Stepping in the shoes of Susan McDade @ UNDP

September 26 2018 by Global Careers

Name: Susan McDade

Title: UNDP Director of the Bureau for Management Services

Nationality: Canadian

Residence: NYC USA

Susan McDade is the Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Management Services at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She was appointed in this position at the Assistant Secretary General level in May 2017

1.How long have you been working for UNDP?

I have been working for UNDP for 28 years.

2.How long have you been in your current role?

I have been in my current role for 1.5 years

3.What is your background? What did you do/study before working for UNDP?

I am a Development Economist. I was teaching quantitative economics and analysis and doing research on the role of technology in supporting development transition. I was working at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands as a visiting lecturer before joining UNDP.

4.What made you decide to apply for your current role in UNDP?

I had worked at the senior management level for a number of years after a long field career and as UNDP entered a period of further UN reform I wanted to contribute to the change in business model and to link our operational policy work with the operating reality in country offices where I had spent 14 years of my career previously. They needed somebody who knew the reality of operations of the UN and how we do humanitarian and development management at country level.

5.What single fact would surprise people the most about you?

That I am an avid scuba diver and could just as well be a marine biologist as an economist.

6.What first attracted you to work for UNDP?

I wanted to work on the operational and practical part of supporting development transformation through the UN. I wanted to work at the country level and specifically in Latin America and UNDP had the most field office options to offer. I speak fluent Spanish and that was part of the reason I was recruited by UNDP in the first place and why I had those Latin American countries assignments. You simply cannot be Resident Coordinator and not speak Spanish fluently in Latin America.

7.What is the best thing about working for UNDP?

The diversity of people and ideas and dealing with new challenges. You will never be bored. You are always challenged and it is always interesting.

8.What are your proudest achievements within your career?

  • To arrange for ex Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to visit a men’s prison in Uruguay to see the inter agency and rights based work of the UN system in a high middle- income country. I was able to build on the relations of trust that had already been built with the host country. I had to negotiate very hard to be able to make it happen as it was very complex.
  • To support reconstruction and recovery after multiple hurricanes in Cuba
  • To work with local governments and the international community.

9.What has been your greatest challenge during your career?

Being a single working mother and trying to balance work life demands.

10.Is there anything about working at UNDP, or at a specific location that you did not expect when starting?

I was very surprised when UNDP sent me to China for four years. It was the hardest and most interesting job I ever had. I went to China with the expectation that I would not speak Chinese, however the first year I had a very bad life threatening Chinese hospital experience and was unable to communicate with the medical staff. Thus, I decided to start learning Chinese intensively 5 days a week. By the time I left China 3 years later I was able to speak basic Chinese. Although it came out of a very bad experience it turned into something very positive, speaking Chinese made a big difference in my experience.

11.What do you believe is/are the most important skill(s) needed for an international career in your job field?

A voracious appetite to learn new things and to listen to other ideas and be able to synthesize and negotiate paths forward.

Results orientation is also very important. You need to really be able to stay focused and be results orientated. It can be frustrating at times and you have to not assume you will be able to change people, you can only adapt yourself.

12.What would be the most useful piece of advice you would give to someone who would like to start his/her career in UNDP?

To be flexible about your assignment, and realize that development can mean hardship duty stations. Make sure you are on the same page as your partner.

13.Do you believe that UNDP is serious about reaching Gender parity?

We are getting there and the UN is very serious about it. It’s been a concern for a very long time. It’s not just about getting the numbers of women at any cost it is about finding qualified women and we are hiring them and we will keep hiring them. This is the reality because we think we are a better organisation when we do this. We need diversity in our workforce, not only women but people from different countries. The UN is a club of countries and we must be able to work effectively for the people that we serve.

14.Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience working at UNDP?

Working at UNDP has given me the best hardest jobs with the greatest most diverse people. It was very challenging to work in countries in Latin America as a woman. You need to learn to negotiate, how to get the result that you want. You have to be able to be effective as a negotiator and a leader. You need to find the right balance between being not too aggressive about cultural stereotypes but also not accepting them. You have to be conscious about how you manage your power as an authority.

UNDP offers good health coverage, good vacation allowance and excellent school allowance. From a benefit and entitlement point of view I can absolutely say that working at the UN has enabled me to meet the needs of my family and to be covered and protected and also to have an interesting life. I would absolutely recommend it.