From growing up on a small rural farm in Malawi to becoming Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Malawi to the European Union and Permanent Representative to Rome-based United Nations agencies, the new Deputy Director of the Social Protection division (ESP) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), BRAVE RONA NDISALE, brings a wealth of experience to the UN body alongside a passion for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people. Years of experience in agricultural research, field work, policy analysis and advocacy from top to bottom and around the world, FAO’s Communications Department talked to Dr. Ndisale about how she sees her new role in ESP and FAO’s vision of social protection. (Maravi Post reproduces excerpts of the interview with permission):
Welcome to Rome and to FAO! Tell us more about your role in ESP; how does it feel so far?
It feels great! I’ve joined an inspiring group of people here. My role is, of course, to contribute to the organisation’s mandate by working with member states to reduce rural poverty.
To do this we have four teams working in four major areas. These will concentrate on strengthening social protection systems, empowering rural people by bolstering rural institutions and organisations; promoting decent employment; reducing gender gaps and improving women’s access to rural services. I will also be coordinating the cross-cutting theme of gender across the strategic objectives.
FAO’s move to mainstream gender is important: it means that we are making sure that everything we do is focused on achieving our goal of food security.
Your CV speaks for itself in terms of your expertise and experience, but tell us what are you bringing to FAO that isn’t necessarily on paper?
Passion. I feel very passionate about rural poverty. I was born and grew up on a small family farm, I know what it’s like and I know what needs to happen to make it better. My passion feeds my abilities in partnering, advocacy and mobilising support and resources.
Of course, my experience helps too, but it is my passionate will to make a difference that has led me from the farm to here at FAO. It is that passion that mobilises my abilities.
What is FAO’s vision of social protection and how can FAO make a difference where social protection is concerned?
Social protection comprises a menu of policy instruments to improve food security and nutrition and that address poverty and vulnerability. It can be cash transfers, food aid, public works, social insurance or other means to promote social inclusion.
But this is not mere social assistance. By helping rural poor better cope with shocks and hardship and better manage risks, social protection also helps stimulate productive activity and investment.
So, through social protection, we work on both ends of food security; help the poor access food and promoting food production: a twin track approach that is needed to end hunger.
How can FAO make a difference where social protection is concerned?
FAO is already doing this in its programmes. Cash for work, school meals, supporting family farming, all of these have spill-over effects on rural communities as a whole. For example, by safeguarding the poor with income security, investment in production is stimulated and greater risks can be taken to increase their farm incomes, and, by the same token, that will increase their food security and nutrition, the welfare of their families, their communities as well as the country concerned.
My director, Rob Vos, is the Strategic Objective Coordinator (SOC) for SO3 on reducing rural poverty, so we are well placed in terms of finding synergies and making linkages.
What will be some of the challenges that FAO is facing?
I am very new to FAO but I have seen a lot of it in my previous role. FAO has undergone some major reforms and changes. In life, change brings challenge. However, I have learned that when challenges are addressed they also present opportunities.
FAO has enormous opportunities to work in a coordinated manner to deliver on its mandate. In ESP, I see that one of those challenges/opportunities lies in strengthening our decentralised country offices.
First impressions: FAO? Rome?
I am grateful for the exceptionally warm welcome that I have received both within FAO and in Rome. I have already met so many colleagues who are all encouraging with their advice and help.
What to say about Rome? Rome is a smiling city. I have lived in many places but here I feel as if I am already part of the community. People talk to you, people smile.