My motto is “Serving humanity with humility” - Interview with ASG/DERC Ursula Mueller

Posted by Robert / on 02/23/2018 / 0 Comments


We sat down with Ursula Mueller to talk about her new position and her vision for the future of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Q: What attracted you to the position of the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator?

When I was interviewed by the Secretary-General in December 2016, he asked me the same question. I told him that when I saw the position advertised, I felt that I was a humanitarian at heart. Having been in charge of humanitarian assistance for the German Government and having worked extensively with the UN humanitarian system and NGOs [non-governmental organizations], I really hope to contribute to the UN's relevance and effectiveness as the global coordinator of humanitarian response. I want to use my knowledge and experience in management and finance, as well as my leadership skills, and contribute to make the United Nations more effective. I am thrilled to join OCHA and the professional and dedicated colleagues who are working in often very difficult and complex situations.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that OCHA and the humanitarian system are facing at the moment?

We all know that humanitarian needs are on the rise, mainly due to protracted crises but also due to natural disasters, while at the same time funding is limited. This is why it is essential for OCHA to streamline its processes. We have to do better with less and prove our unique value to humanitarian partners and the people we serve.

Q: What do you want OCHA to accomplish in your first year as Assistant Secretary-General?

Doing better with less means that we have to achieve meaningful change within OCHA. OCHA has to be fit for the future, and we have to build on what is working well and fix what needs to be fixed. My vision is to have a unified OCHA that is relevant to partners and accountable to the people we provide assistance to. To me, trust is key. Cooperation and coordination is all about trusting each other. To build this trust, we need to have clear decision-making, transparency and accountability.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: "Willing is not enough, we must do." I can identify with that, I'm a doer. My work ethic is to think and do. Don't be tied up in processes. I am not going to waste my staff's time in long meetings without outcomes.

Q: This year, International Women's Day and the Commission on the Status of Women focused on women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work. What do you think are the biggest challenges for women and female leaders in the workplace?

In my professional life, I was elected to a position called the Women's Commissioner in the Foreign Service, which traditionally is a male-dominated area, almost like the military. I learned that it helps if you encourage women to go for a position, to build their self-confidence and tell them they can do it. As women, we not only need to work harder, but we also have to work smarter and ask for the recognition we deserve.

I am really encouraged by the Secretary-General's commitment to gender parity and the empowerment of women. There are still challenges to be addressed that prevent women from being recognized as being capable and being leaders, particularly in the humanitarian field, and I am committed in my role to help address these challenges. OCHA has great female leaders, both in the field and in headquarters, who are true role models, and I plan to design a female humanitarian leadership programme that empowers and supports them.

I am also proud to be a Gender Champion. The International Gender Champions is a network that brings together female and male leaders to break down gender barriers. One of my pledges is to support women's participation in coordination, leadership and decision-making forums at all levels. In particular, I will consult with women's groups on missions, and strive for gender balance in OCHA-led events and meetings.

Q: What are the main characteristics that you believe every successful leader should possess?

I think every successful leader should show integrity, honesty and respect for every person.

Q: What keeps you awake at night and what gets you out of bed in the morning?

My motto is "Serving humanity with humility." It gets me out of bed every morning and gives me great energy. I don't feel like there's too much that keeps me awake at night. I'm an optimist!

Q: Do you have a unique habit or a hobby that we don't know about?

I run half-marathons, so I always have a goal in front of me and I know how to pace myself to make it to the finish line. I also play the piano, almost at a professional level, and I play concerts in my spare time. To me, OCHA is the same as an orchestra: it is important that we sing from the same sheet. There is always a conductor in an orchestra, but everyone has to agree to the music you are playing. To play in concert also means listening to the other instruments and appreciating their contribution to the whole. Not everyone can play the trumpet or the first violin, but each instrument in an orchestra has its unique role. That's how I see OCHA working together.



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