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Executive Director Ertharin Cousin Opening Remarks at the WFP Executive Board Annual Session, June 4, 2012, Rome, Italy

It is an honour to address all of you at my first Executive Board sitting in this chair.  The support and encouragement I have received over the last two months has been nothing less than extraordinary and I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.

It is tough to welcome someone like Mr. Staffan de Mistura to WFP because he belongs here sometimes I feel more than I do, but I do thank you for being with us today

Mr. de Mistura, as you know, is the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Italy but he is also someone I call my personal friend, we all call our colleague and we all know as a legend in the United Nations system.  And so we thank you very much for the commitment that you have made to spend the morning with us here today.

As the President noted we, WFP, in solidarity with the host nation Italy and in concert with the Rome-based agencies, are flying our flags at half-mast on this national day of mourning following the tragic earthquake.  We reiterate that WFP stands ready to support as needed and reciprocate the continuous generosity of the Italian people.

A very warm welcome also to our special guest, Mr. José Graziano da Silva, Director General of FAO.  We look forward to hearing from the Director-General very shortly.

I also would like to recognize and welcome the representatives from capital who travelled to be with us today:
From Australia, Ms. Catherine Walker, First Assistant Director-General, Humanitarian and Stabilization Division, of AusAID;

From Canada, Ms. Leslie Norton, Director-General, Multilateral and Global Programmes Branch, CIDA;

From Cameroon, His Excellency, Lazare Essimi Menye, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development;

From the European Commission, Mr. Claus Sorensen, Director-General, ECHO;

From Switzerland, Ambassador Manuel Bessler, Head of Humanitarian Aid and Swiss Cooperation;

From the United Kingdom, Mr. Chris Austin, Head of Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department (CHASE) from the United Kingdom Department for International Development;

And I believe joining us later today from the United States, Ms. Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, USAID.

Distinguished Board Members, staff of the World Food Programme, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin with a piece of very good news: after 86 days in captivity in the South Darfur region of Sudan, on 30 May, WFP logistician Patrick Noonan was released.

I would like to express my deepest thanks and appreciation to WFP’s field security staff, the Government of Sudan, the Ambassador who is here with us today – thank you very much – the United Nation’s Department of Safety and Security, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, and the Government of the United Kingdom for helping us secure the release of our colleague Patrick.

Words alone cannot express the gratitude and admiration we all have for Patrick and for our staff like him who work tirelessly in some of the most dangerous operating conditions in the world.  This morning I ask you to please join me to stop and to recognize and thank the Patricks of WFP – the brave, noble, sacrificial men and women, working on the frontlines to reach those who depend upon us so much.  Our heartfelt thanks go out to each of these heroes. [Applause]

Today marks exactly 60 days since I began my mandate as Executive Director. The last two months have been nothing less than intense.  I have had the opportunity to visit the field, Niger, as well as visit WFP’s seven largest donors, including Japan and Australia. 

Throughout these visits I have been heartened by the generosity and commitment these donors have shown amidst times of global fiscal austerity. This is a testament to the efforts of those sitting behind me this morning, and to the dedication and sacrifice of our field staff listening in from all corners of the globe.  Their dedication to reach the most vulnerable with often life-saving food assistance is noted across the world.

But we recognize WFP cannot work in isolation.  Resilience-building impact at country level demands large-scale action to deliver a range of interventions and services to the same people at the same time – a task that no single actor can accomplish alone.

That is why on my second full day on the job I met with FAO Director-General Mr. Graziano da Silva and IFAD President Nwanze to discuss how we can truly collaborate across our organizations, leveraging each of our comparative advantages and expertise for the benefit of the populations we serve together.

From Headquarters, better collaboration on issues such as administrative efficiencies, to our work in the field, for example our recent action to rapidly mobilize over 3,000 tons of seeds for farmers in Niger for the upcoming planting season – the Rome-based agencies are marking a new era of partnership.  All three of us have committed to sit down together each month to discuss potential areas of collaboration, with clear action items for our respective staffs to continue to follow-up on.

This collaboration extends across the United Nations agencies.  In Niger, where United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. António Guterres and I travelled last month, millions of hungry are being reached with life-saving actions thanks to the coordinated efforts of the United Nations and our NGO and civil society partners.  Given the complexity and fluidity of the refugee situation, WFP worked to support UNHCR through the formulation of a Regional Refugee Emergency Operation for the Sahel that will allow a more flexible arrangement for supporting the evolving refugee situation as well as Mali IDP caseload and more targeted fundraising.

During my outreach these past two months I have also met with leaders from the NGO community, such as CARE, InterAction, Oxfam, the Micronutrient Initiative, and Welthungerhilfe – reinforcing the critical technical capacity, knowledge sharing, and relationships with local communities that WFP partnerships with NGOs bring to the table.  Throughout these discussions all partners called for a more elevated strategic discussion – something I have committed to implement during our annual NGO consultation this fall.

I have also met with executives from companies such as Dupont and PepsiCo to discuss collaboration on food and nutrition in Africa, and on-going work in the production of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods.  And I will continue to focus on WFP’s private sector outreach because partnership does not simply mean pocketbook.  The private sector has far more to offer than simply cutting a check.  WFP’s engagement with the private sector must be based on true collaboration to bring to scale the most promising innovations and deliver evidence of impact.

Our external partnerships – whether with United Nations agencies, partner governments, donors, NGOs, or the private sector – are only as strong as our internal organization.

WFP’s reputation of life-saving and rebuilding livelihoods, of bringing hope where hope was lost, of enabling the most vulnerable to achieve food security and nutrition security, of empowering human beings to transcend statistics, rests with our own performance.  At a time of eroding confidence in public institutions, our work to further strengthen transparency and accountability, efficiency and value for money, is vital in ensuring an effective WFP.  And this starts at the top, with me.

To streamline communications and expedite decision-making internally, I have instituted a daily operations briefing to take place no matter where I am in the world, and consolidated numerous committees and councils into a single executive management group which will now also include Regional Directors. An amended circular elaborating upon this decision will be issued shorty. Relative to circulars and directives, these will now be shared, for your information, with the Executive Board Bureau on a quarterly basis.  This is in response to a long-standing Board request to help you better understand how we operate internally.

I am introducing a culture of open communication.  For example, my public schedule is posted every day on the web and the intranet.  A system for WFP staff to ask questions not just to me but to other members of the senior leadership team has been launched.  List meetings before Executive Board sessions are being regularized. In response to the recommendations from the JIU – and for the first time since the creation of the Executive Board in 1996 – staff associations will voice their views and concerns at this Executive Board on Wednesday.

As nations struggle to balance stretched budgets there has never been a more important time for WFP to lead by example in achieving value for money and efficiency in our operations.  As such you will note that there is no lunch today for the Board; we ask you to please join our staff in the cafeteria for lunch.  We will hold a brief aperitif for you immediately after the Board meeting.

Because as you know business as usual is not good enough, I have asked my staff to downgrade the entitlements of the DEDs and myself, in line with all WFP staff, to use economy class tickets for short- and medium- haul flights. Staff and managers will also be required to assess the need for travel and to look for alternatives such as using our videoconferencing services or utilizing the presence of local staff, where feasible.  Field operations can now reduce operating costs with the introduction of a monthly subsistence allowance for consultants on longer-term contracts based on actual monthly living expenses, rather than the daily subsistence allowance (DSA) payment.

Tomorrow, with your support, we hope to approve the doubling of the Forward Purchase Facility which has served to greatly enhance WFP’s emergency response in places including the Horn of Africa and the Sahel – helping country offices gain, on average, 56 days of supply lead-time and maximizing every dollar used.  In line with the “Efficiency at WFP” paper previously presented to the Board and your request for enhanced reporting on efficiency improvements, key examples of WFP’s pursuit of value for money are also reported in this year’s APR.

In a world where donors are increasingly looking at the return on investment and partners are rightfully demanding measurable impact, WFP must constantly strive for excellence.

As I noted to you in my letter on 10 April, as great as WFP is, I believe WFP can get even better.  But to do so requires a keen understanding of WFP’s strengths and weaknesses, our capacity to fully perform within the Strategic Plan, addressing deficiencies as highlighted in the Mid-Term Review as we move forward, and ultimately our ability to fulfill our mandate of feeding the world’s most vulnerable – the hungry poor – in an ever-changing external environment.

In order to facilitate this process, I launched a Rapid Organizational Assessment (ROA) to provide me with a general diagnosis of the health of WFP.  The ROA aimed to assess how aligned our operating processes are with the strategic direction agreed to with the Board, and to map out actions required for strengthening WFP’s effectiveness and efficiency in implementing this strategy. The ROA was carried out as follows. 

The external consultancy firm McKinsey interviewed over 200 staff around the world in addition to conducting extensive document reviews; McKinsey was guided through this process by an internal Organizational Development Team (ODT) – comprised of both WFP Headquarters and field staff across different grades and divisions, of whom 60 percent were women – this ODT team brings years of experience and diverse perspectives.  The ODT team interviewed nearly 400 staff, making the total sampling of the interviews together with McKinsey an impressive 600 individuals.  The ROA culminated this weekend where my senior team and I participated in an Executive Management retreat to determine short-, medium- and long-term activities required to move this organization forward on seven themes prepared by the ODT.

Today, as promised, I would like to share with you some of the operating decisions I have already taken and some of the initiatives that we will get underway during the next few weeks.  To further clarify our going forward plans, next week, I will be sharing with you our “framework for action” for the organizational strengthening process, together with the executive summary of McKinsey’s report.  Thereafter, I will arrange for you to be kept regularly informed of the realignment progress.

On Theme 1, Strategy: on the food assistance strategy, we will identify and remove any obstacles that are preventing us from fully implementing this current Strategic Plan, as approved by the Executive Board. I have asked my team to come back to me with an action plan for completing this by the end of the month.

On Theme 2, Organizational Design: today, a small group of our leaders has already begun work on a re-alignment of the organizational design of WFP in order to strengthen our country offices and the regional bureaux.  This group will provide me with a draft by 25 June, with a view to my taking decisions by the end of that week.  These decisions will provide the foundations for the process for the development of the Management Plan over the summer.  All of the changes in structure and staffing will be incorporated in the Management Plan for the Board’s approval in November.  We will reorient our priorities reinforcing the importance of the country office. Our line management structure of country offices, through regional bureaux will be supported through our resource allocations.

One of the decisions we have taken together as a team is to alter the senior management structure. From 1 February 2013, I will have one Deputy Executive Director, who will be my deputy and chief operating officer.  The Regional Directors will directly report to this DED.  The other DEDs will become Assistant Executive Directors (AEDs), each one responsible for the following organizational groupings: (i) Operations Administration and Support; (ii) Resource Management and Administration; and (iii) External Relations.
There was a unanimous call by my managers that Operations Administration and Support include an integrated “Policy and Programme Innovation” Department.

Under Resource Management and Administration we will include a new fully financed “Corporate Monitoring and Reporting” function which I believe will address long-standing deficiencies in monitoring and reporting on outcomes and impact across the entire organization.  We have committed to this in our management responses to this year’s Annual Evaluation Report (AER), and I have given the go-ahead for the recruitment of a leader for this function.

And External Relations will include all the liaison offices and donor relations.  I intend to separate communications from private sector fundraising and appoint a Director for Communications, both internal and external, based here in Rome.

ICT challenges continue to impact the organization and affect our ability to retain our status of a United Nations innovator in this field.  In order to address these challenges, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) will be part of the Executive Management Group responsible for consolidating all ICT functions which are now dispersed throughout the various offices and divisions across the organization.

Theme 3, Human Resources: as the External Auditor has noted in the Report on the Management of Human Resources, our human resources decisions occur within the context of challenging working and living conditions, often in hardship duty stations, as well as uncertainties in funding, and a decentralized structure.  The report highlighted the importance of further developing our human resources planning capacity, something I fully endorse.  To ensure we embark on the right path, a new profile for the HR Director will be developed based on the recommendations of the ODT.  We will then recruit actively for this position.  Once appointed, the HR Director will lead a comprehensive process to strengthen the leadership and support of our most important resource – our people.  This will include actions to increase the number of women at the middle and senior management levels.  As the recruitment process may last several months, there are four initiatives that I intend to begin immediately:
First, we will develop a plan to transfer all national staff officers from UNDP contracts to WFP. We will aim to implement this in 2013. This is the beginning of our efforts to ensure that our national staff in the field will no longer be treated as second class citizens of WFP.

Second, we will also carry out a review of the reassignment and promotions process, linked to our performance management system. It is my goal to announce a new approach on reassignment and promotion to the Board in November.

Third, we will work to develop a policy statement outlining the roles and accountabilities of all managers in WFP, specifically detailing the levels of delegated decision-making authority at every level.  This information will be communicated at every level accompanied by a tool-kit and a learning programme for managers.

Fourth, we will start an assessment of all aspects of our workforce planning and contracting arrangements to ensure that we have the right people in the right place at the right time.

The remaining themes are business processes and systems; partnerships; executive management and, finally, commitment and engagement of staff.

On business processes, we will set-up a small group to scope the business process review that has been proposed by the ODT.  I expect the report to be ready by 15 September and then we will decide how to sequence the streamlining and strengthening of our key business processes linked to the organizational design.

I reaffirm the central importance of partnerships at all levels, as outlined by the ODT and as highlighted earlier this year in the strategic evaluation on working in partnership.  As indicated in the Management Response to the AER, the recommendations are informing the steps we are taking to improve WFP’s management of partnerships.

In particular, we will continue to enhance cooperation between the Rome-based agencies, as I stressed earlier in my remarks. Based on an idea that generated from a conversation I had with Ambassador Gerda Verburg of the Netherlands on “naming and faming country teams which work together” and in consultation with my counterparts in FAO and IFAD, we intend to jointly organize an event towards the end of the year that will recognize the two country offices that best exemplify these important partnerships and add value to those we serve in the field.  We also intend to incorporate an indicator in the annual performance evaluations that measures and fosters true partnership and collaboration in the field.  This indicator will not record those who just tally the number of meetings Rome-based agency staff attend jointly but where we provide value in working together.

To highlight the central role of our country offices, on 13 June I plan to hold my second all staff meeting, this time from the field, in Haiti.  In late September/early October, a global staff survey will be organized, with results due in November.  This will be followed by a discussion at a global management meeting in early December on the way forward to follow-up on issues raised.  Thereafter in February 2013, at the Board meeting I plan to brief the Board on the outcomes of the staff survey as well as the global management meeting.

One cross-cutting theme in the ROA is oversight and accountability.  As we begin our Board deliberations over the next several days, we must remember that WFP has rightly been held up as a pace-setter within the United Nations community in regard to oversight and accountability, risk management, and fiscal management.  For example, our financial statements include for the first time a Statement on Internal Controls prepared using an extensive manager certification process at both field and Headquarters levels.  For the fourth consecutive year under IPSAS we received a clean audit opinion.  And WFP's Internal Audit function was certified to meet the highest quality standard.  In addition, following the selection panel’s recommendation three outgoing Audit Committee members will be renewed for a second and final term to ensure continuity and coherence.

Our commitment to improving transparency, accountability and risk management is absolute and work in these areas continues to improve, as outlined in this year’s Annual Performance Report.

Relative to transparency and in line with the appointment processes established by the Executive Board, I would like to seek your approval to extend Inspector General Suresh Sharma’s appointment beyond his first term, which expires on 31 October, until his retirement in March 2013.  This would not be a new appointment but rather a renewal for a short period for technical reasons, reconciling the continuing contract limited term appointment.  This would allow me the continuity I need during this critical transition period and provide for a proper timeframe to identify, select and appoint his successor.  In my judgement, this is the best option to embark on a transparent and clear process.

Another cross-cutting theme I hold dear to my heart is gender.  The operational parity perspective will be addressed in the organizational strengthening, as discussed.  We have more work to do to address the programmatic perspective. As discussed during your Annual Consultation on Evaluation, the Office of Evaluation will carry out an evaluation of WFP’s Gender Policy in 2013 to help inform the development of WFP’s next Gender Action Plan.  This is an area where WFP unfortunately has fallen short, and I will personally ensure WFP takes concrete steps to improve our performance.

The job of ensuring the right food for the right people at the right time with the right tools, of maximizing efficiency and effectiveness in all of our operations, of continuing our forward-leaning activities, of preparing this organization for the challenges which lie ahead, will require hard work and dedication. The ensuing years will demand it.  Working together, through value-added partnerships, I look forward to achieving this organizational strengthening at the pace and scale embraced by WFP and this Executive Board.

We will not look backwards other than to capture lessons from what has worked and apply lessons from what has not, but continuously look forward.  We will not talk about problems but seize opportunities.  We will not substitute platitudes for performance, or substance for sound bites, but lead by example. Too much is at stake for us to do otherwise.

I would like to end my remarks by saying what a great pleasure it is to have as my first guest at my first Executive Board, my esteemed colleague and my friend FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Throughout his career Director-General da Silva has been a champion in the fight against hunger.  From his time in academia focusing on issues related to rural development to leading the team that designed Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” programme.  He has worked tirelessly to ensure a sustained global commitment at the highest political level to break the cycle of hunger and malnutrition.

As a family united by a common cause, under Director-General Graziano da Silva’s leadership WFP and FAO have become even closer partners.  Our intention is to further enhance this relationship as the two of us move forward together in our nascent mandates.

My friend, Mr. Director-General, welcome.