Our Perspectives

Inside UNDP: Jennifer Topping


UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique Jennifer Topping with kids in Zambezia Camp. Photo: UNICEF in Mozambique

1. Who are you?

My name is Jennifer Topping.   I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada.  My father died when I was young and my mother raised our family of 5 children on her own – with unrelenting grace, humour, resilience and commitment to our education.  I know that’s where my strength as a woman and as a leader comes from.

2. What do you do for work?

I am the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique. I have the daily privilege and challenge of leading a coordinated effort of 22 UN Agencies delivering a $700 million multi-year programme in one of the poorest and most rapidly developing countries in the world.

3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP? Where were you before?

I joined UNDP in 1988 as a Junior Professional Officer funded by Canada.   I was completing my graduate studies when I learned of the JPO programme, supported by the government of Canada for young Canadians to get experience in international development and the UN.  Within a year of applying, I found myself in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen as a P1 programme officer, with a portfolio of programmes in water supply, agriculture, and health services.  Since then I’ve worked in three Country Offices - in the Arab States, Asia, and Africa - and two corporate bureaux in headquarters – Policy and Partnerships.

4. Give us 2-3 short examples of the types of assignments you do most frequently.

I’m frequently leveraging the combined assets of different agencies of the UN system to be more than the sum of our parts, trying to foster the greatest potential and power from collaboration.  For example, in Mozambique there is tremendous growth, opportunity (and risk) for development in the field of extractive industries, mining and natural gas extraction.  No UN agency is uniquely specialized to support this agenda but together, UNDP, ILO, UNIDO, UN Women, WHO and UNEP apply their respective expertise to align the governance, labour, environmental, gender, health, and local economic dimensions of this opportunity for maximum development impact.  With key donors Australia and Canada, we’re partnered with regional mineral development centres in Africa to make this happen.

5. Top 3 favorite things about working for UNDP?

  • It’s really a family. The moving experiences you share create a powerful bond.  Many of the colleagues that I started with when we were “kids” are sisters and brothers now, still with UNDP. It really feels like we’ve grown up together as a family.

  • The diversity of the organization.  Everywhere I’ve worked, the fantastic richness that comes from our organizational fabric is so impressive and endearing.

  • The career and professional diversity.  Within one organization you can change jobs seven or eight times, and, each time, feel like you’ve started a whole new career.

7. What are the challenges of working and living in your duty station?

Mozambique is a dynamic, beautiful, warm and welcoming country, as are its people. It’s also a country laden equally with burdens and opportunities – highly natural disaster prone but with rich natural resources, huge increases in school enrollment but very low human development overall.  These contrasts are what makes working here both relevant and exciting. You need to be both pragmatic and innovative to respond to the tough challenges and keep up with the very rapid changes driving the country forward.

8. What's a favorite thing you love or have discovered in your duty station?  

There is a lovely expression used in Mozambique when people are finishing a conversation and just about to say good bye to each other.  It’s “estamos juntos,” which in Portuguese means “we’re together.”  It’s a gesture of solidarity, sister/brotherhood, and mutual support.  From a UN point of view, this beautiful way to finish a conversation really hits home.  We are indeed all in this together.

9. From the time you’ve been in UNDP, name your favorite UNDP result.

Since I have served twice in Mozambique, I have had the unique opportunity to witness the development of the country over time.  I was able to see the beginning and end of UNDP’s outstanding long-term support towards the massive de-mining undertaking.  At the end of the war in 1993, Mozambique was one of the largest and five most intensively land-mined countries in the world.  Even with peace, no development could take place until people could move freely, rebuild homes, roads, and farms, attend school, or get to a doctor. After a relentless 20 year campaign, I was extremely proud see Mozambique host the International Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Landmine Convention (Ottawa Treaty) in 2014 and to see the country declared fully and officially mine-free in 2015.

10. Things on your work wish list which would empower you to deliver more effective results for work?

  • Three or four more hours added to the day to regularly exercise and read what’s piled on my bedside table.

  • More resources invested in leadership development at all levels, even for “experienced” senior leaders. In UN and UNDP, our operating environments for leadership are increasingly complex and dynamic and we need more specialized support. Excellence only comes with practice, dedicated investment, and the best possible coaching and we need quality resources invested in this at all levels.

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