UN diplomat Finn Reske-Nielsen on international development cooperation


Former United Nations diplomat, Finn Reske-Nielsen, was the guest speaker at last event organised by UNYA Aalborg. Finn discussed a number of interesting ideas regarding international development cooperation. Personally, I would describe the discussion as a light and easy conversation. I had expected Finn to be more on the serious side of the scale. However, he seemed intrigued by the comments and questions he received from the audience. The conversation was homogenous in a manner, as it seemed as if everyone agreed with one another on some level, and if they didn’t, they discussed their ideas openly. The questions and comments that the speaker received levelled well with the presentation he had prepared, and made for a fruitful discussion.

In a recent interview that the UNYA team had conducted, Finn was asked how the UN could get more developed countries to contribute to international development. “Persuasion and begging” replied Finn, less humourlessly, as he explained that the UN does not have the capital to fund big programmes. If the UN intends to plan a major project, Finn clarified, the donor countries, the rich countries and the developed nations must contribute financially. Mr. Reske-Nielsen made an interesting point in regard to the benefit in assisting with development in developing countries, “when you provide successful development assistance and you lift countries out of poverty, you create markets”. Therefore, investing in the development of countries creates economic benefits for the countries, which choose to invest.

The UN has set 17 goals for Sustainable Development ‘17 goals to transform the world’. The first goal that the UN has is to end poverty, everywhere, and in all its forms. The goal claims that the economic growth of a country, should contribute to creating sustainable jobs that promote equality. This is a major goal that developed countries can contribute to by investing in the development of the developing countries. Additionally, as previously states, investing is beneficial in terms of economic growth, which further provides security, for both the nations helping and being helped.

UN_goalsGoal number 17 of the UN’s sustainable development is entitled ‘partnership for the goals: revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development’, and emphasises the points that Finn made in the interview, and in his presentation. This goal emphasises the need to redirect the money in the world in creating sustainable societies and environments for the people, by claiming that the planet and the people should be in the central focus. It claims that in order to build a sustainable community we need to have “a shared vision at a global, regional, national and local level”. Mr. Reske Nielsen claims that if a private company chooses to operate in a developing country, they have to make sure that certain factors such as infrastructure, transport, and communication are in capacity. This point is also emphasised by goal 17, as it claims that long term foreign investment is needed in developing countries to strengthen these factors.

If you are interested in global politics and issues, please join us for our next event about Human Rights Action Against ISIS. We will have another guest speaker, Associate Professor Ben Dorfman, who will share his riveting insights on the topic.

A Brief Background on Associate Professor Ben Dorfman


Ben Dorfman is an associate professor at Aalborg University’s Institute for Culture and Global Studies, as well as the chair of the Board of Studies, Language and International Studies. His research areas include world, political, intellectual and cultural history, human rights and historical representation. He is originally from the United States, having studied and worked there. He taught history and philosophy before he moved to Denmark to teach at AAU. His interest in history, and particularly in human rights has inspired his career, and also the publishing of his recent book: 13 Acts of Academic Journalism and Historical Commentary on Human Rights.

Professor Dorfman’s path to this point in his career hasn’t been a straight and narrow one as he has had many jobs and actually started his degree out as a music major, “I wanted to get into the arts and maybe become a jazz musician, but once I started studying music, I realized that what I was really interested in was the philosophical meaning of the arts, and the way art tells us about history. I have always been interested in history throughout my whole life”, he reflected during a recent interview the United Nations Youth Association had with him. This realization is what made professor Dorfman pursue a major in history as “history is the grand overview of human experience”, as he put it. Professor Dorfman finished his education with a PhD in history, with a specialization in the history of ideas, which focused on concepts, philosophical ideas and modes of thinking.

Working at AAU was professor Dorfman’s first job that brought him to an international level in his career. This was a significant step for his career as his focus has been on the global issue of human rights, with AAU’s Institute for Culture and Global Studies serving as a perfect environment for his academic endeavours. Professor Ben Dorfman is an accomplished academic with a passion for human rights and how he can contribute to make the world a more peaceful and better place.

We hope you are excited to hear from him at our upcoming event that he will be speaking at: ‘Human Rights in the Action Against ISIS’. It will start at 17:30 at the International House North Denmark. Find out more on the Facebook event page.

Refugee Stories: Closing the Gap


The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as “any person forced to flee from their country by violence or persecution”. It is widely known that since 2011, the world has seen the highest levels of displacement ever registered. The UNHCR estimates that nearly 65 million people have been displaced due to conflict and persecution during 2016, and that 20 people are forced to flee their homes every minute. According to the Danish Immigration and Integration Ministry, during 2015 and 2016, considered the peak of the so-called refugee crisis, 36,108 people sought asylum in Denmark.

In the face of such figures, it is easy to become numb to human struggle. People are turned into menacing ‘waves’ or unwanted ‘flows’. As an organization founded with the aim of guaranteeing respect for human rights, the United Nations’ role in this scenario is to make sure refugees are safely resettled and can restart their lives with dignity.

UNYA believes that a fundamental part of this process is to address it locally. The purpose of this event was thus to contribute to narrowing the distance between local populations and people with a refugee background. A gap which is evidenced by commonly expressed misconceptions and stereotypes attached to the label ‘refugee’, and might generate obstacles to integration or become fuel to anti-immigration policies.

In collaboration with the Danish Refugee Youth Council (DFUNK), UNYA gathered 3 speakers willing to share their journeys and experiences as refugees in Denmark.


Alex Berg, the first speaker of the evening, shared with the audience his three-week journey from Syria to Denmark in 2015, his thoughts on his country, his journey, and his new life in Denmark. Alex’s journey from Syria, like many other refugees seeking asylum, was not a smooth one. Treading through ISIS territory, travelling through dangerous transportation means and living in uncertainty by putting his life in the hands of smugglers, Alex successfully made it into Denmark, leaving his family, education, and possessions behind.

“If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 42 in Syria”, said Alex, explaining why he made this life-altering decision to leave Syria, “you are subject to be called for the army to serve the military where there is a 90% chance that you will be killed fighting on the battlefield”. Alex was studying at university in Damascus and was applying for a master’s program at the time, however, his reservation was cancelled because of the war. By default, he would have to join the military service, which in those circumstances would most probably mean a death sentence.

In Denmark, Alex has integrated into society enthusiastically. He voluntarily accepted a Danish host family who he meets with every second week and during holidays, has completed Danish language school and is doing a bachelor’s of humanities at Aalborg University. Alex has adjusted to life in Denmark over the past two years, although not without challenges.             


The second speaker, Taisir, is also a Syrian citizen. His home city Raqqa was one of the most affected by the war. Like Alex, he enjoyed a good life in his country before the war broke out. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and had been an English teacher for six years. Leaving home was not an easy decision for him, but a necessary one. “I came to Denmark in order to open a new page in my life after the war had destroyed everything I knew. I left behind my family, my friends and my childhood memories”.

Taisir opened his speech with the question, “Do you guys know falafel and hummus?” to which the audience responded with ‘oo’s’ and ‘ahh’s’. “Well, they are from Syria!”, he informed the room with a hint of pride in his tone. It is important to him that people associate Syria not only with violence and tragedy, but with its positive contributions to human history and to our everyday lives. “Most of you know Syria today as death, destruction, and war. However, I want you to know that Syria was a credit to all civilizations. For example, the first wheat planted was in Syria during 700BC”.

During his journey, one of the experiences that shocked him the most was an encounter with a judge in Macedonia, who asked for 100 to let him and his friends continue on their way up north. It took him 4 months to arrive in Denmark, where, for the first time, he joked, he was the one to look for the police, instead of the other way around.

Despite the strenuous journey, it was extremely important for him to get here. His choice of destination involved the contacts he had in Denmark; friends who resettled in the country before him. They had told him that the Danish asylum system included an integration program and it was generally faster than other countries. As he needed to rebuild his life from scratch, he was determined to go wherever he would have the best chances.

Taisir has been in Denmark for about three and half years now. Currently, he is in the first year of his master’s studies in Culture, Communication and Globalization, at Aalborg University. He has volunteered as an Arabic-English translator in his asylum centre. He speaks Danish well and is an active part of DFUNK, mainly as a storyteller.


The final speaker, Patrick, was born in Rwanda, but in 1994, when the genocide occurred, his family chose to flee and seek refuge elsewhere. Patrick explained, “My father was told to kill my mother because she was a Tutsi and he was Hutu, but my father didn’t do that because he loved my mother very much, and he loved me, too”. Patrick and his family sought refuge in several camps across southern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia, but returned back to Rwanda when they received news that the civil strife was over. Upon their return, his father was called into questioning by the police, and never came back. “My mother had a son who was Hutu, and she herself was Tutsi, and that was a crime”, Patrick stated. Patrick’s mother did not want to give him up, so she chose to leave Rwanda and start a new life for them elsewhere, and ended up at a UN refugee camp where they eventually found their place in Denmark.

“When my mother told me we were moving to Denmark, I said what is Denmark?” Patrick recalled with a wide grin on his face, about to deliver an amusing anecdote from his childhood. “Remember that Jackie Chan movie?” his mother replied, “It’s kind of like that”. So, as a young boy moving from southern Africa to Denmark, Patrick pictured Denmark as an exciting Jackie Chan movie. Patrick’s integration in Denmark was not so difficult. He was young, highly adaptable and liked to play football with the other kids, so he learned fast. Patrick feels at home in Denmark as he stated, “If someone asked me where I am from today, I would say Denmark because it is the one place I have lived the longest in”.

There were a few challenges Patrick experienced due to his turbulent childhood, as he said, “I was behind in everything, I had to fight if I wanted any chance to make it”. And fight he did as he went on to a gymnasium, then a bachelor’s in philosophy at Aalborg University, and is currently doing a master’s in sociology, besides coordinating DFUNK’s Outreach group, with the mission of spreading awareness about refugee-related facts.

Listening to the stories of Alex, Taisir and Patrick was a highly educational experience for the audience and the UNYA team. The 3 speakers shared with us their journeys that were sad and emotional at times, however, all 3 of them included some humour in their presentations and shared many positive aspects of their life in Denmark. The most important lesson to take away from this event was to realize that there is a person behind the term ‘refugee’; a person with hopes, dreams, goals and inspiring stories to tell.

Aalborg Students’ Inspiring Sustainability Projects


UNYA held “Student Talks” about enthralling student projects in the field of sustainable development to raise awareness among residents about the students’ involvement in creating a more sustainable Aalborg. Three projects were presented by three groups of Aalborg University students.

The first group of students stood up to present their outstanding project, which was “Urban Energy and Environmental Planning – Cities & Sustainability”.

These students developed a sustainability-oriented project for Aalborg East in November 2017 under the student competition named “Aalborg East 2030 – Visions & Investments”, organized by Himmerland Housing Association, supported by Aalborg University, the Mmunicipality and Business Network 9220. The goal of this competition was to gather ideas for sustainable development of Aalborg East by 2030 taking into accont the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN.

28951224_1625962224161558_6160213314241560576_oTheir project was based on revitalizing the Planetcentre in Aalborg East by creating liveability through public spaces and shared services. Aalborg East, in general, is characterised by isolated neighbourhoods and infrastructure prioritizing car usage. Therefore, public life in the streets is sparse. The Planetcentre is an old shopping mall from the 1970s and is characterised by frigid and empty spaces. Therefore, the students chose to revitalise it to increase its attractiveness and to boost the liveability of the area. They focused on responsible use of the area, products and materials, community involvement, sharing economy and accessibility by bike and walking. Furthermore, they developed an exciting timeline with progressing events and activities at the Planetcentre until 2030. Their enlightening project definitely drew the attention of Himmerland Housing Association, Aalborg University and municipality in the competition.

29027556_1625963167494797_5169896076005605376_oThe next project was developed by Erasmus+ master students from the “Joint European Master in Environmental Studies – Cities and Sustainability” programme for the same competition in November 2017. The project, which I am a part of, was focused on a different field of sustainability, namely integrating sustainability education into the existing system of school education. The major objective was to ensure quality education for the youth, and decent work, good health and well-being for the residents of Aalborg East in a longer run. Our main credo was that better quality of education in the East will bring more people to the area and will enhance the liveability as well as improve the economic situation there.

The project focused on establishing a new department in one of the schools of Aalborg East. The proposed department had several internal and external functions to manage the new study focus. The exceptional part of this project was the proposal of a membership card specifically for the residents of Aalborg East to increase the liveability and to boost sustainability education at schools as one of the offers for parents. All over, this outstanding project was noticed by the school manager and other persons during its development in November 2017, but has not been considered further due to the current different focus of the municipality in the development of school education.

28872747_1625963007494813_3764275102477189120_oThe last presentation was held by the students engaged in International Network of Green Agents (INGA). INGA was established by the Sustainability department of Aalborg municipality and focuses on students’ involvement in the transition towards sustainability of Aalborg city. It is a quite new organization (established in September 2017) and has been first coordinated by the Australian manager Timothy Shue. Now, INGA consists of 9 interdisciplinary students from Aalborg University coming from different countries. The previous year, within 12 weeks, the INGA 1.0 team has assisted the Centre for Green Transition to assess the current stage of the campaign “Gør os alle grønnere” and to develop further strategies for the campaign. The outcome of their project gave 8 recommendations for future steps. Indeed, they are not going to finish with one result! This year, they will continue to assess in a campaign and with sustainable transition of the city with a new upgrade INGA 2.0. They are willing to foster collaboration with different actors, such as universities, AAU Case Competition, AAU Match, etc. to broaden their potential. Moreover, they will assist in developing the Sustainability Festival 2018.

For more information about the projects of each group, please contact the following emails:


Our speakers addressed the following SDGs: