You can read the full interview below.
Please tell us about yourself – in particular your education and professional career.
I was born in the town of Nazilli in Turkey, where I attended primary and secondary school. I completed my high school education at Robert College in Istanbul. Afterwards I went to the USA for my BA and MA studies. I graduated from Columbia University in New York, where during my college years I focused on economics and international relations.
I joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1981 after a brief internship period. I took on several roles at the UN’s headquarters in New York, as well as at locations in Asia, Africa, Arab states and Europe. I was the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Lithuania and Belarus. I have been in New York for seven years. During this period, I initially served as the Director of Human Resources in UNDP, where I was responsible for about 44,000 members of staff, and the development and implementation of corporate policies on human resources. I was appointed Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (RBEC) in 2012. I am the highest ranking among Turkish citizens working within the UN.
Within the geography I am responsible for, there are 22 countries and territories, including Turkey, Western Balkans, South Caucasus, as well as Central Asia and Commonwealth of Independent States. All these aforementioned sub-regions have tremendous development gains; however, they also face many challenges: most of them are middle-income countries. We, as UNDP, together with governments and other partners try to support these countries in reaching their sustainable human development goals. I would like to underline that our Istanbul Regional Hub, which was officially launched this year, has logistical and other advantages, which prove convenient in our work.
What were the turning points of your career?
My first assignment was in Malawi in Africa. This was a very informative period for me for many reasons. Firstly, I was very young and it was my first job. I did not know anything about living in Africa. My horizon broadened. I became aware of what “least developed” and “poverty” mean; as well as what we can do about them as the international community. This consolidated my will to work in the development sector. The second turning point was the time when I was appointed as the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Lithuania. This appointment coincided with the time when Lithuania started its membership negotiations with the European Union. We supported the Government’s priorities in this area. After Lithuania joined the European Union in 2014, I received the honour of being awarded with a special distinction by the-then President of the Republic of Lithuania. Lastly, I would like to talk about my current position. Generally speaking Assistant Administrator positions are political assignments. Since I was appointed to my current position after a long career period in UNDP, I really think that I inspired and opened the path for people to follow me.
What does success mean to you?
I think the definition of success is a very personal one. For me, success was never about ‘me.’ It was always about what my contribution was and how I created additional value for the community I live in. I suppose my idealist side and empathy skills are much stronger. For this reason I feel the fortune and responsibility for working in the UN. Our target as the UNDP is sustainable human development. We want to achieve a healthy and happy life full of hopes for future generations. If I have contributed to this target in any way then I think this is success.
What do you think is the reason for your success?
I think being successful first and foremost depends on having goals and a vision. And these goals can only be identified if we know ourselves better. Education is very important. However this is not dependent on what we have learned in school – it also depends on values, manners and culture we have seen and learned from our family. Moreover nobody can achieve something alone. We all have strong teams behind us. As leaders, our success depends on the respect we show to people we work with and the motivation we provide for them to achieve larger goals in unity. I have taken lessons from good examples as well as bad ones during my career. Lastly, I have always tried to learn something from my superiors. And, of course, hard work is always important.
What are your plans for the future?
I really enjoy my current position. As I said, most of the countries in the region that I’m responsible for are middle-income countries. But this does not mean that all of their problems are solved. These countries have tremendous amounts of knowledge and experience to share in the process of global development. We work to enable the exchange of information between these countries and increase their contributions.