Many St Andrews students, particularly those studying International Relations, have dreamt about one day working for the United Nations. One former International Relations student, Josefine Roos, turned that dream into a reality.
After gaining degrees from the University of St Andrews and Columbia University in New York, Ms Roos, who is originally from Sweden, travelled internationally as a conflict analyst, and she now works for the Peacebuilding Commission at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
When she’s not working to change the world, Ms Roos also runs a professional female network and successful podcast, Roos&Shine, with her sister, Victoria Roos Olsson.
The Saint recently caught up with Ms Roos to talk about her journey from life at the University of St Andrews to peacebuilding in Myanmar and forming a global podcasting sisterhood.
On her newest project, the “Roos&Shine” podcast with her sister, Ms Roos said, “Roos&Shine was set up with my sister, Victoria, who works as a leadership consultant in Stockholm. We both felt that there was a need for a new female professional network where women could discuss career challenges as much as personal issues. The initial idea was to create local clubs that could connect globally, providing a community for women that wanted to create synergies.
“This evolved into a website and, from there, a podcast. We publish our podcasts on a weekly basis and they’re designed to be listened to on the go, when commuting, for example. We wanted the podcast to feel like a pep talk over a coffee with that special friend who leaves you inspired to take on your challenges.”
So far, the podcast’s first 10 episodes have covered issues including managing international teams at work and the importance of investing in yourself, to imposter syndrome and achieving the crucial work-life balance. The Roos sisters also release special pep sheets with each episode to help listeners put any new ideas into action, and they have also launched a monthly boosting campaign on social media, #giveaboost.
On the campaign, she told The Saint, “We felt that women were very good at boosting and complimenting each other in the private sphere, between friends, but that more of that was needed in the workplace. We were inspired by how, during Obama’s presidency, women made it an active strategy to amplify each other in meetings, ensuring a 50/50 gender balance in Obama’s second term. Besides just being a nice thing to do, boosting each other really helps women to be seen and heard at work.”
After only 10 podcast episodes, Roos&Shine has already attracted the attention of several large companies, who, Ms Roos said, “are reaching out to see if we can help develop their own female networks, which could be a great opportunity to expand our project in more of a consulting capacity.”
Additionally, in October, their podcast made the iTunes ‘New & Noteworthy’ section – a major achievement in the world of podcasting.
“We were delighted to hear about that. Making that section was always one of our goals starting out, and it’s really had an impact on the size of our audience.”
She continued, “We’re so pleased with how Roos&Shine is developing. Logistically, it’s taken a lot of effort to manage. We record the podcasts via Victoria in Stockholm and me in New York, and in between our day jobs, that normally has to take place around our families at the weekends, or first thing in the morning before work.”
During her second year studying at St Andrews, Ms Roos was undertaking an internship at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Colombia.
“Having dreamt of working for the UN from a young age, that was really the starting point of my career in conflict resolution.”
After university, Ms Roos decided it was essential to get field experience abroad and subsequently travelled with her now-husband to South Sudan and Myanmar.
“We didn’t know anyone or have any work arranged for us in Myanmar, so it was really a case of getting on a plane and throwing ourselves into what was happening on the ground and establishing contacts.”
That strategy worked rather well, as Ms Roos ended up living and working as a conflict analyst in Myanmar for five years.
Whilst in Myanmar, Ms Roos worked with the Rohingya people in Rakhine State, who were targeted in a genocide by the Myanmar military in 2017.
Of her time in Myanmar, Ms Roos said, “As an international person, you were quite removed from the violence – not so much in Sudan, where foreigners were often targeted. It was very hard to see the toll that it had on the people in the camps, and having to work with the perpetrators of those crimes was also very challenging.”
Culturally, Ms Roos found Myanmar to be “a country of contradictions,” noting, “the people there were so gentle and kind, but, at the same time, there was so much conflict.”
When asked how she has found working in peacebuilding as a woman, Ms Roos noted, “As an outsider, it actually wasn’t that big of an issue to people. For people in Myanmar, it didn’t matter whether you were a man or a woman, it was more that you weren’t from there.
“Maternity leave when you’re working for NGOs abroad is another matter, though, especially as I’m from Sweden and am used to high standards in that regard. But in hot and rainy Myanmar, I was able to raise my family and receive a good level of childcare.”
After her time in Myanmar, Ms Roos began work as an Associate Peacebuilding Expert at the UN in New York, where her main role was “working in the Peacebuilding Support Office Commission alongside diplomats from all over the world, considering how we can support elections to have peaceful outcomes, working on global policies, preparing for negotiations in countries such as Burundi in Africa, and supporting our field teams abroad.”
Next on her agenda is Bogotá, Colombia, where Ms Roos will be working for the UN Mission and assisting with the political transition there, following the recent FARC peace deal, a project that she says she “cares very deeply about.”
Having studied, worked and lived all over the globe, Ms Roos discussed the difficulty in constantly readjusting to new cultural situations, particularly away from her family in Sweden.
“I do miss my family a lot, and I call them practically every day. My husband is from New Zealand, so our families are spread all over the world. Our holidays are dedicated to going home and seeing our families, rather than travelling elsewhere.
“When arriving in a new country, I think it’s also essential to build a community where you live, to play an active role in doing that. The Roos & Shine clubs, actually, are a great way of doing that.
“We have now established clubs in New York and Stockholm, and [have] lots of interest in the UK – it’s a great way of meeting other like-minded people where you live. I’m looking forward to setting one up in Bogotá.”
When asked about any future career goals, Ms Roos said that she is “confident that there is a lot of potential for Roos & Shine to develop in the current, post-#MeToo climate.”
She also hopes to combine Roos&Shine with her peacebuilding work, noting the two efforts are “not mutually exclusive” for her.
Additionally, Ms Roos and her sister are soon due to start a Yoga Teacher Training program in Portugal, with the aim of becoming qualified yoga teachers.
She remarked, “We never really considered ourselves as yogis,” she laughed, “but I think that the mindfulness that yoga encourages could be extremely useful in the world of peacebuilding.”
As for her time in St Andrews, Ms Roos says she holds “very fond memories of a strong sense of community in that town.”
“I made my best friends there, who I’m still in touch with today. I remember 5 am starts cramming for my dissertation in the library, but also having a lot of fun in my fourth year, setting up the Scandinavian Society and hosting the infamous crayfish party.”
In terms of advice to her past self, and current St Andrews students, she noted, “When it comes to peacebuilding, it’s better to just get out there in the world, establish contacts and experience real fieldwork. It’s better to push yourself to do that than to just send a load of online applications from St Andrews to NGOs who have no idea who you are.
“Also, be careful not to lock yourself into a career too early on. If it’s not what you want to do, you don’t have to do it. You’re still very young when you graduate – there’s plenty of time to explore.”
For those interested in joining the Roos&Shine network, visit the www.roosandshine.com website, and follow the sisters on Instagram under “roosandshine”. You can also listen to their podcast at https://www.roosandshine.com/listen-podcasts/.