Global staff meeting brings together IFAD staff from around the world

Written by Mirna Franic

The Global Staff Meeting (GSM) provided IFAD staff with a unique opportunity to come together, share views on IFAD's priorities, celebrate achievements, forge relationships, learn from each other and have fun. 
Rome, February 29 – The multicoloured stripes have returned! Last week IFAD hosted the second edition of its Global Staff Meeting (GSM), a two-day knowledge-sharing event that brought together 593 IFAD staff members from all over the world.

It was only two short years ago that we were ushered into the Governing Council (GC) tent for the inaugural GSM, not knowing what to expect, only to be met with a burst of colour, music, hidden talent, energy and much, much more. Against this backdrop, GSM 2016 was hotly anticipated and the reverberations from IFAD’s headquarters gave credence that, at least on Bollywood night, these anticipations were met.

The inspiriting mood was set from the start as Coldplay’s alluring Adventure of a Lifetime song played and our delightful MCs, Kelly Feenan and Mwatima Juma, began the show. This year, the MCs represented the internationality of IFAD and its country offices, dubbed the legs, arms, eyes and ears of our institution.

                MCs urging us to Innovate, Focus, Act and Dare, this year’s motto for the GSM.            

Indeed, this GSM celebrated IFAD’s shift to becoming an institution where country offices are on equal footing as the headquarters. IFAD’s President, Kanayo F. Nwanze, then, took to the stage to remind us of our positive results: this year’s GC was a great success, attested by the positive feedback from the governments; the number of staff attending the GSM increased by 8.4 per cent; the IFAD country offices (ICOs) are now 40 and by 2018 IFAD expects to have another 10; and the percentage of Professional category positions held by women is now at 49 per cent (the aim being 51 per cent). With these encouraging remarks, the President proclaimed the GSM officially open.

                                  Group discussion underway. IFAD/Giulio Napolitano                                                   
Next on the agenda of the opening, was the captivating Raj Patel who gave a touching oration on modern food systems.

Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic with degrees from the University of Oxford, the London School of Economics and Cornell University. His first book was Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and his latest, The Value of Nothing, is a New York Times best-seller.

The room was claimed by intrigue as the insightful lecturer, armed with a gratifying sense of humour, dared us to imagine another, more sustainable food system to be achieved only by tackling deep causes and very old patterns.

“We must celebrate the intelligence and dignity of everyone in the rural community and let them make informed choices,” said Raj Patel, award winning writer, activist and academic.
The thoughtful talk was followed by a brief, but again not in the least bit dull, presentation by the Staff Association in which they dismantled some common misconceptions.

The highlight of the morning, however, was most definitely the short comedy sketch in which an exhausted Senior Budget Specialist, Edward Gallagher, falls asleep during one of his countless meetings and wakes up lying on the reception floor of a slightly different IFAD.

Much of the morning was also dedicated to small group brainstorming and discussion on IFAD’s progress and what we think still remains to be worked on. The GSM offers this unique opportunity for us to put our heads together with colleagues from all over IFAD, including those from country offices, who otherwise we would never encounter. The result is not just an opportunity of meeting new people with a shared vision but an invaluable comprehensive mix of perspective and different ideas.

The best gift ever: the Career Development Framework!
Quick coffee break and off we went to attend a session of our choosing. 45 stimulating sessions were held accompanied by 15 informative booths: Marvel superheroes used comics to help make sense out of financial and payment markets, accounting and loan management; experts presented on the importance of and relationships within the water, energy and food security nexus; others talked about the complexities of dealing with middle-income countries; and IFADOPOLY gave insight into the development finance landscape and the IFAD10 replenishment using a life-size game board and chocolate money, just to mention a few.

The Administrative Services Division tour was a great success. We use the IFAD facilities every day, but as we scurry around the building we pay little mind to all that needs to happen for us to feel comfortable, fed, healthy and simply be able to do our jobs. Here was a rare opportunity to truly visit the building from the underground chambers to, literally, the rooftop.

Among other things, the tour included the archives (storing not only the history of IFAD but President’s and other personnel files), the Print Shop (operating heavy machinery capable of so much more than simple printing while keeping in mind the environment), the thrilling Security Operation Centre (watchtower of IFAD) and, finally, the rooftop equipped with energy costs-saving solar panels.

The Administrative Services Division tour was a great success!
The Budget and Organizational Development Unit’s (BOD) unique hands-on session involved five teams of six, building structures using 54, no less and no more, rectangular wooden blocks.
Each team was then required to answer questions on how they decided what to build, why they decided to build that structure and who did what.

The experiences building the structures were analogized (using a great deal of imagination) to the IFAD context as BOD then built its own cardboard structure while explaining their role, the importance of proper planning and the tools they use in their endeavours.

Another really awesome, fun, educational and just amazing session was the Communications Division’s (COM) Amazing Race (as a COM staff member, I admit to perhaps being just slightly partial).

Participants from the Amazing Race: Communications Edition pose with IFAD's President. 
Small teams were formed and had a maximum of 60 minutes to complete all five of COM’s challenges related to key messaging, videography, visual identity, storytelling, media relations, photography, internal communications and social media.

Whoever found our mystery man and solved his bonus riddle of wisdom, instead, was allowed to skip two of these challenges. The game was not only educational, but also a bucket of laughs as teams raced against the clock, sang IFAD’s key messages to a familiar tune, recorded short interviews and gathered as many likes on a social media post as possible. The idea being to promote best practices when communicating so that all IFAD staff can serve as ambassadors of IFAD’s work around the world effectively.

The afternoon of the first day was when things then really got animated.

Sticking to the theme of internationality, we tasted foods from all over the world.  Yet, it was not only the sense of taste that was indulged as our eyes and ears couldn’t help but feel drawn to the mesmerizing lights and live, traditionally-clad Bollywood dancers on stage.

The music was irresistible and everyone flocked to the stage incapable of keeping their hips from rhythmically bumping. Surprisingly, however, this was not the most colourful performance at the party.

The Dressing the World fashion show modeled by our very own colleagues took over and probably eclipsed all of the events of the party. Gorgeous clothes worn by IFAD staff undoubtedly stole our attention that evening.

Traditional clothing from around the world was on full display.
Shortly after, it was time to award the athletes of IFAD who participated in Sports Day; proof that there still is a life outside of the IFAD building. The array of activities featured at Sports Day included marathon, football, rowing, tennis, total body conditioning, volleyball, table tennis, cycling, chess, yoga, Zumba, darts and fun for children.

As with all good things, this one too was about to come to an end, and on the afternoon of the second day, everyone was summoned back to the tent where our MCs hosted the closing session of this year’s GSM.

First item was a precious video of colleagues’ children answering to what their parents do for a living and what can be done to help farmers grow more food. Not unexpectedly, the endearing “awwws” were bountiful as the children on the screen – or, some of them - admired their parents for trying to make the world a better place.

Back to more serious business, the GSM coordinators reported on the results of our interactive group discussions held on the first morning. IFAD has made several significant strides in terms of advocacy, international presence, decentralization, resources and connectivity with our ICOs. In the context of the financial crisis and unprecedented migration, IFAD continues its work and does so triumphantly.

But even so, there is room for improvement. The coordinators specified the areas in which IFAD has shown progress but also went on to discuss areas that still require work. For the most part, we seem to be heading in the right direction and just need to continuously dig even deeper.

GSM performance evaluation by voting. The green (positive votes) were overpowering. 
The GSM then hosted its own version of the Oscars, i.e. Staff Awards, presented by the  very-well-gender-balanced Staff Awards Committee composed of four females and one very lucky male. The extraordinary work of colleagues in the categories of leadership, innovative projects/extraordinary initiatives, facilitator of change and exemplar of core values was recognized.

It was then time for the Vice-President to give closing remarks, with which he passionately thanked staff for the positive and constructive spirit and lively participation. A successful GSM is no amateur’s cocktail but the result of long hours put in by dedicated volunteers.

Accordingly, the Vice-President took the time to call the names of each and every volunteer who worked behind the scenes to make this GSM possible. The audience erupted in applause and performed one last handclap emulation of “African rain”.

And just before the curtain drop, another video was shown summing up these last two days and slowly ending to the, by now very familiar, melody of Coldplay’s Adventure of a Lifetime (which has been replaying in my head ever since).

Until next time.

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