Living the economist dream

7 February 2018

Alex and helen (3)
Dr Alex Kravchenko with Helen Clark, former PM and Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

Who knew that plenty of study, four large cans of Red Bull and a four-and-a-half hour exam in the middle of the night could lead to a job at the UN?

University of Waikato student Alex Kravchenko was studying for his PhD when he decided to apply for the United Nations Young Professionals Programme (YPP). It’s a recruitment initiative for talented, highly qualified professionals to start a career as an international civil servant with the United Nations Secretariat. People apply from all over the world and are required to sit an exam at the same time wherever they live, and that meant for the New Zealanders applying, the exam went from 10pm to 2.30am.

“We were at the MFAT office in Wellington,” Alex says. “Towards the end of the exam quite a few people were nodding off, but I planned ahead, had my four-pack of Red Bull… I couldn’t really get to sleep for a day after that.”

But he did well enough in his exam to get an interview, then waited almost a year to hear he had a job offer. He submitted his PhD thesis three days before his flight to Bangkok where he was to be stationed.

Alex began working at the ICT for Development Section, part of a team promoting fixed broadband internet connectivity through the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative. Last year he transferred to the Trade Policy and Facilitation Section of the Trade, Investment and Innovation Division, which is more aligned to his economics background.

“I love my work. It’s mostly centred around research and data analysis on international trade and trade policy. I conduct economic analysis and contribute to reports that subsequently are put in front of policy makers. To know that you’re contributing to improved policy and consequently better socio-economic outcomes is very satisfying.”

Alex speaks four languages, English, Chinese Mandarin, Thai and Russian. “When big events happen I am usually assigned to be a liaison officer to someone from Central Asia because I speak Russian. I’ve been assigned to some high-ranking officials, interpreting for them, and have been privy to some quite candid discussions.”

Every once in a while Alex gets to go on overseas missions. He’s travelled to Sri Lanka to teach junior government officials on trade data analysis, to Kenya to co-ordinate work on tracking illicit financial flows, and to Kazakhstan to promote bridging the digital divide. “Where else can you get such great workplace diversity? It’s unparalleled. People are here from all over the world and I get to speak all the languages I know pretty much on a daily basis.”

Alex also says he’s forever indebted to the University of Waikato. “The technical and academic skills I learnt at Waikato I use every day. I first felt a bit humbled when I started here as some interns came from Harvard, the London School of Economics, Oxford, but I was happy to realise that the education I received put me on an equal footing with them in terms of my ability to perform.”

He’s loving the job but says he misses Hamilton weather. (Yes, he really said that). “It gets really hot in Bangkok and there’s absolutely no way I can run or cycle outside. I miss Hamilton’s clean air, and Raglan with its quiet and clean beaches.”

Alex says Waikato students who are interested in YPP should consider applying for the YPP programme if New Zealand remains listed as a participating country. You can find out by going to

Dr Alex Kravchenko completed a BMS(Hons) at Waikato Management School, majoring in marketing and international management, joined the work force for a short time working for DigiPol, then returned to university to complete his masters and doctoral degrees. He was the inaugural recipient of the Flower doctoral fellowship.

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