Director-General  QU Dongyu

Director-General rallies senior managers to build an agile and results-oriented FAO


30 July 2020, Rome – The FAO Director-General QU Dongyu today met virtually with more than 120 senior managers of the UN Agency from around the world to present the next steps in implementing reforms to make the Organization more efficient, effective, inclusive, transparent and results-oriented.

This was the third global meeting in which QU engaged in person with all the managers at the level of director and above. In September 2019, just about a month after taking office, the Director-General requested senior managers to immediately focus on delivering more tangible results. In January this year, he declared 2020 as “the FAO year of efficiency” and highlighted the importance of embracing innovation, not only digital but also “innovation of mind-set, innovation of approach and innovation of business model.” 

Opening the meeting today, QU praised the management team for FAO’s achievements and good performance in the first half of 2020, despite the tremendous challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I congratulate all of you; all achievements are your achievements. All difficulties tackled, we tackled together,” he said. 

The Director-General alluded to two important decisions taken in January that were fundamental for FAO to perform amid the pandemic. First, strengthening the management of emergencies, designating Deputy Director-General Laurent Thomas to lead the efforts. Second, reinforcing big data collection and management, with Chief Economist, Maximo Torero, in the lead. 

“While the protection of the well-being and safety of our employees came first, we remained committed to our priority of delivering to the benefit of those we serve, starting with those further behind”, QU said, noting that FAO has also taken big steps towards becoming a truly digital Organization to face “the new normal.”

New organizational structure 

The meeting of today focused on implementing the Director-General’s reform plans for the Organization, which were recently endorsed by the FAO Council. 

“To be clear: We introduced the most significant reform and reorganization since the founding of FAO,” he stressed, referring to the establishment of a more modular and flexible organizational structure. A core leadership team consisting of the three Deputy Directors-General, the Chief Economist, the Chief Scientist and the Director of Cabinet will provide direct support to the Director-General. 

QU emphasised the leading role foreseen for senior managers in that context: In this new arrangement, the directors of Divisions, Centres and Offices, as experts in their respective subjects, will report directly to the core leadership team, thereby strengthening internal consensus, avoiding silos and minimizing bureaucracy.

“This reform leads to a cohesive and flat structure; a management system with increased delegation of authority; and an environment that encourages creativity and initiative. That is the new agile FAO,” QU said, noting that the Organization continues to be rooted “more than ever before in the original mandate given by our founding Members.”

The Director-General made it clear that the new structure provides an opportunity for directors to demonstrate their technical and professional strengths, while making them accountable for their actions. 

“This approach will be challenging at first; as you will need to adapt and adjust the way you work. But very soon it will bring more benefit, decision-making and opportunity,” QU said. He asked the managers to think beyond the usual silos and lead by example from the top: “When you open up to the world, the world opens to you.”

The Director-General also encouraged everyone to think outside the box and to show that their own activities are aimed at the overall benefit of FAO. He mentioned that managers will have targets for resource mobilization, performance indicators for projects and countdown timetables towards precise deadlines.

“Expectations are high. But we have full trust in your capacities and I believe that you will be up to the challenges that this new level of responsibility entails,” QU said, adding that “this profound transformation affects us all. I see myself now moving from leading a think tank to guiding an action tank, from Chief Designer to Chief Engineer.”

COVID-19 Response

Looking at how FAO has been helping countries address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems, the Director-General urged senior managers to embrace FAO’s comprehensive response plan for addressing the challenges posed by the crisis and help the international community to build back better.

The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme was recently launched during a virtual dialogue with private and public sectors. The objective is to provide an agile and coordinated global response that ensures access to nutritious food for all by mobilizing all forms of resources and partnerships at country, regional and global level.

FAO calls for immediate action in seven key priority areas:

“All managers should be informed and aligned in their efforts to advocate and support this approach,” the Director-General said. 

QU also encouraged managers to identify innovative solutions to solve old and new problems: “We live in a reality that becomes more complicated and competitive every day. We need to show that we are changing our business model, to achieve more with less money. Just as we are showing with the Hand-in-Hand Initiative.”

To conclude, the Director-General exhorted senior managers to work closely together towards “a path that leads us to a better tomorrow, through better production, better nutrition and better environment for a better life.”