A Chat with UNICEF’s Whitney Cross

Whitney Cross, the Global Citizen Fellow for Chicago’s regional UNICEF office, recently came to speak to Professor Diamond’s Global Health 390 class about the work that UNICEF does around the world, from trick-or-treat programs to vaccination campaigns. Cross first discovered UNICEF when she researched global efforts to alleviate the poverty in Haiti, after she witnessed the country’s situation firsthand in a brief visit to the islands. A 2014 graduate from Loyola University, Cross interned with UNICEF and served as a volunteer for many of their local projects. Today, she is in charge of helping organize volunteer efforts and promoting UNICEF in the area.

What you do with UNICEF today?
My role is a two-year fellowship. There are fellows in 12 cities across the country, and my role here in Chicago, similar to my other colleagues, is to support community engagement efforts in the markets we are in. So I focus on Chicago and the Midwest, other colleagues focus on Dallas and so on, but basically what that means is supporting all of our volunteer programs, which includes everything from Trick-or-Treat to Kid Power to our high school clubs to our campus clubs. Then also, it’s part of my role to kind of act as a grassroots spokesperson for the organization here in Chicago. Anytime someone is hosting an event and would like somebody to speak, or anytime a university needs someone to come and guest lecture, then I’ll represent the organization in that capacity.

What’s your favorite part about your job?

I really do love so many aspects of my job but I feel like the best thing is when you kind of see someone, just the lightbulb go off for someone and whether its in a presentation or through a meeting or after a phone call or even via email and you hear the excitement in their voice about the work that UNICEF is doing or their passion for helping kids in general. That is something that is really powerful and definitely keeps me excited to come to work every day.

What do you wish more people knew about UNICEF?
There are so many people who are immediately familiar with the name but not exactly what we do. I wish that everyone could have a better understanding of the scope of UNICEF’s work, I feel like I’m continuously impressed by the work that UNICEF does. It’s easy to think of large organizations as just slow-moving or [that they] don’t have the presence to move quickly, but I am so impressed by how quickly and efficiently the organization works. For example I think I touched on the fact that they can deliver supplies to any country in the world in 72 hours and are constantly leveraging technology and innovation. The organization actually has an entire division called the Innovations Unit, which tries to tackle global problems, from figuring out ways to structure new programs to creating new products and technologies I think that is really special and I wish more people knew [about it].

Can Northwestern students get involved with UNICEF?

We really do need the support of college students and people that are passionate about children’s rights, especially in a time where we are seeing so many horrible things happen to children. The best way that any student can get involved [with UNICEF] is definitely through the Northwestern campus club. They are doing so much great work, and it’s run by students. The members really do decide what to focus on and what events they want to host. I know they partner with a lot of other on campus organizations which is something that we definitely encourage. A year ago they hosted a “water walk” – on the beach they had students come to kind of experience what it is like to have to carry water or go search for water every single day rather than be able to turn on a faucet, which I think was an incredible experiential event. I know they’ve hosted film screenings regarding human trafficking and had me and other speakers come in to talk about anti-trafficking work. They’ve [also] partnered with global health-focused organizations on campus.

We talk a lot about trying to aid global health efforts and being a ‘global citizen.’ How do you think that Northwestern students can be better global citizens?

We say that a global citizen is “someone who understands interconnectedness, respects and values diversity, has the ability to challenge injustice and inequities and takes action in a personally meaningful way.” Northwestern students, at least the ones I come in contact with, already have a pretty clear understanding of diversity and have a great respect for that. I think that the hardest part for anybody is to actually take action around something they care about or an injustice that they see and so I would definitely encourage everyone to think about what issues you’re passionate about and how you plan to take action in a way that’s personally meaningful to you to make a difference.

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