jointly promoted by UNDP and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), in which multidisciplinary teams design interventions that contribute to the SDGs and co-design solutions to critical local and national issues[1]. Hugo assisted in preliminary research and proposal processes to identify the most suitable platform for the virtual event, and served as administrator of the event.

Hugo is able to further pursue his passion in reducing the digital divide in his country through participation in a digital transformation initiative that is being carried out by UNDP, UNICEF and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Through systems thinking methods and close collaboration with government institutions, the partners are evaluating how various members of society – government, civil society, academia, service providers, industry and more – are interacting with technology. For example, how they are using technology to assess gaps and opportunities, and subsequently create a road map of concrete steps to take.

Hugo feels proud and thankful to be part of crucial projects that will optimize the internal processes of municipalities to strengthen the digital capacities of their employees throughout the country, thereby improving services and the quality of life of countless people. His gratitude is accompanied by his awareness that volunteers are critical to these undertakings, and he hopes that the immense value of volunteerism will continue to be recognized.

A paradigm shift is taking place in perceptions of the capabilities and responsibilities of a volunteer: from simple support activities to professional volunteering. In Latin America, in particular, there is a notion that volunteering is for the elite or upper classes, yet there are many models of volunteering that are not yet known: models that are innovative, inclusive and ensure that no one is left behind. --Hugo Juárez

This article was prepared with the kind support of Online Volunteer Kaylin Lang.

[1] The challenges addressed during the 2020 innovation week were: food habits and healthy diets in adolescents, as well as tourism and conservation of landscapes and biodiversity in Guatemala.