Closing Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the WFP Executive Board Annual Session of 2013

Delivered on: 06 June 2013


Thank you, Mr. President.

In my opening remarks I recognized and noted the very robust Board agenda.  I think you will agree we successfully covered many issues during this very full four days.

I am truly grateful for this Board’s commitment and active support.

It is now my role to help draw these four days of discussion to a close. 

During this week’s discussion I have appreciated and we, as a management team, realize how much the Board is expecting from us.  Please know we share your high expectations for achieving the WFP we all want and the WFP the world needs.  

From your approval of the new Strategic Plan and discussions around Fit for Purpose, to the new project documents approved and the reports you heard from our Inspector-General, our External Auditor and the Office of Evaluation, management received your endorsement for continuing our journey working simultaneously on several fronts to take WFP from good to great.

As a management team, for us there are six areas that stood out after hearing and participating in this Board’s discussions:

First, partnerships and the increasingly crucial role they will play in WFP’s future.  Strengthening our partnerships appropriately featured prominently in many of your statements.  Management must invest in partnerships and cooperating relationships of all types.  Several members noted the importance of solidifying partnerships particularly in the implementation of our fund raising strategy.  Also, important reminders were provided about the necessity to vociferously communicate our status as a voluntarily funded institution. 

This new partnership strengthening initiative will require much more than preparing and presenting strategies, new approaches and tools. Success will require a fundamental change of culture including the way that everyone in WFP works with governments, international agencies, NGOs and the private sector.  Of course, many of the key interactions are developed and secured at the country level.  As a result, with support from corporate and regional offices, management must ensure all WFP team members are technically equipped to engage in partnerships including with the right tools and the right skills.

In addition to strengthening partnerships the Second issue we underlined from your interventions this week was support for management’s focus on strengthening, our capacity to work in complex humanitarian environments while judiciously managing risks.  Management recognizes that we must maintain WFP’s core capacity and responsibility to move the Transformative Agenda into Transformative Action.  We know we have no choice and we are enthusiastically on board.  Also, in those areas where WFP’s mandate and comparative advantage require us to lead WFP must continue leading while working collaboratively, specifically in the areas of logistics, telecommunications and of course food assistance.

The Third issue -- one closely aligned to building capacity --management heard this board’s support for our People initiatives.  Much emphasis in Fit for Purpose and in the discussion of the Inspector General’s and the External Auditor’s work in 2012 is about the capacity of our people.  We must assess and reassess our knowledge management tools, both formal and informal.  Management must also enhance the skills sets training and development tools for both national as well as international staff.  As we continue the food aid to food assistance journey, we must ensure that all staff not only understand our destination but maintain the skills and technical ability to help us reach our destination.

Also as a part of our People initiative, WFP must also review and implement a robust succession planning and talent management program.   Not just because these issues were noted as potential operational risks by the External Auditor but also because succession planning and talent management are key indicators of a Fit for Purpose WFP.

A Fit for Purpose organization is not just about the leadership; it is also about taking care of our people at every level wherever they work in the organization.  Management has already begun the work of assessing present challenges and future opportunities for altering the methodology of engaging with our local staff.  We all believe we can do better.  The question we must answer is how we do it better, recognizing the uncertainty of field level revenue and resources particularly as a 100 percent voluntarily funded organization.   In addition, management must continue to identify and implement the requisite changes more effectively and equitably, reassigning and promoting all staff.  This work must include better utilization of our performance management tool as an individual staff coaching tool as well as a staff assessment tool.  This People transformation will require both time and financial resources.

The Fourth issue management underlined as a continuing theme which we heard from a number of your interventions is in the area of accountability.  Yes, we heard much recognition of how far WFP has come in terms of our reporting and assurance systems.  For that recognition we thank you.  However, we also heard and we recognize the need to ensure continuous and timely follow up of oversight recommendations in a coherent way that reaches all levels of the organization.   There was also a clear message from you regarding the need for management’s continuing investment in refining the way we monitor and report on our outputs at the field level and, more importantly, measuring, monitoring and reporting on our outcomes. 

Management will also work to ensure we complement these performance management system improvements, with more transparency in our operating costs in order to make better, evidence-based decisions, particularly in Country Offices.  This work is fundamentally important in the context of the new Strategic Plan and in our successful execution of the Strategic Results Framework.  This accountability improvement work will require focused determination on all sides.

Fifth, this week you have also encouraged management to upgrade our programmes, systems, processes and structures with a goal of ensuring maximum efficiency and effectiveness as well as accountability. 

As management stated, this upgrading work will include the urgent and effectively executed scaling up of the WFP cash and voucher programs.  Today, cash and vouchers account for 15 percent of WFP’s program of work.  Management is committed to ensuring that future requisite increases in this percentage of cash and voucher programming is accompanied by stronger internal capacity at every level.  Similarly, WFP must strengthen our nutrition-sensitive approaches to programming, including food safety and quality, at every level of the organization.

This work also cuts across areas such as supply chain management and resource allocation in support of our operations at the country level.  It entails implementation of systems such as the Logistics Execution Support System (LESS) which require significant up-front investment in return for improved efficiency and effectiveness. As the results of this year’s business process review emerge, we will know more about our key challenges and opportunities to improve our core processes aimed at empowering our country offices.

My sixth and final point relates to resources.  As I stated in my opening remarks, quoting our Norwegian colleague, “a vision without resources is a hallucination.”  And as another Board member said this week, we must move from purpose to a financial plan. We must therefore ensure that the expectations on WFP are real and not an illusion.  Management and those we serve will continue to count on your generous multilateral contributions for WFP’s internal capacity building.  And we must prepare a Management Plan for 2014 which reflects fully the implications of meeting our shared expectations, particularly those which this Board recognizes as priorities.   We will work toward quantifying these needs and bringing them to you as we begin our round of informal consultations on the Management Plan in early July.

Yes, it is very clear that this Board rightfully expects management to strive for efficiency and effectiveness across the organization and achieve best value for money from every contribution provided to us.   As we committed to you, as a next step we must operationalize the Strategic Plan.  As a first step, through the vehicle of the 2014 Management Plan, we must quantify the next phase of investments required to perform the work required to continue this transformation across the areas you identified this week, again: partnerships, internal capacity development, our People initiatives, accountability, upgrading our programmes, systems, processes and structures and of course fine tuning our resource development tools.  These are the investments which will continue our journey to ensuring WFP is the innovative, dynamic, forward-looking organization going from good to great.  As we look forward, recognizing the global financial constraints and fiscal uncertainty, a proposed PSA budget for 2014 will require a delicate and very smart balancing act.  

Yes, this work will present us with a shared challenge, and a tough one at that.  But taking on the tough challenge is at the heart of WFP as an organization.  We look forward to engaging with you over the next months to overcome this challenge and any other obstacles.  Because it is only in our continuous work together, in our continuous communication that we can together make WFP truly Fit for Purpose…the Purpose… to serve as the organization that will help the world achieve our shared and ultimate goal of a world free from hunger.

Before I conclude, in a departure from normal practice, I will not read the list of recent staff movements as the list is quite long.  The full document detailing all appointments, reassignments, separations and retirements has been placed in your pigeon holes.  However, I would like to announce some staffing changes in the Exectuive Board Secretariat.  These are people that many of you know and whose services have been of direct benefit to all of us in this room. 

This is the last session for Evelyne Togbe, Deputy Secretary of the Executive Board.  Evelyne has served the Board for more than eight years. She is replaced by Phillip Ward.

Marie-Françoise Perez, Chief of Language Services, is leaving WFP by the end of June after 32 years with us. 

And, finally, Keiko Izushi, who has run Conference Services for five years.  She is reassigning to Afghanistan. Keiko is replaced by Katharina Gola.

Please join me in thanking these three women for their dedicated and professional work and in wishing them the best for the next steps in their lives.

Again, allow me to say thank you for your support, for the attention to the work of this week.  We look forward to continuing with, as always, a robust and open dialogue.

Thank you.