IEU Experience


Sofia Ballester spent her summer participating in the UNSSC-IE Summer Research Program, an initiative she calls “a great academic and professional experience that boosted her research and consulting skills.”

The Summer Research Program is a joint initiative launched by IE University’s Bachelor in International Relations in partnership with the UN System Staff College (UNSSC).

Not only did she meet and develop relationships with “brilliant and helpful” UN professionals, but she also improved her ability to write research papers, work in teams and interact with real clients.

During the program, Sofia was assigned a specific project: to analyze the role of the UN Innovation Toolkit in the SDGs Global Startup Competition, an initiative launched by the UNWTO. Her team focused on the toolkit’s Partnership Pillar and how it was linked to the tourism, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. By investigating how the UNWTO has forged and strengthened its partnerships, Sofia and her team highlighted the importance of innovation in stakeholder relationships.

Of course, being an IE University student, Sofia knows a thing or two about innovation. However, over the course of the program, her understanding of it evolved.

“I would say that after taking part in this program, I’ve realized that innovation isn’t only about technology and digitalization, but also about finding different solutions and ways to face challenges. Innovation should be understood as change.”

In fact, from day one, the UNSSC insisted they “do things differently and do different things”—that is, never stop asking questions and finding room for improvement. This allowed Sofia and her team to find the most innovative criteria for analysis and to pin down exactly how—and for whom—this research project could add value.

So what does a day in the life look like for a participant in the UNSSC-IE Summer Research Program? For Sofia, it included exchanging emails with UNWTO and UNSSC professionals as well as her advisor; conducting interviews with these professionals and with partners of the UNWTO; brainstorming the right questions to ask; researching the toolkit and actions undertaken by the UNWTO; and organizing and analyzing large amounts of information, among other tasks.

Sofia highlights that she wasn’t in it alone—she was in constant communication with her partner, IE University student Kylar Cade . She notes that developing a positive and lasting working relationship with her partner was important, especially given the many virtual meetings to attend and the massive amount of interview content to synthesize.

At the end of the program, Sofia and her team submitted their research paper, which included a section called “Lessons Learned and Recommendations” aimed at both the UN Innovation Toolkit and the UNWTO.

Sofia’s advice to future participants in the research program is to enjoy it to the fullest—and be prepared to work with lots and lots of data.