Shedding a light into the world of Human Resources

UNDP People for 2030
6 min readMar 1, 2023

Meet Holly White, HR Manager at UNDP Central Recruitment Unit (CRU) who shares with with us how with the right combination of energy, commitment and a client-focused mindset one can improve HR services for UNDP.

Holly White, HR Manager at UNDP Central Recruitment Unit

I joined the United Nations after about 10 years in the private sector, where I started my career.

I have worked in HR for a variety of industries from Consumer-Packaged Goods, Retail, and Advertising. In these organizations, I held several HR positions for marketing, sales, manufacturing, innovation and product design. All of this experience created a strong foundation in Human Resources, which has been useful for my efforts around recruitment and staff development in the UN. I reoriented my career years ago, because I was looking for work that was more meaningful to me and for an organization with a positive mandate that I could immediately relate to. I found all of this in the UN, together with amazing people from all over the world, exposure to highly relevant world issues, and focus on staff development. It’s almost impossible to replicate this kind of environment elsewhere!

I had my first UN job in UNDP, back in 2008, in recruitment and report writing. I then moved on to UNICEF as Business Partner followed by UNFPA in Senegal as HR Strategic Partner, and then I returned to New York where I am based. I found my way back to UNDP last year as Head of Central Recruitment.

I joined UNDP because I found inspiration in the People for 2030 Strategy (link). Our work is all about attracting, hiring, and managing people who deliver results for the world. What drives my motivation is how to help those people develop themselves, to achieve the SDGs. I think UNDP is moving the needle further than anybody else in the system in terms of talent development, succession planning and support to internal staff and personnel. I knew I wanted to be part of the execution of the People for 2030 Strategy. Working in recruitment is a big responsibility- obviously you need to hire the right people for the job, but we also must think about the individual’s future potential and growth — will they be able to help the world achieve the SDG’s? The largest line-item on the UN’s balance sheet is staff member benefits and entitlements. We have an enormous responsibility to nurture and support this incredible asset. All of the areas of HR have a role to play in this effort, which is why it is critical for HR experts to collaborate across different teams such as succession planning, talent development, outreach, HR analytics, engagement, performance management. Ultimately, it is UNDP’s personnel who are delivering results for the world.

Holly with UNFPA colleagues in Syria in 2018 on the occasion of the presentation of the 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence

In UNDP we always have ambitious but realistic goals. One of my main focus areas now — hiring quality talent in the shortest amount of time — is a 60 day KPI to reach by 2025: which means we aim at having a maximum of 60 days between the closure of a vacancy announcement and the issuance of the confirmation of interest to the selected candidate. This cannot be done by the recruitment team alone, it requires a growing effort to streamline processes, ensure we have the best systems to support them, highly trained recruiters, engaged managers and a lot of internal coordination and flexibility.

Something I enjoy doing is facilitating teambuilding workshops. We all have challenges at a personal, professional, and local level, and it’s important to structure ourselves strategically to work effectively and more efficiently together. This will enable us to serve our beneficiaries better and faster. My job is exactly that, to support UNDP staff/personnel, to reduce the administrative burden of our processes, so they may concentrate on their substantive work objectives in achieving the SDGs.

Personally, I am very passionate about matching people, personal needs, and interests with the needs of the organization. This can be done through a “career interview”, which probes on how our staff/personnel feel about their career and skill development thus far, while working for UNDP. From this exercise, managers learn how we can support the development of our personnel in terms of learning, on-the-job experiences, and mobility. It’s an ongoing, open, 2-way dialogue that I try to maintain with my colleagues throughout the year to see what is feasible and what is important in their current role. This concept is called “job sculpting”, which allows us to customize the role to deliver the development opportunities for the staff that will prepare them for future roles in the organization.

Holly with some UNDP OHR colleagues celebrating a holiday potluck last December 2022

The Talent Development Unit in UNDP offers an incredible variety of learning paths, virtual career labs, e-learning platforms, mentoring, coaching, certifications and VDAP — virtual detail assignment programmes — which allow participants to engage in on-the-job learning through working on a UNDP project outside one’s country office or bureau. I believe this is a great way to leverage the experience of our staff/personnel, a great chance to network, make connections in the organization, and explore our strengths deeper.

Furthermore, I believe in the situational leadership model- where the manager adapts his/her style to the team, it really sets the stage to achieve ambitious goals. Sometimes as manager I need to be directive, for example when new staff members join the team and they need guidance, but I also steer away from micromanaging, as I believe in empowering people, while being available to step in provide support where necessary. I was lucky that this is the kind of leadership I have been exposed to so far in UNDP, and the same management style I want to model.

If I could offer my perspective to potential candidates, it would be to consider that by joining UNDP you need to be willing to go and work anywhere, because it can happen often in your career that you are presented with the opportunity to work in the field, in close partnership with our government counterparts and implementing partners. I like to think that is “where the real work happens”, which is truly a life changing experience.

In reflecting back on my own career, I used to be excited when I saw a new M&M’s product available in the supermarket. I liked seeing the outcome of my efforts on shelf — it is rewarding! In contrast, when working in the UN, there can be a lot of bureaucracy that one needs to overcome, but we need to remember that we are working towards goals on a global scale such as gender equality or poverty reduction, that require time, strategy and tireless efforts. It is much easier to make M&M’s. However, when we improve these critical elements in people’s lives, it truly makes an impact on the individual and the world.

Another word of advice I’d like to give is to consider the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) (link) assignments, because they are an excellent way to build your profile, strengthen your skills, increase your network strategically and are a good way to enter the UN world, if you are looking to make the switch from another sector.

Holly representing UNFPA in a United Nations HR outreach mission to China

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