On the power of three and creating purposeful lives

October 6, 2020

Maxwell Gomera(@GomeraM), the new Resident Representative of UNDP in Rwanda

(extract from speech delivered by Resident Representative)

A few weeks ago, I was treated to a nice farewell by my staff and colleagues in UN Environment. Several staff gave testimonies, as is traditional.

I was struck by one staff member’s description of me.

'Max loves the power of three and we will forever remember him for that,' she said.

'He taught us the power of words, the conviction that our words matter.

'He also taught us the power of ideas, the conviction that our ideas matter and are key to changing the world.'

'Finally, Max taught us the power of family. That whatever your call and however busy, family comes first.

I was pleased that these core issues that are so much a part of who I am conveyed clearly to my team, and I hope the same can be true here, too.

So, over the next few years as we seek to make a difference in Rwanda, I hope we can draw on these powers to achieve, amongst others, the following three things -

To be a partner of choice for the Government and people of Rwanda.

To be an innovation centre for Rwanda

To be better human beings

From what I have learnt of you so far, you live by the same values. And have achieved tremendous success.

I understand this office has moved from having a very high management ratio (management cost to total program cost) of 29% in 2018 to a projected 12-13% this year.

I have heard nothing but admiration for my predecessor, Stephen Rodriques. He in turn has nothing but great admiration for your commitment and hard work.

I understand you now have total available resources of $16.5 million - up from $11 million in 2019 and representing a 46.5% increase.I hope to join you in upholding that tradition.

Something else on my mind as I enter this role is how moving from environment to development feels like a natural progression.

While environment is an incredibly exciting, adventurous and rewarding field - it was clear to me that we can have greater impact if we understand and take on board the developmental context in which nature plays out.

In my journey I was particularly struck by three attributes....

  • Being kind and having humanity
  • Developing and embracing the art of questioning
  • Leveraging the incredible capacities in partners...

1. Being kind and having humanity, is an attribute I first saw at home.

I grew up in a family of seven children. Four were my direct siblings and two were adopted by my parents. I am the youngest in the family.

My adopted siblings, Widreck and Dadirai, suffered enormous trauma at a very young age, having lost a father (in the case of (Widreck) and both parents (in the case of Dadirai).

They experienced so much grief and sorrow, their youth was filled with much pain.

Sometimes they would sit in a corner, head in their hands, often in deep thought but at times with tears rolling down their cheeks.

It wasn't because they were being treated unkindly. My mother and father loved us all impartially.

In fact, it was only until I was twenty that I found out they were my adopted siblings.

I was to learn the source of their grief and sorrow was a traumatic childhood loss.

I often shared their pain. Or thought I did.

As Africans, we frequently express our sympathy to those in pain. And think we understand the pain that they are going through. But more often, we don't.

As an adult, and having recently lost a son, I now know that it is only until you have lived through such pain that you can fully understand it:

Likewise, I am aware of the pain and trauma that the people and Government of Rwanda have gone through.

I am aware that our Rwanda National staff have suffered untold trauma. That most of you have a story of untold tragedy. 

While I have not lived your pain, I hope I can travel with you as you seek a path to healing.

I would like to learn from your kindness and humanity.

Over the next years, as we pursue our aspirations and build our careers, I hope we also take time for introspection and make sure that we are building futures for ourselves that have a purpose far greater than the lovely zeroes on a bank balance.

Because together we can build lives with great meaning, that will transcend the coming and goings of salaries.

What will stand the test of time, is applying yourself and your great talents towards impacting the lives of Rwandese people, from all walks of life, in a positive way

If that is your journey, you will find me a great champion and ally.

But kindness alone is not enough...

2. We must develop and embrace the art of questioning

My stay in the UK over the last 10 years taught me that the careers of the future belong to the most curious among us. The world is changing rapidly and will need people who are passionately curious and inquisitive.

Some of you might have heard me tell the story of Cambridge, where my family now lives.

Cambridge is a fascinating city with outstanding architecture, a rich academic history and, to my delight, numerous trees growing delicious wild berries and apples!

The first time I went to Cambridge I was struck by how many apples grew in the wild. 

So plentiful are these fruits that they have firmly planted themselves in myth and history.

Legend has it that a young Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when he was hit upon on the head by a falling apple, a 17th-century “aha moment” that somehow prompted him to contemplate the incredible forces that govern our world and subsequently he came up with the elaborate law of universal gravitation.

Life is filled with such moments, which may be ordinary to many but the truly curious mind and eye will see beyond the ordinary and ask questions that lead to the extraordinary!

Apples are ubiquitous in Cambridge, and many people could see an apple fall to the ground, but it was only a young, insatiably curious Isaac Newton who had the audacity to ask: why does an apple fall to the ground and not upwards towards the blue sky?

An absurd question indeed but one that led to ground-breaking discovery that up to today is responsible for our understanding of the way the physical world works.

So, here in Rwanda, lets dare to ask extraordinary questions of the world around us. And have the courage and fortitude to pursue answers to our bold questions. 

The expectation from Head Office is for us to achieve magnificent results in the fields of apples and oranges that inspire us!

So lets keep asking questions, and when you think you’ve figured it all out, ask again and again because there is always room for learning, and often from mundane things around you!

But even armed with insatiable curiosity and kindness, we cannot do it alone....

3. We must leverage the incredible capacities in partners!

My mother is the best story teller I know.

One of her favourite and most enduring stories is about how elephants work together for success. 

'Now let me tell you the secret behind the success of elephants species,' she would say. 

'These gentle giants move around in family groups, never leaving anyone behind,' she continued.

'Their journeys might be slow, cumbersome and a bit of a logistical nightmare - but they get to their destination, and most importantly they never leave anyone behind.'

So it is with the world we live in. We are not an island complete unto ourselves. The more we work with partners, the more effective and successful we will be.

So, lets reach into the incredible capacities within the UN country teams and family.

Let’s tap into the wide and varied experiences in our bilateral partners and in civil society,

Let’s learn from the intellectual capital in Rwanda and abroad and;

Let’s understand the priorities of the people and Government of Rwanda and bring complementary capacities from the UN Development Program to bear on these priorities.

Colleagues - my story would not be complete without letting you in on an important family secret. As is true in many African partnerships, my wife sets the rules within the family and - so far, so very good!

But the one area I lead is the family's choices of a football team. And for me, it is Arsenal football Club.

While elephants never have had to walk alone...Arsenal Gunners never have to walk at all. 

We fly Rwanda Air!

Thank you. We can, and we must, leave the world a dash better than we found it.