Our Perspectives

Inside UNDP: Lionel Laurens


 Lionel in Freetown.

Lionel Laurens, from France, is a development practitioner who has worked for UNDP for 10 years.  He’s driven by a desire to contribute to a more equal world by working with people to be in control of their own development in their own environment.

1.    What do you do for work?
I’m currently the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Immediate Response Coordinator for UNDP in Sierra Leone. I help reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis by reaching out to the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society and creating partnerships with these groups to raise their awareness of Ebola and adopt safe behaviours.

2.    Where were you before?
I started working for UNDP in Lao PDR with the National Rural Development Programme. After that I worked in Afghanistan managing the National ABD Programme and in Iraq, first managing the Local ABD Programme, and then a sub-cluster of programmes covering poverty reduction and MDGs, essential service delivery, inclusive growth and private sector development.

3.    What types of assignments do you do most frequently?
I spend a lot of my time working with programme teams, government counterparts, communities and other key stakeholders to develop a shared vision, formulate strategies and interventions and turn these into effective programmes that can be delivered on the ground. What I most enjoy is working closely with people to respond to their real needs and constantly adapt and adjust as situations change.

In Iraq, for example, we identified a mismatch between the places with the highest levels of poverty and those where UNDP already was implementing programmes, which led to new programmes in 4 provinces.

In Sierra Leone, we reprogrammed UNDP’s existing programmes and relationships to target vulnerable populations and those not yet reached by Ebola prevention activities.  Working with partner NGOs, civil society and government, we trained volunteers to assist in awareness campaigns and security personal to coordinate emergency measures and avoid potential conflict. (Read more about our Ebola work here.)

I also develop partnerships between UNDP and the Private Sector to co-create programmes that benefit both parties. In Iraq, we developed a partnership with the Shell Oil Company to engage communities in the areas where Shell has gas and petroleum extraction operations. The aim of the partnership was to support local development by integrating more local businesses in Shell’s supply chain and funding social interventions important to local communities and supported by local government.  

Shell contributed US$6M for community and small-enterprise development, and a further US$8M for the construction of a vocational training facility to train the local workforce in specialized welding skills.   

4.    What are your favorite things about working for UNDP?
Values, teamwork and the challenges of ensuring delivery and constantly adapting to change. I have a lot of experience turning difficult projects into effective projects, and I love these challenges because they mobilise all my capacities and those of my team. It means getting everyone to make decisions together and bringing everyone on board so that all stakeholders feel that the project is working for them and they are driving the process to make it succeed because they care about it.

5.    What are the challenges of working and living in your duty station?
When Ebola reached the capital, Freetown, everybody was very scared – including all of us in the UNDP office and our programme partners. It was very hard for any of us to work when we felt frightened and powerless in the face of the disease. At the same time I could see that many of my colleagues felt strongly that we shouldn’t be bystanders and that we needed to find a way to play a positive role. It was this deep commitment of the staff that enabled us to confront our fear and to harness our desire to help into a strong collective effort to do something positive.

6.    Three things on your work wishlist?

  • Increase my experience in a senior leadership role.  I see the Deputy Country Director/Deputy Resident Representative positions as a fantastic opportunity to influence the strategic positioning of UNDP in a particular country and build a strong team that can meet the challenges and deliver on UNDP’s commitments.
  • Explore all aspects of sustainability in a more daring way. We need to think more widely about models of development that put the sustainability of people, planet and profit (economic growth) at the core and avoid the mistakes of intensive resource depletion and short term consumerism that are now creating so many problems in the North.  
  • Have a delivery machinery with the flexibility to gear up to meet new challenges as they arise. This means being able to attract and retain the right people at the right time, and to develop long term agreements with partners that allow us to procure goods and services, and link with relevant research when and where they are needed.

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