Inga Bjork-Klevby : Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN-HABITAT

15 Mar 2016

Question 1: Tell us about your work and contribution to UN-HABITAT’s mandate

I came to Habitat in 2006, but actually I had got to know Habitat before because I came here as a Sweden Ambassador in 1998 and that was an important period for Habitat. Mrs. Tibaijuka had just arrived after a kind of revitalization effort for Habitat who was then only a center and she started working for upgrading of the center to full fledged programme. As a Swedish representative in the Committee of Permanent Representative (CPR), I was very supportive of that because I saw the need for this small agency and its important mandate to be upgraded. So I was one of those strongly supporting that, so I was very happy to see it happen when it was approved in the beginning of 2001, started being effective in 2002 and during the same period when I was here, we worked from the Swedish embassy to support the establishment of the World Urban Forum which was in 2002 before I left. I went on to another position in West Africa as ambassador then I came back her in 2006 which was a move into UN-HABITAT as an agency which was very different from having served as member of the CPR as ambassador. From inside, I have followed this organization for the last 5 years, as a deputy its basically four areas that you are working with;

First, you are deputizing of course the Executive Director; represent her or him in all the functions, meetings and things like that and also you manage the whole UN organization. I have being very involved in the external relations, which means relationship with donors and other member countries, European Union, regional organization and also with the development banks because that’s my background a little bit.   

Another area where I have been very involved is in the strategic planning of the agency, during my time the whole process of the Medium-Term Strategic and Institution Plan (MTSIP) started off, it was approved in 2007 and I was involved in the implementation of that during the whole period. MTSIP is still going on as you know up to 2013 so we are still in the implementation process.   

I would add to above the financial area and the use of the foundation resources; just to mobilize resources and also to use resources from it and I was particularly following Slum Upgrading Facility, how it evolve and also the new experimental programme on reimbursement of cities operations which is now happen to have been evaluated, looked at and will be discussed in the upcoming Governing Council.

Question 2: In your view, what are the core strengths of UN-HABITAT?


The core strength is in its mandate in the sense of being so very important and relevant in the present world which is so rapid urbanizing. So we need an agency looking into these issues more than ever before. In the UN family, it plays and should play even more visible role.

Secondly, I think this agency is very good at working at the local level with the poor people in the poor countries dealing with situations like slums and surrounding of very poor areas in cities and also local authorities and communities development that’s definitely strength.  It has knowledge about the poorest of the poor and acting in very difficult countries. We have to remember that the major part of our activities take place in very difficult poor countries Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq and now Haiti after the earthquake.  So I think these are strong areas of UN-HABITAT where we have done a lot of important work and contributed value.

Question 3: In you view, what are the main challenges that the agency faces, and what are your recommendations for addressing them

First of all I would to mention the funding, to have sufficient amount of funding and predictable funds. We are little bit living in the hands of some major donors up and down and at the present moment as you know we are a little bit in a crisis budget-wise because DFID for example has decreased its core contribution to Habitat., which is a hard blow for us since it also provide less political support. So we have to look very carefully into that kind of lucking confidence.

That leads me to the second question administrative efficiency, I think we still can become more efficient administratively and improve our delivery capacity in Habitat.

Thirdly, we need to look into and focus more attention on results and impact. What are we actually doing? What impact do we have with our activities and that should be related to all kind of activities we are devoting ourselves to. We are traveling alot, we are reporting a lot, is that too much? We have to ask ourselves, these are issues that we need to review and see if we can improve the efficiency.

I have a general feeling that the agency is still too fragmented; there is lack of coordination hence the need for more information flow between divisions. We have improved in the MTSIP exercise but we need to improve further.

Question 4: You have played a major role in the implementation of UN-HABITAT’s Medium Term Strategic and Institutional Plan - what are the main achievements and challenges?


I absolutely think that MTSIP has played an important role and provided improvement in some areas. I would particularly like to mention that we have established a better focus. The definition of focus areas has been a valuable exercise, we have defined areas where we think we should concentrate and build competence and we have also tried to develop policies for those areas. That in turn has in my view led to better inter-divisional cooperation because we’ve in focus areas people from different divisions cooperating more. More needs to be done, we are not there yet, we still have a little bit of what I call silos mentality, as I said before challenges  of this fragmentation but I do think we have made improvements in that area.

Another area, I would like to mention where we have made improve during this period is better integration this days between what we do in the operational and normative sides, this is what we call the ENOF part of the Medium-Term Strategy (Enhanced Normative Operational Framework), which strive for integrating better what we do at country level, normatively and operationally so that we have a better coordination. I was for one, I was supportive in that context of producing what we call Habitat Country Programme documents and that has now been for about 30 countries and that give us an instrument to know what we are doing and should be doing and prioritizing in individual countries, that’s a very valuable instrument.

Challenges, I think are the same as the one I have already mention in terms of, we need to cooperate more, team works, we need to integrate better operational and normative activities and increase the flow of information in-house, so we should focus more should be my advise even for the future. May be we should even say no to certain things to really prioritize. So this is my view on it.

Question 5: As an Ambassador you have a good understanding of how member states and donors view UN-HABITAT – what is your advice on improving our standing with member states and raising more funds for the agency’s work?

I think we need to build close and honest relationship with member countries, be open and frank, provide information and give them a chance to understand what Habitat is doing.

Build confidence from their side and recognition of what actually Habitat is doing. I remember when I came here as ambassador, I didn’t understand what Habitat was doing, it was very difficult to understand, it was complex, it was involving too many things, and the budget process was almost impossible understand. I think these areas need to be reviewed and talked about a little bit more and build more long-term relationship with donors. I have tried to do that by establishing Multi-Year Framework Agreement with some of the closest donors and partners. I think that is a very valuable approach because then we can use them and have an annual discussion with them and discuss openly but we shouldn’t forget the other member countries. We all have important role to play in providing the right information, being available to discussion and dialogue with the member countries because they are the membership of this agency  and then it will be respected and listen to as well to meet their concern.

Question 6: The World Urban Forum is a great success in bringing together different partners to discuss urban issues.  How can the networks and knowledge gained from the Forums be exploited more effectively to further UN-HABITAT’s Mandate?

That is a good question, I think we need to work more to see to it that we draw on the knowledge which exist amongst all these actors that we have at the Word Urban Forum. We do the report, but I don’t fully yet think that, that report is enough to provide the sufficient feedback into the strategic priorities in the next future phases of Habitat. Well, there are different mechanisms that could be used but I think we should have a session in the GC where the World Urban Forum conclusions and recommendations could be fed into the more strategic discussions and decision-making of future priorities of Habitat taken by the GC member states. On the other hand, we could also add to it by creating in WUF a ministerial session, where the ministers could also get access to the conclusions and recommendations from all these actors in the WUF. They also listen to that and draw their own conclusions and learn from that in setting the stage for Habitat future.

Question 7: UN-HABITAT is gearing for Habitat III in 2016. What in your view are the critical issues on which to focus?


As the mandate say, we should be the one to explain how we should address the urbanization pressures and trends in world which will increase. There is a need to address that in all development process at least in the poorest countries where there is a chaotic urbanization taking place for example here in the African countries. An area which be forgotten in this context is urbanization of poverty which might to be reflected on further from now on up to 2016, how to address slums, how to prevent slums which is becoming more and more prominent in the whole area of poverty and how we address poverty and how we reduce it. So, those are areas where I think we should try to make an impact in the whole UN system.

Question 8: What are your views on the Governance review and how will it help UN-HABITAT?


Governance review was a very important initiative taken within the context of the Medium-term plan. Then after that we have reflected further and set up a review committee discussed relationship and working methods between us and the CPR. We have come forward with a number of proposals to improve this relationship. More need to be done, I would say for next step foresee a more important change in the whole governance structure. That would be discussed in the upcoming Governing Council and this is one of the most important discussions that will take place in April, where a possible decision will be taken on an option for moving ahead and creating a more efficient well functioning Governance structure. One of the things that should be looked upon specifically is the budget process which is now very complicated and difficult to understand and we take decisions on the budget every two years, we need to take it every year in my view. We need to better link strategic priorities with resources and to do that, two year ahead is not very efficient and timely because it’s very hard to predict the resource situation too far ahead. So, I think there are a number of things that can be done to improve it and this first step has playing very important role with the help of both of us (our side and the CPR side).  I am very happy with the process.  

Question 9: The organization is undergoing a management and structural review – what are the main things that need to be changed?  

Fundamental issue is to create an organization which is a little bit breaks-up this silo culture and fragmentation and trying to stimulate more integrated approach between normative and operational activities. Also to create better flow of information, team, maybe creating teams to work at the different countries could be one way of doing it. We need a clearer and more balanced organization, as it is now we have number of different units and sections and some of them are very small, so it’s a very imbalanced structure. So we need to clarify and balance the organization I would say. There are few areas where I think we need to review the roles and responsibilities and look at the creation of new function for example Programme Support Division (PSD) its role and responsibility, ISS your role and responsibility, what do you need to do more and less of and to establish for me a strategic planning function which I think is an important element. We need to look at quality assurance, strengthen that within the organization which could include what I talked about before looking and providing more attention of what we actually achieved and where we have an impact.  This is a very important process and I look forward to following it even from outside to see that we improve it.

Question 10: What are highlights of your career with UN-HABITAT?

Well, as I mentioned in the beginning, I think there was a highlight when we upgraded Habitat Center to full-fledged UN Programme together with Mrs. Tibaijuka, then I was on the other side, I was an ambassador representative but I feel that, that was a big step forward which I saw already in them I think the establishment of World Urban Forum, which has been a very successful decision.

I also think then coming into UN-HABITAT, this whole area of starting the institutional reform process. When we adopted the medium-term plan in 2007, after that we tried to work in these areas, we haven’t done enough, and I would not in anyway that we have achieved all the things we wanted to achieve. But I feel very inspired by the support and engagement in this process. I have always felt that there was an interest of change and to move forward, contribute more and have felt a strong relationship with all the staff at all levels which is very important to me. From top to bottom, there was an engagement which I have been very happy with, I would say.

Question 11: What are the low lights of your career with UN-HABITAT?

That’s hard to say but I would say may be I was a little bit concerned when I came to Habitat in 2006 and I got this job, I was immediately told that there was rumor around me which was saying that, ”Ooh! Inga, she got this job because she was closest friend of Kofi Annan’s wife, they went to the same class,” You know, this is not true. Then I was warned about rumors in this organization, I would call it that maybe that is my low light. There is rumor-culture, speculations and hinting at things and this in-fighting that one I haven’t liked to be honest.  That is what I have been concerned with; we need to stop that for us to become more professional. Avoid that kind of stuff because it also undermines our outside reputation which I am very anxious to always keep up. That is a pre-condition for continue funding and support.

Question 12: What will you miss in UN-HABITAT and what would you wish to forget?

I would definitely miss friends, colleagues and staff here; it’s been like for me a big family and has always felt strong support, friendliness and this has meant a lot to me because, as a diplomat you feel that you meet people from all parts of the world. Coming from different culture for me has been extremely rewarding to play this role I must say. Thanks to the support I have received if it was from any country it does not matter, that I feel is fantastic experience in the UN and it’s a privilege. Also very fascinating job to combine diplomacy (I am a diplomat from the beginning; I am an economist, economic, development, financial issues). Combining all these areas in a package has made this job fantastic. I have been very happy with and would miss that.

I wish to forget more or less nothing; I have nothing especially I would wish to forget. I just wish to look at the future except maybe with what I have already said (rumors, speculation, in-fighting, negatives) I don’t like that.

Question 13: What is your vision for UN-HABITAT in 10 years time and maybe in the future in terms of operational activities?

I would like to see a strengthened, more efficient, well functioning organization which can deliver efficiently and show results on the ground and in the field and be respected for that. Also provide substantive knowledge in the areas of sustainable urban development and be respected for that and regain its recognition. Be looked upon as the center of excellence when it comes to sustainable urban development.  If we can strive for that, I think is my vision on how I would like to see Habitat moving ahead. With this new Executive Director, I think definitely He will bring his knowledge, experience which means a lot to move the organization ahead.  This organization review will play important role and also the Governance review. I am looking forward to see that from the outside.

Question 14: What message do you have for UN-HABITAT?

My message would be that Habitat uses its great potential in a very important, challenging but extremely important development area (sustainable urban development) in this world. We need a strong Habitat, and again like I said Habitat to use its knowledge and its comparative advantage to have more influence in the UN family. To play that role in our specific area and to regain recognition from donors and member countries for what we are actually doing and providing, and that we can add important value in those areas. Please use our creativity, knowledge, and experience to become a real center of excellence in these areas.


Posted on: 15 Mar 2016