11 May 2021, Rome – In April 2020, with much of the world facing severe restrictions on movement, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) had its first-ever global town hall meeting. The event brought employees worldwide together virtually with the Director-General for a direct exchange and dialogue.
Today the Organization held its third town hall meeting, leading Director-General QU Dongyu to suggest the unprecedented initiative he launched last year is now a “new normal”.
“It’s a way to build solidarity and get to know each other,” he said to a virtual audience of thousands of FAO employees who had logged in from homes and FAO offices in more than 130 countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic made innovation an urgent requirement for work pursuing FAO’s mandate, and accelerated the consolidation of the new digital FAO, Qu said. Through their everyday action, employees led the evolution and consolidation of new practices at the Organization, he said. The town hall is a form of “crowd power”, he added.
Noting that FAO employees have been on the frontlines of major crises, from the desert locust upsurge to hurricanes, from conflict to floods, the Director-General applauded staff for their “extraordinary commitment to serving the most vulnerable.”
FAO entered 2021 with “ambition and energy” and scored an important success by winning the support of Members at the recent Council meeting for the new 10-year Strategic Framework, a document that was put together in an unprecedented massive effort involving hundreds of employees and an extensive and transparent consultation process with Members.
“Building consensus between Members and staff – that’s how we achieve ownership,” Qu said.
The meaning of MORE
In unscripted remarks, the Director-General offered some insight into his vision of how to pursue FAO’s mandate, now embedded in the Strategic Framework, which calls for the “transformation to MORE efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving no one behind.”
Using upper-case capital letters for “MORE” is meant to emphasize that “we need a lot more, not a little more”, he said.
Efficiency, he explained, is linked to the need to produce more food for the world’s growing population, and to do so in a way offering more diversity with less pressure on natural resources. Inclusivity is an epic challenge in a world where there are North/South and urban/rural divides. Resilience – in particular to climate and disasters – is not something that “comes from nature” but requires investment. He gave the example that most of the world’s agricultural land relies on rain rather than irrigation, due to a lack of investment in agricultural engineering. Sustainability, meanwhile, can be imagined as the creation and enlargement of circular economies. Together, it should be possible to create a “Better Life”, starting with improved livelihoods for farmers and the poor and eventually impacting the quality of life of all human beings.
Resilience and innovation have contributed to FAO employees’ capacity to collaborate, said Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo, who moderated the town hail. “We are a stronger family, all together under one virtual roof,” she said.
The Director-General listed some of the institutional reforms he has pushed through since arriving in Rome in the middle of 2019: expanded health insurance and parental leave, including for the affiliate workforce; an overhauled recruitment policy to fill vacancies and enhance gender and geographical inclusivity; developing policy measures favoring career opportunities for internal staff, especially those at junior levels. FAO will also revise its policy on flexible work in light of the successful execution of core tasks and projects during a time when working from home was the norm.
The exchanges between the Director-General, his senior leadership team and the employees touched upon a wide range of issues, including the progress on vaccinating employees and dependents against the COVID-19 virus; supporting FAO teams operating in countries facing special challenges; better engagement with countries and regions; the paramount importance of internalizing and following the Organization’s Basic Texts; FAO’s contribution to the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit and its pre-Summit; and FAO’s leading role in supporting agri-food systems transformation.