People Champion Spotlight: Margaret Jones Williams

People for 2030 is fortunate to have some very talented People Champions who embody and inspire change in their respective Country Offices. The Spotlight series aims to highlight them and their efforts. With each Bulletin, we will be featuring an interview with the hope that reading their story motivates our readers as much as collaborating with them energizes us.

For this People Champion Spotlight, we spoke to Margaret Jones Williams, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP Suriname. Margaret has been working at UNDP since 2009 in Jamaica, Lao PDR and currently in Suriname. She has been a People Champion since Phase 1 (2019 –2021) and is currently the Phase 2 (2022–2025) People Champion for UNDP Suriname.

Margaret’s technical experience in environment and development seamlessly complements her work in senior leadership within UNDP and therefore with these five questions, we shine a light on Margaret’s journey over the last few years.

Q1. What initially drew you to UNDP and how has your career evolved over the years?

I started my career as a marine biologist and always had a love for sciences but at that time the environment wasn’t really a hot topic as it is today. So, I did everything related to the environment from assessment of oil pollution in the oceans to bird counts at 5 o’clock in the morning. I worked in the private sector for 10 years in environmental impact assessments: looking at development and its impact on the environment, assessing roads, highways, housing solutions, hotels, golf courses, etc. and the impact of these types of construction on the environment.

During this time, I had done consultancies with the UN and was always interested in being a part of the UN. So, in 2009 I applied for the head of the Environment Unit and got a position in UNDP in my home country of Jamaica. I worked there for 5 years before being posted internationally to UNDP Lao PDR as the head of the Environment Unit which grew into the Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Unit, where I worked from 2014–2019.

I applied for the Deputy Resident Representative Assessment early in 2019, successfully passing the assessment and in August 2019 I was posted as the Deputy Resident Representative to UNDP Suriname where I am currently serving. Coming from a strong technical background, I always wanted to work in senior management and to sum it up that is what drew me to UNDP.

Q2. What is your favourite thing about working in UNDP?

My favourite thing has to be the diversity of people and cultures. It’s the most fascinating thing for me to meet different people whether I’m in a duty station or at a conference or at a workshop.

Part of the appeal of the United Nations is that there are so many different countries, so many different languages, so many different cultures. But still, we are one with so many similarities, even though there are differences. For me it’s just fascinating to meet somebody from a different culture, who speaks a different language or is from a different ethnic group. And it’s not just meeting the people, but also understanding the different cultures and how the UN works with people in their different settings, respecting and embracing them. In Lao PDR, international staff had the opportunity to wear traditional Lao dress, which was a sign of respect for the people of Lao, and I enjoyed wearing the Lao traditional dress to work every day.

Q3: What motivated you to be a People Champion?

I had just arrived in Suriname when Phase 1 of the Strategy was introduced. The emails for People Champion nominations were sent out to the Deputy Resident Representatives in each country stating that this was a position that would act as a catalyst in driving the People for 2030 initiatives in each Country Office. So, when I saw that e-mail, I thought, OK I will step up and take up this opportunity and responsibility. I also read up on the different focus areas and it was all very interesting to me.

Working with UNDP, we serve the people in the country we are based in. Therefore I liked the idea of People for 2030 because it made me realise that first and foremost, we also have to take care of ourselves and our own. So, I’ve been very conscientious about sharing information over the last three years with the team and we’ve even had specific People for 2030 initiatives where we received a People For 2030 commendation certificate.

Q4: What is the one initiative that you have implemented in Suriname to transform the work culture over the last three years that you are most proud of?

The one initiative that I’m most proud of and that has probably had the most impact is under the focus area of taking care of our people. Of course, the other focus areas are equally relevant, but I believe that at the end of the day they can all fall under the umbrella of looking after our people.

The initiative that I started was to have a suggestion box. Because I was new to the Country Office in 2019, I thought, how do I build confidence with personnel, how do I get to know them, have them share information while still trying to be sensitive of cultural differences that I may not have been aware of?

So, in February 2020, I created a suggestion box for people to anonymously drop ideas in or just write information whether it was questions, suggestions or complaints. For transparency purposes, I also included our HR focal point, our IT focal point and one programme colleague to work with me on this, when it came to opening the suggestion box and looking at the notes dropped inside. It was a very good exercise to see that people used the box. The questions ranged from contract modalities to health benefits and information was shared on this.

But then March 2020 came around and the world shut down, we started working from home, but the suggestion box was stuck in the office. I felt that we needed to have the suggestion box going, so in keeping with the times, I worked with our IT department to create a virtual suggestion box via SurveyMonkey. We posted the virtual suggestion box a few times. The suggestion box initiative definitely showed us how small innovations can have a big impact. For example, in the box we received a suggestion to have the Country Office Retreat, which had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Since there was a clear call for staff to interact and get together we then had a Virtual Country Office Retreat in 2021 which included some staff interactions, a few games and discussions on the programmes that we were implementing and the challenges in the context of the pandemic.

Q5: Who are you when you are not working as the Deputy Resident Representative?

I enjoy music. I’m from the Caribbean, so I like reggae music and Soca music. I also like to listen to classical music, and modern music too. I think being in the pandemic and isolation gave me an opportunity to reconnect with music. I was able to join online concerts, watching and listening to performers, opera singers from across the world. If we were not in the lockdown situation, I would possibly not have flown to New York to listen to the opera, but with the pandemic it was right there on my computer in my living room.

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