The power to tackle global injustices
Meet Francine Pickup, the UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia, who shares how working with UNDP has allowed her to influence decision-makers to create transformational change.
Prior to joining the UN, I worked for international Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), where I had focused mostly on research analysis, lobbying and advocacy. My background had been in development studies, both my master’s and PhD and I wanted to start working on longer term, complex development issues.
I had been working for organizations like Amnesty International and Oxfam before, mostly on gender-related issues, including gender equality and issues related to gender-based violence. I then worked with six different UN organisations and missions, primarily political or humanitarian in nature, in conflict settings like Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. I moved to UNDP because I believed in the importance of supporting deeper, lasting change brought about locally and because I felt that it was possible to make a bigger impact by influencing decision and policymakers at a high level if one had a good, well-pitched argument.
I started at UNDP while working in Iraq and then moved to New York as Strategic Planning Advisor for the Asia Pacific region, which was a new region and interesting role for me.
Empowered to lead
After four years in New York, I decided to go down the management route. After having passed various assessments, I got a posting in Indonesia as a Deputy Country Director. Indonesia was a fascinating country to be in: 18,000 islands, a huge, fast-changing country that embraced innovation and where I embarked on exciting work with wonderful partners in Baznas on zakat for SDGs. Again, after two years, I moved, this time to India. I became the Country Director in India, where I spent just over a year. I was most proud of the work that the team was doing there on plastic waste management, integrating the most vulnerable women waste pickers into the formal waste supply chains, economically empowering and socially protecting them, while also tackling plastic waste. This most recent time I moved a little closer to home, to Europe, which is where I am now, working as the Resident Representative in Serbia. It’s my first posting in Europe, and interesting because Serbia is an upper middle-income country. I was curious to explore the future of development in this context.
In my last three roles, I’ve been leading a Country Office. I love that it’s about setting a vision and agenda. It’s also about implementation. We implement projects on a range of issues from the environment through to governance, gender equality, social inclusion and empowerment of vulnerable groups. It’s also about partnerships, including building and nurturing partnerships with the government, businesses, development partners, banks and international financial institutions. We work closely with civil society organizations as well, including young people, often the real dynamic force pushing for change on issues like gender and climate. Another very important part of what I do is managing the team. Here we have a staff of about 150 people and an experienced, knowledgeable and committed team.
Setting the agenda for change
What makes me proud of working at UNDP is that we’re an organization that can do real stuff on the ground, in addition to being a thought leader and setting the agenda for countries in terms of what needs to be done to accelerate sustainable development. For example, with the pandemic, UNDP was asked by the government to help respond to this totally unexpected, new type of crisis. We stepped up to the challenge and quickly organized flights that transported urgently needed medical equipment that was in very short supply globally. And it was only because the government trusted UNDP to be able to make this happen, due to our track record in previous crises, including flash floods and migration crises. They also knew that we were able to mobilize resources fast from development partners, in this case, the EU.
One exciting initiative that I am working on now is depopulation. I had come from the Asia Pacific, which has large populations; India, where I was last, has a population of 1.3 billion people. Coming to the Western Balkans, populations are relatively small and are actually shrinking. On my first day in Serbia, I went on a field visit and was driving through villages that were like ghost towns, and it was such a contrast with Asia.
The more discussions I was having with people, the more I understood how depopulation was perhaps the development issue facing this country. People are leaving to get better-paid jobs in Europe, and there’s a sense that the grass is greener in western Europe. There’s brain drain and people are putting off having children, often for economic reasons, leading to a sense of hopelessness for the country. When I met with the Serbian President, he said very clearly, “If there’s one thing I want you to do, it’s to work with us on depopulation.” And I said, “Okay, I’m going to run with that.” And I did. Our work here in Serbia on depopulation will provide important learning for other countries regionally and globally because it is only a matter of time before other countries, like Indonesia, China or Brazil also see their populations fall in size and grow older.
So, it’s about taking a complex issue and seeing how we can partner with diverse actors in the society to ‘connect the dots’, leading to a set of solutions, a portfolio of interventions that would be inter-related and build upon each other, learning as we go. It’s about changing a narrative, trying out new approaches, getting a ball rolling and being a catalyst for change.
Creating lasting change
What gets me up in the morning is knowing that I’m changing something, that what I’m doing is creating lasting, transformational change. I want to empower my team to do something that’s never been done before and create that level of difference. That’s what I’m passionate about.
I have worked in so many organizations, but I don’t have any aspiration to move on outside of UNDP. I have found the organization that speaks to the things that I am passionate about and feel part of a community. We’re 130 offices around the world and we’re all working on critical issues. The thing that fired me from the beginning is changing unequal power relations, addressing injustices and raising our ambitions through innovative approaches. I’ve worked in many different organizations and moved countries so much — change is almost a default for me. But I feel settled in UNDP. I feel at home here.