“I believe inspiration comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from everywhere”

Ilija Talev, Policy Specialist, Public Finance, UNICEF NYHQ

Policy Specialist, Public Finance, UNICEF NYHQ
21 June 2019

Tell us a bit about your background.  

I was born and raised in Macedonia. I left my country when I was 16 to study abroad and returned 12 years later, with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a master’s in European politics and policies and a Ph.D. in governance and children’s rights.

I joined UNICEF Macedonia in 2009 as a national Social Policy Officer, where I stayed until 2014 when, thanks to the NETI programme, I became a Social Policy Specialist in the Belize Country Office. I spent three wonderful years there working on social protection and public finance for children, and supporting the Representative in the management of the office in absence of a Deputy Representative post. From there, I moved to my current post in New York HQ, where I work as a policy specialist in the area of Public Finance for children. I have been at my post just over a year now, and I have had the privilege to work with some of the greatest minds and most dedicated professionals in the organization, from whom I have learned a lot.

What do you do?

My daily work consists of providing support to country and regional offices in the area of public finance for children (PF4C). In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in activities and interest in this area, as there is a much better understanding throughout the organization that PF4C is an essential enabler, and accelerator, for achieving results for children. Our team provides guidance, technical advice and direct programme support to colleagues around the world in programming, effective implementation, monitoring and reporting of public finance activities to achieve results for children in all sectors.

What’s your working day like? 

The first thing I do every morning, is check our global reporting databases for any new reports, research and studies from around the world in the area of PF4C. I am excited when I see that a country or a region has successfully generated evidence or advocated to increase investments for children in any sector. Our ability to share knowledge and learn from each other makes us more effective, so I help connect colleagues working on similar issues in different countries to learn from each other and improve their programme implementation. A substantial part of my work is providing direct support in reviewing ToRs, draft studies and guidance to developing country level PF4C planning and programming. I also spend considerable amount of time developing guidance notes and technical papers on various PF4C programming tools. Lastly, I support my unit in establishing and maintaining global partnerships with other organizations involved in this work, in order to facilitate country level collaboration and partnerships that would lead to greater and better investments in children.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old? 

With difficulty :)

Perhaps I would say something like: What I try to do is to make sure you that you have enough kindergartens, schools and hospitals, good teachers, good doctors, parks and playgrounds for all children, so you can grow up happy, healthy and protected. As you know, all this costs money. So, what I try to do is to ensure we have enough money for all those things.  

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a pilot for most of my childhood. Then a policeman, followed by a soccer player, nuclear physicist, teacher, professor and finally a UN international civil servant. Now I am contemplating a career in marine biology but I fear it might be too late.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?

Knowing that absolutely everything we do has the goal of advancing the rights of children and improving their lives. Defining success not by the amount of money and wealth we create, but by the number of children we reach.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Explaining what I do to 5-year-olds. Or 50 year-olds. It’s never easy :)

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?

I think my entire time working at UNICEF Belize. I have so many fond memories of the people, the places, the programme… I cannot really pick a favourite. Those three years were intense. I travelled all over the country, saw the results of our work almost daily: Children in better equipped schools, child-friendly hospitals and a child-friendly justice-system, more children receiving cash transfers… It was a wonderful experience.  

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?

Leaving my home and family to pursue my education and learn about the world. Many things could have gone wrong, but fortunately they didn’t.

What are your passions? How do you spend your free time?

I have many: Diving, running/sports, reading, music, food, film, art… Not in any particular order.

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours? 

Give everything you do your absolute best. If the work you’re doing isn’t worth pouring your heart and soul into it, you’re probably not doing what you should be.

Who do you look towards for inspiration? 

I believe inspiration comes from knowledge, and knowledge comes from everywhere: People, books, articles, song lyrics, movie lines… So that’s where I look for it… Everywhere.

My colleagues don’t know that…

I’m a Jazz aficionado.