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An Interview with Matthew Kronborg

At the heart of philanthropy and charitable giving is the desire to promote the wellbeing of others. Here in Australia, it is estimated that there almost nine in 10 Australians giving to charity annually. At the forefront of charitable brand names amongst the 600 000 plus registered charities and foundations in Australia is the United Nations Association of Australia, an entity of the United Nations headquartered in New York City. I interviewed the Executive Director of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA), Matthew Kronborg, who gave us insight into the organisation, ways you can make the UN a part of your world as well as news about upcoming events.

BL: The United Nations is a global humanitarian organization with membership of 193 states including Australia. Tell us about the how the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) engages Australian citizens in the work of the UN?

MK: For over 70 years the United Nations Association of Australia has worked to educate, inspire and engage Australian citizens and leaders about the work the UN does, why it is so important and how they can get involved. Our public facing efforts include events, conferences and dinners with high profile speakers from the UN, politics and academia. We also provide online educational resources, conduct Australia’s top awards on a variety of international affairs themes, operate UN General Assembly simulations games in high schools and deliver other programs and activities across Australia and the Pacific.

BL: In 2010 you were awarded a Fellowship Scholarship at the Centre of Sustainability Leadership, in 2013 a runner up for the U.S. Fulbright Coral Sea Scholarship and in 2014 named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum. There are many people who would read your corporate profile and be in awe of the fine success you’ve achieved as a young leader. Here you are, taking on the role Executive Director of an NGO, leaving behind the corporate world. Enlighten us on the road taken to making this decision.

MK: Several years ago I had a number of experiences in a short period of time that made me sit up and take notice that a large percentage of Australians are not aware of the huge value that the United Nations brings to them in their daily lives. Yes, the UN has a key role in maintaining international peace and stability and solving other global challenges such as Ebola and climate change; things that many of us erroneously think are only happening far away, long into the future or are someone else’s problem; but, the UN also has a critical role in providing the global governance backbone that enables, amongst other important things, international aviation, shipping, banking, intellectual property rights, law and telecommunications, all to the great benefit of our modern world.

The world would be a far worse place without the UN.

The UN is only as strong as its member states allow it to be, so when I saw it repeatedly being roundly denigrated by several ill-informed Australian leaders I decided I had to do something to help remedy this lack of understanding. I started by volunteering occasionally at our NSW state office and rose up through the ranks to eventually be selected as the UNAA’s National Executive Director last year.

BL: What have been the major challenges of running an organization such as the UNAA?

MK: The UNAA is an exciting organisation with dozens of volunteers and employees geographically spread across Australia who come from all walks of life. At times this creates challenges but more often it provides us with a number of opportunities. The adoption of new accessible technologies on my watch will help to further reduce the tyranny of distance challenges we sometimes experience.

BL: What would you say has been the highlight of your time as ED of the UNAA so far?

MK: Working with a great team of people who have collectively united to deliver on our overarching altruistic goals and ultimately aim to make our world a better place.
BL: As Australians, we can sometimes live in a bubble when it comes to understanding how people in developing countries live. How do you bridge the gap in information so that people are aware of what is happening in countries around us?

MK: As modern Australians, at our fingertips we all have instant access to any information we desire plus we can easily hop on a plane and visit any country in the world, however we often take this for granted which allows a significant knowledge gap and lack of empathy to still occur. At the UNAA we try our best to overcome this by delivering interesting and inspiring content to our audience in ever evolving ways such as our national social media channels.

BL: How do various demographic people groups get involved with the UNAA? We have young people, high school students, and others wanting to be part of the UN right here in Australia.

MK: The best way to start is by, there you can sign up to our fortnightly newsletter, donate and importantly become a paid up member of one of our Divisions, Young Professionals or Youth arms. Being a member of the UNAA has many advantages. Once a member you’ll get invitations and discounted tickets to our events plus you can stand for election to join our local committees in a voluntary capacity. We also welcome working with corporate organisations to promote the work of the UNAA.

BL: There are many Australians who think about assisting NGO’s like the UNAA but don’t have funds to do that. Are there alternate ways for them to get involved?  

MK: Sure, we have dozens of volunteers contributing across Australia. The best way to start is to reach out to your local UNAA State Division, UNAA Young Professionals group or UN Youth team. We also have programs and projects that run out of our National Office in Canberra, such as our Peace Program, that are often looking for passionate and talented volunteers.

BL: Work aside, what do you do when you’re not running one of the most well respected and publicly visible charities in Australia? We’d love to get to know the person behind the title.

MK: In my spare time I work with other NGO’s, read non-fiction voraciously, utilise my airplane pilots licence, do exercise- particularly running, and go on outdoor travel adventures. Over Easter myself and a handful of close friends hired some white water rafts and barrelled down the length of the mighty Franklin River in far south west Tasmania over the course of two weeks. It was a fun trip, though hair-raising at times. It brought us closer together and in touch with spectacular nature that exists no-where else on this planet. In the early 1980’s that river was to be dammed with the entire valley to be flooded and logged for some short term benefit. As we floated down that amazing river we were thankful that never happened thanks to a small number of people who were willing sit up and take action to ensure the place was protected for present and future generations. Tourism now brings more money and jobs to that region’s economy than the dam would have.

BL: What are your long-term goals as Executive Director of the UNAA?

With an organization that has a history as long as ours we need to be continually working to maintain momentum and replenish resource pools. If you would like to donate some our your time, talent or treasure – Your hard earned dollars! – please contact us.

This interview was originally conducted in conjunction with our sister group The Plus Ones.

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