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OPINION: Building a car and driving it too -Thoughts from the CEO


The first quarter of operations for the CDKN is drawing to a close, and summer is suddenly upon us. As interim CEO for the network, I would like to take this opportunity give a personal update on our impressive achievements to-date, and highlight some of the challenges that remain, as we develop this exciting and unique project.

Progress in the last quarter and a change in the UK government

It is now two months since I stepped into the interim CEO role, which means I am nearly halfway through my tenure. I’ve really enjoyed it, as it has been brilliant to work with such a diverse group of committed people, and I feel like we are making good progress.

We are already engaged in real work around the world, with projects in progress or coming up for the African Development Bank, the government of Rwanda, and the CARICOM Secretariat in the Caribbean. We have also started engagement processes in Ghana, Colombia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. And in June alone, we were represented far and wide: at Strategy for Collective Action in Africa in Tanzania, The International Climate Change Adaptation Conference in Australia and the regional PPCR Joint Mission for the Caribbean in Barbados.

With a new UK Coalition Government in place, we were interested to hear from DFID firsthand about the implications for the CDKN of this new era and to discuss our progress with them. We know that the effects of climate change on developing countries remains an issue very much on the agenda, and that producing results in the developing world will rightly be the basis for how we and other development initiatives are judged.

Client focus and empowering the regions

Getting such a diverse set of projects and engagements on solid footing in such a short timeframe has not come easily. As I have described it before: it’s like we’re trying to build a car while trying to drive it at the same time. We have been committed to delivering high quality, rapid-response services from day one, but we have also had to set up the appropriate processes, systems and contracts necessary for the medium- and long-term sustainability of the network.

We are constantly learning and refining the way we operate and have reinforced the team with additional expertise to get this right. As would happen to any large network, we faced some difficulties in our start up phase. Mixing commercial organisations and NGOs across four continents was never going to be easy, but I feel the team are getting to know each other better and are progressing well.

One of the biggest issues that I have been addressing since taking on the CEO role has been striking an appropriate balance between a centralised approach based on the four main strands of work within the CDKN (technical assistance, research, knowledge management and partnerships) with a decentralised approach focused on the demands of developing country governments and other users of our services. I feel strongly that we should listen to them, understand their issues and tailor what we offer to meet their needs. In other words the work we do should be about our ‘clients’ and not about us.

It is of course much harder to build a decentralised organisation that has consistent high quality standards and is joined up, but that’s what we are going to do!  It is critical that our regional teams in Asia, Africa and Latin America have the resources and the support they need to engage directly with governments. These teams are the ones who will develop demand for high quality research and assistance on climate compatible development by building strong relationships.

Looking forward

The biggest challenge for the coming months is to turn the focus outward – building relationships with client governments and prospective partner organisations, raising our profile internationally and speeding up the delivery of services so we use the budget we have been allocated in full and effectively. The task ahead is neither simple nor easy, but I believe that we will get there before the inception period ends in September. By then we plan to have delivered our full Inception Report to DFID, covering our short- and long-term strategies for regions and outputs, and launched a brand new website. Watch this space.

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