Interview with Close the Gap's UN Youth Representative

Posted on Jan 23, 2019 7:34 AM by

Since 2012, Close the Gap has been a member of the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI). This UN department was established 70 years ago to promote global awareness and understanding of the work of the United Nations. In this context, Close the Gap developed a partnership with Fordham University located in New York, USA.

Every academic year, a student from the University has the opportunity to become the UN Youth Representative of Close the Gap, as part of their master degree. The Youth Representative will attend conferences at the UN, acting as a bridge between Close the Gap and the UN. Two major topics of this partnership are ICT4Development (ICT4D) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which closely fit Close the Gap's mission to bridge the digital divide.

This year, Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Rahman functions as Close the Gap’s UN Youth Representative. In context of his year as the link between Close the Gap and the UN, we took the opportunity to ask him and Dr. Elaine Congress, Associate Dean at Fordham University, for an exclusive interview.

Hello, Abdul, how did your Fall semester go at Fordham University?

It was a busy semester for me, as I combine working for a public Child Welfare, representing Close the Gap and going to school full time.

So, apart from studying, you also work with vulnerable children, is that right? Could you tell us some more about it?

I am a full-time employee of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, a public child welfare agency charged with protecting and promoting the safety and wellbeing of New York City’s children from abuse and neglect. As a Child Protective Specialist, my role is to investigate allegations of child abuse and maltreatment and to ensure that the wellbeing of children is protected.  

In your role as Close the Gap’s UN Youth Representative, have you visited any interesting UN conferences these past few months?

I had the opportunity to represent Close the Gap at several UN and other events. I started the semester by representing Close the Gap at the Public meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in September 2018, and subsequently at various committee meetings. Some of the events include meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, NGO Committee on ageing to address inequality, Media and Social Changes; Recognizing & Challenging Disinformation, Stereotypes, and Fake News among others. 

How did you experience being our UN Youth Representative until now?

I really enjoy the experience. I have been exposed so much to the working of the UN and its subcommittee within the short period I have been representing Close the Gap. I feel honored to have such tremendous exposure by being the Close the Gap Youth Representative at the UN.

What are your UN-related plans for the second semester?

Most of the events at UN NGO’s this past months have been geared towards refugee and immigration issues as well as civil society that I felt were not closely related to Close the Gap’s mission. This semester, I intend to explore and partake in events that are more closely linked to Close the Gap’s mission so as to increase the organization’s presence at UN NGO’s.

For the upcoming CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) panel event at the UN on March 14, 2019 Fordham UN interns have been accepted to host a side event about Socially Excluded Women. I will be presenting on behalf of Close the Gap.

Thank you for your time and we wish you the best of luck these next few months!

Thank you, and I look forward to working closely with you to promote the mission of Close the Gap.


As Dean at Fordham University, Ms Elaine Congress is responsible for the relationship between, the university, the UN, the Youth Representative and Close the Gap.

Dr. Congress, how long have you been working at Fordham University?

I have been at Fordham for thirty years.  After working in direct service to clients and their families in a community mental health center in September 1989 I began at Fordham as an Assistant Professor.  Since then I have been promoted to Associate Professor, Professor, Director of the Doctoral Program and Associate Dean.

An important aspect of academia is writing and during my years at Fordham I have been able to publish several books. At this time I am working on two books, the fourth edition of Multicultural Perspectives in Working with Families and a new book on the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals.  For the UN book Abdul will be co-authoring one of the chapters.

How many of Close the Gap's UN Youth Representatives have you coached these past few years (approximately)?

I have coached at least six UN Youth Representatives over the years. 

How do you experience the relationship between yourself, your students and Close the Gap?

We have a very positive relationship.  I always try to select students who can quickly learn about Close the Gap’s mission and modus operandi.  The selected student needs to be able to represent Close the Gap well at UN meetings as he is the only Close the Gap representative in NYC and at the UN.  He also must be adept at social media communication via Twitter with Close the Gap and others in our extended community.   

The student and I meet regularly with Julie de Bergeyck, Close the Gap Impact, Engagement, and Communications Director, and Liselotte Thijs, Impact Communications Coordinator via Skype for the student to report on his recent activities at the United Nations.  We also learn about current and future Close the Gap plans and discuss various projects at the UN where the student can participate.  I have been very pleased this semester with Abdul’s representation of Close the Gap at the United Nations.

Could you give us some more details about how you help our UN Youth Representatives?

I meet weekly individually and as a group with Abdul and other Fordham MSW students placed at the UN.   In individual meetings we discuss current and future UN projects and as part of his continued professional development I encourage him to take on leadership roles.  Two upcoming projects will be his presentation at the Eastern Psychological Conference on February 28 where he will speak about his representation of Close the Gap at the United Nations and a side event for the UN Commission on the Status of Women on March 14 where he will present about African girls education in technology (based on Close the Gap projects).  

Are you also involved in other UN-related work? Could you tell us some more about this?

In addition to my work with Abdul and other students, I am also very involved with several NGO committees.  I am on the board of the NGO Committee on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and we hold monthly meetings with different speakers.  Abdul frequently participates in these meetings.   Migration is a major focus now at the UN.  For many years I have been very involved with the NGO Committee on Migration.  Abdul attends these committee meetings regularly and this year had a very active role in their program that depicted refugee children who because of war and conflict had been forced to leave their countries of origin.  I am also a member of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women and this led to the development of a side event in March where Abdul will be speaking.   

Thank you for your time and this enlightening interview! 

My pleasure, I have been very pleased to work with Close the Gap around student placements at the UN.   Abdul the 2018-2019 UN student intern represents Close the Gap very well and I am very pleased by his performance.   It has been a great pleasure to work with Close the Gap staff members Julie and Liselotte and look forward to our continued work together this spring semester and beyond.