As we break into summer, a lot is concentrating our minds at GBN.
The role of the Personal Assistant in ‘Geneva International’
Geneva is home to 37 international organisations, bodies and secretariats and 257 permanent missions, representations, and delegations. Geneva is also home to the various secretariats for the United Nations. Consequently, the city is full of amazing personal assistants (PAs) who ensure that ‘Geneva International’, the cosmopolitan part of the city, runs smoothly.
Supporting ambassadors, directors, head of divisions and other executives in day-to-day activities while having a broad knowledge of what is going on in the city on daily basis is just one of the aspects of being a Geneva-based PA.
Lilian Espinoza has been the PA in the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica for the past 35 years, and has served 15 different ambassadors. GBN had the pleasure and opportunity to speak to her about her working life in ‘International Geneva.’
Q: In your view, what does it take to be an exceptional PA?
An exceptional PA is a responsible and dedicated person, who loves her or his job.
They understand and communicate well with their supervisor as well as diplomats and other staff at the mission; they are a two-way communication bridge between them. They perform their job diligently and proactively with excellent attitude, tact, and flare, no matter how complicated the situation. They are sincere, honest, trustful, loyal and discrete, which are really, in my view, the essential assets of every exceptional PA.
Furthermore, they have excellent practical knowledge of protocol principles and rules and an in-depth understanding of the main foreign affair issues facing their country. With an ability to network, they have impeccable organizational and interpersonal skills and understand and know how to use available technology.
Q: What are the main challenges of being a PA?
The main challenges, in my view, are the ability to anticipate the needs of the supervisor, prioritise assignments and follow-up. The PA must have exceptional judgment when making a decision in order to prevent anything that might distract the supervisor from focusing on their job.
Another big challenge is the establishment of different networks – both formal and informal.
It is important to create networks among peers and the PAs of various international organizations as well as – or even more so – networks with the PAs of the Swiss and Geneva authorities, and with the hotels and hospitality companies.
Q: What are the positive aspects of being a PA?
To know and be aware of, at the end of each day, the important contributions you make towards the successful work of the ambassador and the mission itself. Additionally, to know you can rely on the networks you have created during the years, personally and professionally.
Q: For you, what is the unique part of working as a PA?
It is simple – the people you meet, the situations you live and the information you handle.
Q: If you could have the power to do so, what would you change?
The reality is that a PA is always in a subordinate position and the little we can change actually depends on the relationship we establish with the supervisor.
If I could have the power to change anything, it would definitely be working towards a standardization of social benefits and contributions for local employees in the Geneva missions.
Many PAs, secretaries, office clerks and drivers who are local employees in some of the missions, after having worked for many years, find out that after retiring their monthly pension remuneration does not even cover basic expenses. I know for a fact that there are many who have to work past their retirement age just to have money to cover their daily needs.