IPED Students Thrive with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

By Ellie Spresser, Hjalmar Breit, and Lea Phillips

Three Fordham IPED students are working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York City. Two of our students, Ellie Spresser ’21 and Hjalmar Breit ’21, have been supporting the UNDP Global Program on Nature for Development since August 2019. Ellie is a Public Service Assistant and Hjalmar is an Arrupe Fellow. Lea Phillips ’21 joined the Nature for Development team this January 2020. All three support the Equator Initiative, which awards the Equator Prize, recognizing innovative initiatives from local communities and indigenous peoples that demonstrate exceptional achievements in the area of nature-based solutions for local sustainable development.

Ellie Spresser ‘21 supports the Equator Prize in a variety of ways. Most recently she has been researching projects nominated for the 2020 award at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. She has also assisted with communications campaigns and drafting case studies for prior winners. Additionally, she worked with the UNDP Biodiversity Lab on a project analyzing spatial maps in national reporting, working to understand their ability to meaningfully support policy decisions. Prior to joining IPED, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English in Indonesia. She completed her undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, GA. Upon graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in diplomacy, working for the United States Department of State. She appreciates the opportunity to understand how the day-to-day of an IGO works and hopes it will prepare her for a career with the government. 

Hjalmar Breit ‘21 also plays a dynamic role for the Equator Prize. He enjoyed meeting winners from around the world during the 2019 prize and is proud to have collaborated with the winners of the economic category to draft a public statement for the ceremony. Other projects with the Nature for Development Team include social media outreach and research on international funding pipelines for development-focused projects. Currently, he is assisting with the selection phase for Equator Prize 2020, conducting due diligence research on potential winners. Before his internship with UNDP through Fordham, Hjalmar served two years as an Economic Development Volunteer with Peace Corps Senegal, teaching entrepreneurship and financial literacy to women and youth. Hjalmar intends to continue a service-based career in the development field.

Goals of the UNDP Equator Initiative

Lea Phillips’s interest in the Equator Initiative was sparked by IPED’s trip to UNDP in the fall. Meeting with key members of the Nature for Development team, Lea was struck by how the initiative gives indigenous people a platform to share their solutions to climate change. Through the biannual Equator Prize, community dialogues, and knowledge-sharing databases, the Equator Initiative fosters South-South cooperation and celebrates the hard work of indigenous groups and grassroots environmental organizations. Excited by this approach to development, Lea reached out to the team and successfully procured an internship for the Spring semester. Since joining Nature for Development in January, Lea has been thrilled to play a role in the selection process of the 2020 Equator Initiative. Furthermore, she has written an article for UNDP’s blog, highlighting the tenacity of India’s “Seed Mothers,” women whose advocacy for seed sovereignty and sustainable agriculture has earned them international recognition. As an Equator Initiative Programme Assistant, Lea has garnered invaluable insights about building disaster-resilient communities and protecting vulnerable ecosystems, acumen that will inform Lea’s future endeavors.