Opening Remarks by Ertharin Cousin, World Food Programme Executive Director, at the Second Regular Session of the Executive Board

Delivered on: 12 November 2012


Five months ago I addressed you as your new Executive Director with a set of ideas for building on our strengths, ideas for moving this agency from a good organization to an even better organization, and ideas for maximizing our collaborative advantage as a partner of choice in delivering timely and effective food assistance to the world’s hungry poor. 

Today, I am here to review how far we have travelled as an organization and to consider the plan we will set for the years ahead. Because in these times when change is among the few things that are certain, the work we do has never been more necessary or more urgent, and our need for flexibility and innovation never greater.

We are especially mindful of the sturdy foundations laid for us by pioneers who helped build WFP into a strong and capable agency – the strong and capable agency that it is today. So, I join with the Executive Board President in recognizing the contributions of our retiring member Ms Ulla-Maija Finskas, Director of the Unit for Humanitarian Assistance in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland. 

Ms Finskas, we thank you for your leadership and service, not only as a Board member, but also as Vice President and President of the WFP Executive Board. During your tenure, your efforts helped craft the essential governance structures that continue to guide our work today, including the 2013-2015 Management Plan that will be a focus of our discussions during this session. We wish you well in all your future endeavours.

I also join our Executive Board President in thanking departing Board member His Excellency Pietro Sebastiani for his support, and congratulate him on his new assignment as Italy’s Ambassador to Spain. I have had the privilege to work closely with him over the last years, both in my former capacity as United States Permanent Representative and now as Executive Director of WFP.

Specifically, I thank Ambassador Sebastiani for his support in developing a meaningful and substantial role for the Rome-based agencies and the United Nations at the upcoming 2015 Milan Expo, whose theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” offers a unique opportunity to focus global attention on the challenges of food security and the needs of the hungry poor. I thank him for his commitment and most of all for his friendship.

Among the other representatives with us today, I wish to extend a welcome to the high level guests who have traveled from capitals to join us.

I also welcome our honoured guest, Mr Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), who will speak to us later this morning.

Executive Board Vice President Jíří Muchka has aptly described the 2013-2015 Management Plan that we will discuss tomorrow as the “alpha and omega” of this Board session, and while our agenda is full of many important topics, I agree that the Management Plan is an essential starting point for all our other discussions. Through four informal consultations in preparation for today’s Board session we facilitated your review of the document. I look forward to your additional comments and hopefully now anticipate your approval of this management plan.

As I said to you last June, WFP is a good and robust organization. We have great people working for us, and, as a result, we provide effective programmes for those we serve, the hungry poor people of the world. We have the respect of the international community and other stakeholders.

As I briefed you in June, we carried out a comprehensive Rapid Organizational Assessment with the help of the McKinsey consulting firm as well as the Organizational Development Team drawn from a cross-section of WFP staff. At our June session, I shared with you important findings drawn from extensive discussions with WFP staff at all levels around the globe. On the basis of these findings we developed a strategy for strengthening WFP which I shared with all of you in the document titled Framework for Action.

We then focused our attention on one key aspect of the Framework for Action, the organizational design. You will remember that I briefed you on our thinking regarding the organizational design changes at two informal consultation sessions over this past summer. Management decisions on organizational design were announced in the document entitled Fit for Purpose which I shared with the Executive Board in August.

Both these documents: Fit for Purpose and the Framework for Action, featured prominently in the development of the 2013-2015 Management Plan’s discussion of the new organizational design, which sets as its central tenet that the people we serve are the focus of our work. From this tenet flows our commitment to empower country offices with additional resources, and to improve the support capabilities of regional bureaux to ensure strategies and polices approved by the Executive Board are clearly understood, followed and implemented at country level.

In parallel to our work on organizational design we have been moving forward on five other levers of change set out in Framework for Action: strategy, human resources management, business processes, partnerships, and management. Together management expects these levers to reinforce a culture of commitment, communication and accountability.

Within the levers we have developed a host of initiatives, or “workstreams” as we call them. In each one we are looking at the contribution to the Framework for Action and the Strategic Plan; we are reviewing policies, developing or improving systems; and we are planning how to build our capacity.

We have not made as much progress in all areas as we would like because we needed to get the basics for strengthening WFP right first – the organization and the people.

Last month, I announced our top management team, and immediately Amir Abdulla, Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Pedro Medrano and Sean O’Brien (pending the arrival of Manoj Juneja in January) began the work of organizing their new commands in line with the organizational design.

Then, earlier this month, we completed a senior manager reassignment exercise for D1 and D2 level staff, a comprehensive effort undertaken across the entire WFP organization to ensure we match the right leaders with the right jobs. 

Our senior managers took this process very seriously, and the applications they submitted allowed us to select an amazing group of energized and forward-thinking leaders.

I know this because I personally took part in all of the selection decisions.

Over 80 percent of candidates were assigned a position to which they had applied. Without imposing quotas, this special reassignment exercise achieved gender balance in promotions. More than half – in fact 54 percent – of those moving to a higher grade are women. Sixty percent of our senior managers will move to new duty stations, and the direction is, as foreseen in the new organizational design, away from Headquarters and toward country offices and regional bureaux closest to the hungry poor we serve.

Now, we anticipate there will be some among WFP’s loyal and long-serving senior managers who for personal and family reasons may prefer to leave WFP at this time. For them, we are committed to providing a United Nations rules-based severance package. Anyone who thinks that now is the time to take another direction is eligible to apply for this package. 

We have also initiated the next phase of organizational strengthening by bringing forward our normal annual reassignment exercise for the P1 through P5 level. This change enables WFP staff in this and future annual reassignments to know their duty station early in the New Year, so they can plan ahead with their families for changes in the spring and summer of 2013.

And we are pressing ahead with other activities that will give WFP what is needed to support delivery at country level. We are fully conscious that to bring about the real transformation that everyone wishes to see, we need, with staff, managers and other stakeholders to address the systemic and cultural issues. So we are strengthening our human resource systems as well as our business processes that underline everything, looking at ways we can strengthen our culture of performance and accountability at all levels.

Among these pieces of work, as promised at the June session, we are progressing with plans to migrate our national staff from UNDP to WFP contracts, a change deemed necessary to ensure fairness and effective management of staffing and resources across all levels of the WFP community.  We will announce a timeline for this transition in January 2013.

I am proud to tell you that our people in WFP are embracing the opportunities offered despite personal concerns from associated uncertainties. Our staff are maintaining the highest commitment to their daily work. Across WFP, at every level, our staff are committed to getting it right. As the largest hunger-fighting humanitarian organization we are committed – all of us – to not just being good at our jobs but to helping WFP become the best we can be, and not just the best for accomplishing today’s tasks but the best for meeting tomorrow’s challenges.

Early next month, we will convene our first global meeting of all senior managers, which will take place in Dubai. This Global Management Meeting is a notable milestone for us, as it is the first meeting of its kind ever to be hosted in a Gulf State, thanks to the support of the International Humanitarian City and Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein.

At this meeting we will review our draft change management plan around three main themes: people, programmes and partnerships. The purpose is to engage all members of this team in the change process – to begin the change in culture that we need to fully succeed. The big push on change management initiatives will be in the first six months of 2013. By mid-year we expect that everything will be launched and being taken forward by relevant line managers recognizing, of course, that some of the significant changes in systems will take longer to finalize.

Management’s commitment to getting it right extends beyond our internal operations; it also importantly includes promoting greater transparency and accountability in our interactions with this Executive Board, with government and non-governmental partners, with international organizations and other United Nations agencies as well as with private sector companies and foundations.

As promised, we now share circulars and directives documenting the WFP business with the Executive Board Bureau. WFP staff associations now have the opportunity to voice their views and concerns in these Executive Board sessions.

In October, we hosted our annual partnership consultations. This year we changed the format, for the first time not presenting to our non-governmental organization partners, but asking them to prepare and present discussion papers on four agreed themes. Representatives of the International Organization for Migration and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement joined with over 50 NGOs, including more than 20 CEOs of these organizations, to comprise our largest consultation ever, an event widely acknowledged as our most productive since these consultations began over 15 years ago. 

We had a conversation like we have never had before because our partners have understood that something different is happening here at WFP. NGO representatives told us they would be sure their CEOs make time to attend next year’s consultation because this is a not-to-be-missed forum. The most important outcome of this forum is our mutual commitment to better knit up our delivery of food assistance to the hungry poor we serve together around the world. Our challenge is to be sure this same spirit flows to the country level where it will have direct impact on the people we serve.

During the NGO discussions, one of our partners offered the observation that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. That being the case, I am committed to shining a spotlight on the corners of our organization where culture remains resistant to the kind of changes we require. We will put some teeth on our partnership promises and enable strategy to bite back when and where it becomes necessary. In practice, this means that country directors will now be measured on their effective use of partners in their planning and implementation of country strategies.

We are also deepening our engagement among the Rome-based agencies: FAO, IFAD and ourselves.

At my most recent monthly meeting with FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva and IFAD President Nwanze, we committed to completing a shared strategic communications harmonization plan before 1 March. We are also working to create a Rome-based Secretariat for the Secretary-General’s High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis that will support the Committee on World Food Security. This will support efforts to develop measurable outcomes based on the Comprehensive Framework for Action produced in 2008 and the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the Secretary-General at Rio+20 earlier this year. 

For administrative collaboration, IFAD and FAO have agreed to join the travel tender developed by WFP for which the request for proposal was issued on 8 November. We expect this exercise to yield substantial savings for all three agencies in our objective to achieve cost efficiencies as well as improved services for our staffs.

In the spirit of rewarding effective partnerships, we are now in the final stages of selecting the country team that best exemplifies cooperation of Rome-based agencies at country level. Ten teams coming from diverse countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America were nominated for the 2012 award, and finalists are being selected by senior officers here in Rome. The winner will be chosen by Graziano da Silva, Kanayo Nwanze and me for presentation to the Rome community at a mid-December event to be convened at FAO, where you will all be invited and hopefully can attend.

The partnership theme will also feature prominently in the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan concept note. We will distribute this concept note for Executive Board review shortly after the conclusion of this week’s session. This Strategic Plan concept note is scheduled for discussion at our next informal consultation scheduled for 28 November.

In our service to the hungry poor, WFP, together with our closest partners, serves in some of the toughest places on earth. We are in those tough places because that’s our job. WFP, like our closest partners, particularly UNICEF, is pledged to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed, even where it involves risk. 

But for an effective operating agency the assumption of risk comes with the responsibility to manage, mitigate and whenever possible eliminate risk. 

We have the responsibility to not only equip our staff with essential equipment and services to mitigate risk, but even more importantly we have the responsibility to ensure beneficiaries receive the right assistance at the right time. Because properly managed food assistance must be designed to intelligently attack the root causes of hunger. Food assistance cannot and must not lead to dependency or destabilize markets. Food assistance must never expose the people we serve to conditions worse than what they face without our help.

This risk management responsibility extends to the reputation of WFP. As an organization 100 per cent funded by voluntary contributions, we have an obligation to be transparent with supporters who generously provide those resources, especially you, the Member States who provide the largest share of our funding. We have an ethical duty to be clear about the risks we choose to take and to always ensure everything we do is adequately resourced for the skillful and responsible mitigation of those risks. 

That is why three months ago WFP joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative, signalling our commitment to transparency and agreed common, open and international standards in the publication of aid data. And that is why last week I approved our own Risk Appetite Statement, placing WFP at the forefront of the United Nations System in driving risk management, openly documenting the risks we are prepared to take and bringing greater confidence to our valued stakeholders like each of you. A copy of this statement will be shared with all of you.

WFP is working to build confidence with our stakeholders in the area of United Nations System Coherence. I have already referred to our close collaboration at the heads of agencies level. But in our pursuit of excellence, efficiency and cost-effectiveness we are also operationalizing these partnerships and creating the necessary institutional infrastructure to grow and maintain them.

As discussed at our June meeting, WFP’s long-standing engagement with United Nations clusters has been newly invigorated through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) reform process. This process promoting dialogue and collaboration among humanitarian organizations, widely known as the Transformative Agenda, is now reaching take-off velocity.

The Transformative Agenda means adapting resources so that each organization can leverage our respective capacities for greater impact in the communities we serve and most importantly to the people we serve. Ultimately, this collaboration will facilitate improved delivery of services to affected populations, enhance collective accountability to those we strive to assist and heighten accountability with and between operational agencies.

WFP is engaged as the lead or co-lead in three of the eleven IASC clusters: Food Security, Logistics and Emergency Telecommunications.
The global Food Security Cluster – co-led by WFP and FAO and involving about 35 participating organizations – reflects the collaborative spirit embodied in our recent partnership consultations. A multi-institutional support team based here in WFP Headquarters gives support to between 30 and 40 national coordination systems. Growing lead agency and partnership engagement, ownership and support to these activities since April 2011 has turned this cluster into a highly effective tool in the humanitarian food security arena.

For example, the global Food Security Cluster is directly engaged in revitalizing work in Somalia and Afghanistan, and both countries are now seen as leading examples of the cluster system in action. 

In Somalia, cluster activities are delivering maximum results in extremely varied and complex emergency situations.  The Somalia Food Security Cluster includes over 400 partners, while engaging and growing local leadership capacity at the sub-national level.

Similarly in Afghanistan, WFP and FAO collaborate with a large NGO partner, AfghanAid, highlighting the positive benefits to be achieved by sharing leadership roles to boost partnership, advocacy and access to information for a better response.

For the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, we are leading with innovative, fast-deploying IT solutions, including the inflatable satellite antenna that is temporarily on display beside the WFP tent just outside this building. 

This forms part of the emergency.lu platform, a global multilayer public-private partnership initiated by the Government of Luxembourg and three private sector businesses to provide satellite infrastructure and services to the international humanitarian community. This same hardware was deployed to recent emergencies in South Sudan and in Mali where it provided free Internet, voice communication and coordination services to over 3,000 humanitarian workers in remote locations.

And later today, we will discuss the Global Logistics Cluster evaluation, which was jointly commissioned by WFP, the Netherlands and UNICEF which found that logistics cluster operations led to better approaches and enhanced programme delivery overall.

WFP is therefore committed to the Transformative Agenda’s collaborative approach for building coherence and enhancing value for money. We are learning from every emergency, and we are working with our partners to ensure those lessons are carefully reviewed and effectively applied the next time we are called to respond. 

We are taking care to deliver cluster services only in contexts where they fill gaps, and we are working with governments to build their capacity to lead in these emergencies. Because coordination with all the right actors is not simply for coordination’s sake; it is for getting essential capacity on the ground when and where it is needed and ensuring it gets done quickly and efficiently as well as effectively. Coordination is the means to improve and enable delivery of our services.

Next month, the IASC Principals will meet in this room. This is the first time WFP will host the IASC Principals. Following our formal session, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and I will brief you regarding the outcomes of our discussions. 

And immediately following the IASC meeting, WFP will host, for the first time, the annual launch of the Consolidated Appeals Process or “CAP” as it is known.  This is the first launch hosted outside of New York or Geneva; a clear testament to our growing role in promoting effectiveness and efficiency across the global community.

Measuring performance outcomes is essential for ensuring success in everything WFP does as an organization. It is the catalytic agent for expanding our partnerships with others and holding ourselves accountable for the resources you have entrusted us to manage. Because if our goal to make WFP a better organization is to hold any real meaning in the world beyond WFP, we must assemble the evidence documenting our progress and impact on the people and communities we serve.

That is why the 2013-2015 Management Plan allocates an additional US$800,000 for monitoring, reporting and evaluation activities. Our goal must be to embed M&E systems throughout all our programme of work, and, if we are serious, we must commit the financial resources to assemble the evidence reliably and with full accountability for results.
Gender is another priority for which additional resources have been allocated.  The proposed increase of US$400,000 would strengthen the Gender Unit under the Deputy Executive Director and Office of the Chief Operating Officer and enable that unit to ensure gender mainstreaming across all our programmes, while building capacity among WFP staff and our partners to better perform gender analysis work.

Further, later today we will consider the evaluation report of our private sector partnerships and fundraising strategy, a key priority area going forward. The Fit for Purpose actions embedded in the Management Plan offer an important step toward addressing the concerns raised in the evaluation by relocating oversight of private sector partnerships within the newly established Partnership and Governance Services Department, where they will operate alongside divisions managing governmental and inter-agency revenue-raising activities. 

As specified in the Executive Board Biennial Programme of Work, we are in the process of conducting a review – thanks to the pro bono support of the Boston Consulting Group – and will present a revised private sector partnership and fundraising strategy for Board consideration at our June 2013 Annual Session.  Private sector partnerships provide another important opportunity to make a greater difference to those we serve through the leveraging of technical expertise, financial resources and innovation. We need to get these partnerships right for all our stakeholders including you, the Executive Board.

Relative to innovation, twinning arrangements have been playing an expanding role in enabling WFP food assistance by allowing us to match donor funds with in-kind contributions from host governments and emerging donors to cover cost recovery for transport, distribution and monitoring. We recognize there is work to do to ensure that these arrangements are right and that they are inside our mandate and meet our ongoing plans and challenges.

Following a record year for twinning in 2011, WFP has confirmed twinning arrangements valued at US$228 million so far in 2012. This includes cash contributions of US$98 million twinned with 244,000 metric tons of in-kind contributions from 16 countries. WFP’s Emerging Donor Matching Fund (EDMF) can provide another US$10 million to distribute almost 29,000 metric tons of food valued at around US$12 million. This arrangement is working, but we need to continue to ensure that we streamline it and enforce all the details so that we get it right.

The Brasilia-based WFP Centre of Excellence Against Hunger celebrates its first year anniversary this month. This partnership between WFP and the Government of Brazil promotes sustainable national social safety nets based on successes and lessons learned from the Brazilian experience. The Centre is a bridge for South-South cooperation in capacity development in the areas of school feeding, nutrition and food security. It brings southern nations together who want to learn and develop their own country-led programmes. Since its official launch at this time last year, the Centre has organized 14 study visits from 12 countries.

WFP has also supported the African Union to design the African Risk Capacity (ARC) and Early Response Facility that helps participating Member States manage and pool drought risk across the African continent by bringing together concepts of insurance and contingency planning. We eagerly await the African Union’s forthcoming launch of the ARC, which presents an exciting opportunity to move from managing crisis through external assistance, to African countries managing risks by pooling their own resources.

In an era of transparency and accountability we will be judged not just by you, the Member States, or individual contributors, or taxpayers and foundations who demand accountability for how humanitarian investments align with the immediate priorities and outcomes we achieve, but we will also be judged by our increasingly technology-empowered beneficiaries, amplifying their voices through mobile phones as well as the ever increasing number of  citizen journalists, seizing the ability to monitor and report our actions from every street corner and every camp.

On this journey from food aid to food assistance we must continue exploring new technologies and new tools, investing in them, taking some measured risks, sharing knowledge and embracing systems that work best for the people we serve. We must continue knitting up our best efforts with our partners because nobody delivers alone.  We must deliver the best value for money in the real world contexts of our daily work.

And here I would like to close these opening remarks with an example from my recent travel as WFP Executive Director to the Middle East – to Lebanon and Jordan – just last week.

We thank the generosity of the Governments of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and their host communities supporting Syrian refugees as well as all other partners who have acted during this rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis. 

During my travel I had the privilege to visit with a Syrian family in their temporary accommodation in Baalbek, Lebanon. I visited Abeer, a 35-year-old wife and mother of four daughters who shared her story with me. She told me: "We left our home and fled with only the clothes on our backs. We left as bombing and shelling hit our neighbourhood nine months ago; our home was totally destroyed. We left everything behind and we are struggling to make ends meet. The food vouchers that we receive from WFP are giving us a break and we don't have to worry about feeding our children."

I share Abeer’s story with you because it illustrates both the distance we have travelled and the new opportunities we face. 

Five years ago, Abeer could not have predicted her life would be so tragically disrupted. But five years ago WFP may also have responded to her needs quite differently, with food distribution instead of the vouchers she now receives – which as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon where markets work – are far better suited to her actual situation and needs. 

In these changing and uncertain times, none of us know what the future brings.  But we have the duty to plan for it because the unexpected is precisely what we must be prepared to expect. And now is the time to continue to build on our successes that are making and will continue to make a difference for the hungry poor we serve.

Thank you.