Six Questions for Marc-André Franche (2008)
Country Director, UN Development Program in Pakistan
What is your role with the United Nations?
As Country Director of the UN’s Development Programme in Pakistan, I oversee the development and implementation of our program. It is focused on climate change adaptation, promoting democratic governance including improved electoral management, rule of law and local governance. Also included is crisis prevention and recovery which encompasses a large community resilience program, violence prevention and disaster risk reduction. I am particularly devoted to partnership development, communications and outreach, strategic positioning and supporting my colleagues to implement the program. The program is worth over $300m over 5 years and a team of 350 staff consisting of mostly Pakistanis with some 20 international staff.
How did you move into an international leadership role?
After my studies in Montreal, Sweden and the UK, I pursued a volunteer position funded by CIDA in Bolivia with UNDP which got me interested in the United Nations work and exposed me to some great colleagues. After that, I entered the Young Professional Program also supported by CIDA with UNDP in Colombia where I focused on action research and developing conflict prevention programs. From then I was lucky to have great mentors who supported me and gave me increasing levels of responsibility and exposure. I went to work in New York in charge of crisis countries support in the Latin America and Caribbean region while managing regional programs on conflict prevention. With that experience I applied to a management position in UNDP in Haiti where I managed the program before and after the 2010 earthquake. This first management experience was challenging but also gave me the tools and the maturity to do the job I have today.
What particular leadership skills are required leading a major United Nations program in a sovereign country?
I think the most important skill is the capacity to listen, learn and understand the context in which you live and work. That means a lot of time devoted in reading, asking questions and listening to the many colleagues and partners in country. It’s not so much understanding historical facts and knowing the players – although that helps – but specially understanding how people organize, how coalitions are made, what are the obstacles to change and all the small cultural idiosyncrasies which will allow you to understand how a society functions so you can influence it positively. Having a good sense of interests and opportunities and then rallying your colleagues to contribute to something bigger than themselves will allow you to contribute meaningfully. While helping to articulate a vision with the team and your partners of what that change should be a key skill is to also remain humble about the pace and scope of change. All societies and government are complex and do not change overnight.
Has your career followed the path you expected?
I sometimes think I should have been an architect so I could physically touch what I have built. Given my family background – both my parents were working in international development – I always wanted to devote my life to international development, to be an agent of positive change in the lives of as many people as possible. I did not really expect this would lead me to the UN. It is an extraordinary institution though with many flaws and strengths like all institutions. Although I would not wish for another career given what it has given me, I did not expect it was going to be so complex and difficult.
Do you find time to keep up with your friends in Canada – and your Conference colleagues?
I am back in Canada at least once a year and manage keeping in touch with my family, although they might have other views on the frequency on my contacts. I am in quite regular contact with some of my conference colleagues and we do send a mass email to the entire group once in a while. We keep abreast of what most are doing and keep on discussing a way we would all meet again.
Did your experience with the leadership Conference provide you any particular skills or insights into leadership that you might not have been able to get elsewhere?
For one, it gave me better and more concrete appreciation of the diversity of Canada and the amazing breadth of community experiences. It gave me the opportunity to adapt some of the skills I had used abroad in a Canadian context but I also learned quite a bit from the leadership styles and communications skills from the members of my group. Some of it I still use in my work and the Conference gave me that exposure.