Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

 Meeting with Senior Management

Transcription of the Director-General’s Opening Remarks

Virtual Meeting, 30 July 2020, 12:30 – 14:11



First of all, thank you, Ms Maria-Helena Semedo for encouraging me and I encourage all of you. 

I think so far, 95 percent of D1’s and above are still on screen since my first day, August 1, 2019. All the achievements, are your achievements. All the difficulties we tackled, we tackled together. All the reforms and the new Further Adjustments of the Programme of Work and Budget (PWB), they are our collective commitment, consensus, and action plan for the future. 

I should start first by saying, happy Eid al-Adha holiday to the people who celebrate. I know, not only Muslims, some other people also. I know that in China we have 12 nationalities who celebrate this holiday. Last year, it was on 11 August, 2019. This year, some still start celebrating today, July 30, July 31, 2020. In the United States of America, it is a national holiday on Friday, tomorrow. So, happy holiday, happy Eid al-Adha. 

This is the third meeting with D1’s and above since I came into office. The first one was last year, in September and this year, the first one was on January 29 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic. I still remember two things: this year is an efficient year for FAO. Also, I established two groups: one is for crisis management and emergency issues, and the other is for big data. 

I think the history tells you the truth. History tells you the movement and also the achievements; you came with me to make FAO different. 

You will recall that the two decisions, that I already said, I took at that last meeting were of fundamental importance – now when we look back. Tasking Mr Laurent Thomas with the emergencies. Of course, supported by Ms Semedo and others. Also, Mr Máximo Torero Cullen with the big data. I really appreciate CSI – it is the Corporate Services Information Technology Services Stream. You can see that during the past five months, it has really been challenging. Sometimes crisis is also an opportunity for us.

The world around us has changed rapidly and deeply since our last meeting. Not only the reality around us, but also our professional life is very different today. I think most of FAO’s savings has been from the travelling cost. I think this year maybe we can save at least 50 percent of the travelling cost, but we do more for emergencies and others. It has really pushed us to change the business model and the way of working, 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.

During the months of the COVID-19 emergency, the digital transformation for the Organization has been occurring at a much quicker pace than expected. Mr Yaya Adisa Olaniran, my dear brother from Nigeria, he said that it has maybe pushed a lot for Member Countries to do quicker than they expected in more than 20 years. It is a very, you know, social and deep change. Not only the way of working, teleworking, the way of doing business, economic development and governance of society. We took big steps towards becoming a digital Organization.

During these unprecedented circumstances, we acknowledged high levels of participation and commitment of FAO employees around the world. I should draw attention here to let all of my colleagues realize that in FAO, we are about 13 000 employees. I appreciate all of you respecting rules and the recommendations by FAO, by WHO and the host country. Therefore, very few people were infected. FAO family, big family, including your small family members, are safe and healthy. This is something I really, you know, enjoy from my heart. Even when we face these difficulties and the challenging times.

Our governance also quickly adapted to the new digital mode of working. I still remember, several months ago, when we were starting to change the business model of the Council and the Programme Committee (PC) and Finance Committee (FC). A lot of friends were still hoping that they would have their physical meeting. With my colleagues, Mr Thomas and Mr Godfrey Magwenzi and others, we firmly said ‘no.’ Even if the situation has allowed us to do so, we have taken this opportunity to try a new business model. Now when we look back, it was a wise and right decision that we have made. If we can successfully have a Council meeting, we will deal with any other meeting very well. I still remember, together with Ms Semedo, we had a vey successful meeting between FAO and the African Union’s (AU) agricultural ministers. Several days ago, we had a meeting of three [groups of AU] ministers together. 

For the first time in the UN’s system, on April 16, we had simultaneous interpretation in the UN official languages. I know there are still some UN sister organizations that could not do so. I think I should also appreciate our CSI services. They have really adapted quickly and efficiently.

Earlier this year, I declared 2020 as the year of efficiency for FAO, and we have increased quality and efficiency of our delivery.

In parallel, with COVID-19, FAO went through the natural inception phase that accompanies the installation of a new administration. This phase is now over and with the recent endorsement by Council of my proposed transformational changes, we are putting in place a renewed FAO.

To be clear, we introduced the most significant reform and reorganization since the founding of FAO. 

Maybe some colleagues did not realize it, but just yesterday we finished the Oversight Advisory Committee and the group, you know the oversight group. They really appreciate what we are going to do in the reform and they said we took a bold and brave action for reform.

You can see that most of the senior staff and employees are supportive because we do care about your personal concern as much as we can. Today I just signed the document “How to deal with the disbanding of Strategic Programme 1 (SP1) to Strategic Programme 5 (SP5) and the Office of Support to Decentralized Offices (OSD)”. 

I think before the lockdown I had a personal discussion with all the relevant senior staff. As I said, we want to reform FAO but, we do not want to attack you. We have to protect your personal interests as much as we can, if you are good enough. I think that I kept my promise. That also is a way of a soft-landing reform. Of course, we want to change FAO. A reform that 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.

But remember, when I speak of the new FAO, I do not mean a new organizational purpose or mandate. On the contrary, the new FAO is rooted more than ever before in the original mandate our founding Members wrote into the Basic Texts. That is why I insisted, so many times, that all the employees and Members have to read and understand the Basic Texts. What is new is the way we work, the way we move closer to our ground in the Members. The digital Organization that moves away from the old limited geopolitical thinking, open to collaboration and willing to contribute. 

One layer of administration was abolished, as you already realized, thus making the Organogram flatter with directors closer to the leadership team, empowered and accountable. We broke the silos that are in place at different organizational levels, including the ones that existed between the Deputy Director-Generals (DDGs). 

With these changes, our Organization will be better able to support the Membership in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, in a little bit less than 10 years from now. The SDGs are the goals that we should not lose from our sight. 

The reform was accompanied by the introduction of the Hand-in-Hand Initiative. A strategic and fundamental paradigm shift in our support to the Members and in the way we envisage partnerships for results. We now must show results. 

You know my motto: concrete, tangible, participatory, transparent and cohesive. We have improved transparency and participation. We now should be more tangible, and we must move fast. 

We live in a reality that becomes more complicated and competitive every day. We need to show our added value to convince our Members and donors that investing in FAO is a good investment in sustainable development. 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.

At the beginning, I know a lot of Members were always wondering how much money had come for the Hand-in-Hand Imitative. As I said, we start by changing the business model first and then we will have more and more input that will come.

Hunger and poverty trends are increasing and time is of the essence to reverse these trends. The key will be in our capacity to implement our ideas, looking at innovative solutions for both old and new problems, maybe with less funds. 

To do so, we need the quality control of all FAO employees at all levels and at all locations. 

We will all be judged by the people we serve on our capacity to bring concrete answers to challenges. We need to be pragmatic. Not only highlighting problems, but also offering solutions and services to the Members.

Dear colleagues,

If you take only one message home from this meeting today, let it be the following. 

We have designed a new organization of work that relies on D1s and D2s responsible for their areas of work, empowered, and accountable for their actions. 

The new structure provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your technical and professional strengths. It provides a space especially for the D1s and D2s to be in close communication with the core leadership at one email and not only with your direct supervisor. Even Mr Julio Berdegue, you can ‘cc’ me of course, you can ‘cc’ Mr Godfrey Magwenzi, you can report to Mr Thomas or you can report to Mr Torero because Mr Torero is B-line for Latin America.

I want to build a closer contact with our country and regional offices and also from D1 and D2 above, we cut and avoid two steps. Once you reach Mr Magwenzi, he can redistribute to the relevant core leadership. We are six people plus me, seven people. FAO is really governed and run by the core leadership, not only by the individual seniors, DDGs, Chiefs, myself, or the Cabinet Director.

I want to make this very clear. You are accountable, but at the same time you have to respect the new business model, not follow the old silos and only report to one direct supervisor. You have to report to at least two, better three, because Mr Magwenzi is the Director of our core leadership. He is the Director for the Cabinet. 

This approach will be challenging at first, as you will need to adapt and adjust the way you work. When you are open and transparent, the world will open to you. Very soon it will bring more benefit, decision-making and opportunity. This is the only way we can work in a multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary and modular manner, internally as we advocate for and promote this holistic approach externally.

Be ready to take responsibility for your decisions, and acknowledge the contributions of employees you supervise. I also encourage you and not only you alone, to be informed. You should also be asking your colleagues to share with you no matter whether you are a regional representative, country representative, division director or liaison director.

I think that is open and transparent, not only with Member Countries and also with other partners, but also within senior staff here. You are D1 and above.

I expect you to make every effort to reduce bureaucracy within your own units and offices. You should already be thinking how your units could individually contribute to a more agile FAO. You need to think beyond the usual silos, leading from the top showing that your own activities are aimed at the overall benefit of FAO and are not developed focusing on your own units or personal priorities. 

Be part of the new sharing economy of FAO, share your knowledge, data and information. From now on, activities are always result-oriented, targets for resource mobilization, performance indicators for projects and countdown timetables towards the precise deadlines. 

Your leadership will be critical in successfully implementing the changes that are needed to adjust to the new priorities and the reformed structure. This includes a change of our corporate culture; you need to familiarize yourself with the work of others at FAO and beyond.

Take resource mobilization, for example. It is everyone’s responsibility to look for windows of opportunity for partnership and resource mobilization, but of course you have to follow the technical and financial, legal – the three lines to manage the risk. However, this does not mean that the resources should be mobilized for individual or divisional agenda and partnerships established around only a small area of work. We should all be working towards a similar target and result with a comprehensive approach and with a vision in mind. 

Coordination, collaboration and sharing of information will be key. For instance, we should all familiarize ourselves with the new comprehensive response to COVID-19 and the coordinated plan for addressing the challenges posed by the crisis. This information is now public and representative for the entire Organization. I think about one week ago, Ms Beth Bechdol, Mr Maximo Torero and myself, we already had a big promotion together with Resource Mobilization Division.

All managers should be informed and aligned in their efforts to advocate and support this approach. 

Be strategic in your thinking, talking and listening. Identify priorities based on your knowledge and the bigger picture. 

Your human resource management skills will also be needed. Because the successes of FAO in these last months, including its high productivity has in many ways, been the result of an approach, which treated our employees as the most valuable asset of FAO.

We recognized the personal challenges that many have been facing in these days and respected them for doing their best. It is important to continue with this approach to management, based on trust in, and accountability of each individual. Treat your teams with respect and humility, lead by example.

You can see, the tasks ahead of us are big and the 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.

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, as I said that last time. 

That is why I pushed, some colleagues already feel my push from D2 level or even DDG level, because I am always walking the talk, not only talking. Once the reform design is approved, now it is time for us to work together to implement it as efficiently and good as possible. 

I have appointed a leadership team I trust to support me, my core leadership group. My three Deputies, the Chief Economist, the soon to be selected Chief Scientist and the Director of the Cabinet. If you reach one of them or all of them, I will be fully informed. They form a united team that acts on behalf of the Director-General and I expect you all to support them individually and as a team. Please report and share your thoughts and recommendations to them, A role, B role and the Director of Cabinet, at same time, I repeat again, at the same time. 

Do not play the timetable game with them. You report to one on one day or three days earlier, and another three days later, that is not your working style, it is some kind of loyalty to your DDG, your senior, your supervisor. I said and I repeated it because nowadays in the digital world it is easier to trace back what you have done. 

The Assistants Director-General (ADGs) are given specific high-level assignments of strategic importance for the Organization, that is already approved by the Council. I already asked Mr René Castro-Salazar for a special targeting cooperation with the Green Climate Fund (GCF). While Ms Semedo maybe will look at the larger picture, to coordinate. As you can see, each ADG if you want deliverable results, you need to focus on several important things. I already asked you before the Council, when we had a preliminary discussion, already, and now it is a Council decision, it is time for you to show, to perform. It is not my personal authorization to you.

I trust that they will benefit from the full support of all to achieve their mission on my behalf both at regions and Headquarters. The revised roles of the ADGs at the Headquarter will also be important in breaking down silos and improving the efficiency. Therefore, ADGs at the regional level, now you can see you fully coordinate all your regions. Before some regions they had offices, liaison office and other office, you are not fully covered. However, now more or less except three liaison offices, most of you are fully responsible to all the country offices and liaison offices. 

Their diplomatic, political and technical experience are valuable resources if fully utilized, I am talking about ADGs at Headquarters.

I know that FAO, I always said yesterday to the Oversight Advisory Committee, we need money, the programme, the rules, but most important we need the talent, different talent at different level. The talent, if you can make use of your wisdom and experience, you can change the business.

Dear colleagues, 

In the coming months, we will chart the new Strategic Framework for FAO as well as the Medium-Term Plan and Programme for Work and Budget (PWB) 2022-23. This is an occasion for us to revisit the challenges for the future of Agri-food systems and FAO’s work priorities in the years to come. The vision is for a more integrated work of all FAO Offices, embedded in the work of all streams, offices and centres, breaking the silos be thematic, or geographic, to finally work as one FAO. 

We are implementing the reform at an accelerated pace. In the next weeks, I expect all teams at Headquarters to run at full speed, whether from the office or on teleworking. 

We need to renew focus and efforts to effectively support our colleagues in the regions, where the situation remains often very difficult. 

As one FAO, we should sustain them to the maximum possibility of our forces. 

The immediate priority will be a successful technical and political dialogue with our Members at the occasion of the Regional Conference cycle, which will start on of the first week of September. In most cases it will be done as a virtual meeting. That is the new normal.

We can even have more dialogue, because, if you have a physical meeting within five or three days you have limited time. However, now you can really start the dialogue with any Member more intensively virtually, or via teleworking.

Dear colleagues,

In my manifesto I wrote that we are what we think. The new thinking will lead us to a different journey. Our journey started 364 days ago, and today the path ahead of us should be clear to all of you. A path that will lead us to a better tomorrow through better production, nutrition, environment, and then we can have a better life not only for farmers but also for the society and the consumers, of course.

I count on you to contribute to the historical transformation of FAO and to walk this path together with us. The future is in your hands. Let us build a dynamic FAO for a better world with your hands. I appreciate your contribution, cooperation, and understanding.

You know FAO, as I have always said publicly, is old and poor, and we need to build it to be dynamic, vivid and efficient. Of course, everyone can contribute to it, if you play your role perfectly.

Thank you, over to you Ms Semedo.