As part of Devex’s Careers During COVID series, Executive Vice President Kate Warren spoke with the United Nations Development Programme’s Director of Human Resources David Bearfield about how the pandemic is impacting the agency’s work and culture amid ongoing reforms as part of its People for 2030 strategy.
Two years into his job at UNDP, Bearfield has sought to reform many of the organization’s human capital practices and processes to better prepare its workforce for meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. While much of that work is still underway, he has already seen some of these desired changes such as a more agile, flexible, and less hierarchical organization emerging as a result of this experience.
Teams not based in the New York headquarters can often feel cut off or isolated from their colleagues Bearfield shared. Now that everyone is dialing into a Zoom call from home, “everyone participates in an equal footing,” he noted. When you strip away the offices and the ties, “people see colleagues as real people” and “more authentic,” he said, hoping this will change the office culture to be more equal and less hierarchical in the future.
Bearfield also sees a paradigm shift for international organizations and NGOs where so much of the work has centered around travel and international mobility. “Traditionally, it's been about serving physically in a traditional duty station. Pay has been around where you are serving and where you come from,” he said. But if at least part of this work can be done virtually — which he believes this moment has proven — then you are likely to see business travel reduced and job opportunities opening up to a much wider pool of global talent, he predicted.
Hiring continues at UNDP even as the organization braces itself for potential financial shortfalls as a result of the pandemic. The hiring process is one he hopes to reform, to become quicker and more streamlined to attract top talent that isn’t willing to wait what can be a months-long process when there are opportunities elsewhere. Bearfield hopes to see big changes by the end of the year so UNDP can bring people on board in “days and weeks and no longer months.”
Watch the full video to hear Bearfield’s advice for those interested in a career with UNDP and accommodations the agency is making to support team members — such as extending fixed-term contract lengths from one to two years in an effort to provide more job security at this time.
Catch up on the rest of the series:
• How development careers are changing, now faster than ever
• A conversation on succeeding as a virtual health consultant
• What a return to work looks like
• A conversation with UNHCR HR chief Catty Bennet Sattler
• A conversation with IOM HR chief Michael Emery
• A conversation with RTI International's Bucky Fairfax
Visit our dedicated COVID-19 page for news, job opportunities, and funding insights.