Meet the U.S. youth observer to the United Nations

Portrait photo of Nicol Perez (Courtesy of Nicol Perez)
Nicol Perez, a Boliviian-born marketing manager for Instagram, is the fifth U.S. youth observer to the United Nations (Courtesy photo)

Not long after Nicol Perez graduated from college, she moved to New York City, where she aimed to get involved with the global community. “I knew the United Nations was headquartered there, so I literally Googled ‘how to get involved with the UN,’” she said.

While that may sound somewhat random, the truth is Perez, now the new U.S. youth observer to the U.N., began the search well prepared. Born in Bolivia, she came to the United States at age 7, studied abroad in Bangkok for a semester, helped single mothers in Guatemala launch businesses, and right after college worked with a community-building group in the Netherlands.

Her online search turned up a program for young professionals offered by the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) that builds support for the work of the U.N. She helped organize events and blogged for its annual summit on social-good initiatives.

Today, as the fifth U.S. youth observer, the 23-year-old is embarking on a yearlong mission to serve as the voice of young Americans at U.N. forums and as a one-woman listening post for her generation.

Many of those conversations take place online through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, for which Perez is particularly well suited. Her “day” job — the U.N. duties occupy up to 15 hours a week — is with Instagram, the San Francisco–based photo-sharing and social networking service used by 500 million people. She works on marketing and communications.

Thirty other countries have U.N. youth observers. Their paths will be crossing at the 71st U.N. General Assembly this month.

Perez will focus on the global refugee crisis, the widespread problem of youth unemployment and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. She is also drumming up interest in a UNA-USA survey that seeks to capture the issues that most concern young Americans.

Her passion for economic development can be traced directly to watching her parents give up engineering jobs in Bolivia and start over in Miami for her and brother Sergio to gain opportunities.

“I saw how hard it was and how much my parents struggled,” Perez said. When she graduated from the University of Florida at age 20, “my parents were beyond themselves. They said, ‘This is why we came.’”

Join Nicol in a live webchat here on September 27 on how young people can join the global conversation and learn more about the work of the United Nations.