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

Headquarters return plan – Phase 4

Meeting with D1s and above from Headquarters

Introductory Statement of the Director-General

As prepared



Dear Colleagues,

1. It is nice to see you all here smiling and in good form;

2. I hope you managed to have a relaxing summer and that you and your families are all doing well.

3. Today is an important meeting as we will present to you the next phase of the planned return to headquarters.

4. This week marked the end of summer, the autumn season is now starting. Nature gives us signals for a new start.

5. Schools and Universities have resumed, as well as economic activities, following the traditional Italian vacation period of the month of August peaking with the so called “Ferragosto” at mid-August.

6. There is a high expectation from our Members and the people we serve for FAO to play an increasing leadership role in the achievement of the 2030 agenda, where food and agriculture is central to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

7. COVID-19 has not weakened this demand. On the contrary, the pandemic has highlighted even more the importance of our work including with regard to peace and stability in the world. I had the opportunity to brief the Security Council last week on this important matter.

8. FAO needs to continue its leadership role in dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in its substantive response (through the provision of analysis and briefs, through its technical support and its emergency activities).


9. As you know, in July, the Council approved my proposals for PWB readjustment including the structural reorganization of FAO.

10. We have been working intensively since then on the implementation of the proposals, and all arrangements and transfer of positions will be completed by the end of this month.

11. In fact, out of the 5 Director positions, 22 Professionals and 36 General Service Staff affected by the changes, as of today, there are only two professional positions and three General Service positions still under discussion with the potential receiving unit for which we are confident placement will be agreed on by the end of September.

12. So looking back at 2020, it was (and still is) not only a year of efficiency but also a year of deep transformative reforms for FAO.

13. But we also need to work hard on further accelerating the delivery of results.

14. Forced by the pandemic, we have made good progress towards a digital FAO; we are, however, also aware of the risks of de-connection,  as colleagues have been now working for months from home, away from their teams and their offices at headquarters.

15. Monitoring very closely the current epidemiological situation in Italy, we have reached the conclusion that the time has come to proceed with a cautious and moderate increase of our physical presence at headquarters. We cannot let COVID-19 slow down our progress.

16. And FAO must continue to act as a leader in terms of its institutional needs: the health and wellbeing of our employees, and the need to deliver on the FAO mandate.

17. Now, the situation has greatly improved in Italy and in Rome, but we need to be vigilant as the incidence rates are slowly increasing particularly with the impact of the summer vacation and also with the reopening of economic activities.

18. The health of FAO employees is still our number one priority.

19. We have spared no effort to protect all employees and managed to keep the total number of infections in FAO offices at 86 since the beginning of the pandemic.

20. While every case is regrettable, we need to put this in perspective: we have registered 5 deaths and there are 20 positive cases as of today, one of which is hospitalized but not in an Intensive Care Unit.

21. Out of the total number of more than 13000 employees worldwide, this is a respectable performance that we need to maintain.

22. The reputation of headquarters as a safe working space is of extreme importance. But given the evolving situation, we can come back slowly and cautiously and organize more physical meetings and increase our physical presence.

23. Because no matter how good we have tried to innovate, some things need to be done physically - it is human nature: teamwork and meetings with external partners lead to stronger confidence and trust.

24. We will now be introducing Phase 4 and Laurent will present more details on that shortly.

25. This is the new normal and we all need to continue adapting ourselves to it. Just as we did since the start of the pandemic by making FAO more modern, more digital, more goal-oriented, and less bureaucratic.  And we will continue on this path.

26. We are planning a gradual and modest increase in the number of staff at headquarters in the coming months.

27. Strict work protocols have been put in place and they will require discipline and rigor in their adoption.

28. My message to you and through you to all the FAO employees based in Rome: It is our common responsibility to protect ourselves and our colleagues by being aware and conscious of the risks.

29. These risks can be managed if we are all responsible and adhere rigorously to the health and safety protocols that are currently in place to ensure our safety.

30. My message to you: you are all managers, be aware of your responsibility in Phase 4, and let’s look forward to the new normal.

31. As was your responsibility in the past to care for and manage your teams during the lockdown and to assess delivery within the teleworking arrangements.

32. So now, share and explain the rationale behind Phase 4 to your teams.

33. Keep them connected, encourage them. Be leaders!

34. You are accountable for the success of this new phase in this new working environment impacted by the pandemic.

35. I have asked Laurent and the Crisis Management Team to be very strict in ensuring that health protocols are respected rigorously at headquarters.

36. I am counting on you to be part of this big effort so that FAO delivers its work efficiently and safely in the current environment.

Laurent, over to you now.