Leader Profile: Poul Engberg-Pedersen, Director General, Norad

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) is the Norwegian government aid agency, a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Poul Engberg-Pedersen has headed this agency since 2005.


The mission of Norad is to contribute in the international cooperation to fight poverty. The agency was re-organized in 2004 from an implementation agency to a new role as manager of development funds to ensure that the Norwegian development cooperation is of high quality. The Director General of Norad is responsible for ensuring that the agency performs its tasks in accordance with the regulations for Norwegian government agencies and within the confines of the financial and technical powers granted to the agency by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Poul’s role is to direct Norad spending. He said, “My approach is that, if anything, we should be even more selective than we have been in the past. If we want to make a difference, the way ahead is not to distribute it to even more new fields. The way forward is to be focused and make sure that we can actually follow up the areas that we have selected.”


Decentralization and stakeholder ownership are key elements of Norad’s new role. One example is promotion of broader access to higher education. “We need to invest more in secondary and tertiary education, especially in Africa. If you compare Africa to other regions it is interesting to see that at primary school level, access to education in Africa is not so very far behind, but if you compare with higher education you will see that Africa is far behind both Asia and Latin America. That is a major challenge, not just for Norad, but also for the entire donor community,” explained Poul.


Prior to his current position, Poul had a long career in international development in the areas of governance, development assistance, and capacity building in Africa. For 8 years he served as Managing Director of the Centre for Development Research in Copenhagen, and as Head of International Operations at the Danish consultancy firm COWI for several years. He has also worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office in Addis Ababa, and for the World Bank as Senior Public Sector Specialist. Poul has participated in international committees set up to evaluate assistance programs, for example for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Research Council of Norway, and the Southern African Development Co-ordination Committee. A Danish national, Poul holds a PhD in Economic Planning and Political Science, from the Roskilde University Centre.


Poul is happy with his role following the lead given by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I am fine with the mandate as it is and I have deep respect for a system in which the political system is setting the priorities,” he said. Poul added, “I might say it is fine to leave the execution to the embassies and the Foreign Ministry, because we have the more enjoyable part. We can focus on knowledge and quality.”

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