The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acts as the North Star for global leaders in achieving a sustainable future.  The 2030 Agenda also requires bold changes to the UN development system for the emergence of a new generation of country teams, centered on a strategic UN Development Assistance Framework and led by an impartial, independent and empowered resident coordinator.  Leaders from the UN, governments, civil society and the business sector are expected to drive results and build resilience while navigating a world of disruption.

With mounting pressure on leaders, UNSSC launched the UN Mastermind in 2020 to provide a space for senior leaders to connect with other leaders in an open and safe environment.  A Mastermind Group is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members solve their problems with input and advice from the other group members and an experienced mastermind facilitator.  It is also a great format for working collaboratively toward solving complex and significant topics.  The UN Mastermind Groups, a UNSSC initiative, help senior leaders strategize the best way forward, work with you to prioritize and engage with your goals, and hold you accountable for actually following through, using the power of collective intelligence and the network of mastermind group members.

UNSSC spoke with Michael Croft, the UNESCO Representative to Nepal, to share his leadership challenges, especially in the context of the UN, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Reform, and COVID-19 and how the UN Mastermind helped him in his leadership journey. 

Can you tell us about yourself and why you joined the UN Mastermind?

My name is Michael Croft and I've been working some 22 years with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Currently, I am the UNESCO Representative to Nepal.  I've been involved in around six country teams now in the MENA region, East Africa, Southeast Asia and now South Asia.

I joined the UN Mastermind, first and foremost, because of the title.  It was a very intriguing title - I had never heard of a Mastermind Group before.

What were your leadership challenges particular to the UN Context?

If I look at this perspective particular to the United Nations and as a staff member of the United Nations system, we are all challenged by the 2030 Agenda and the UN reform to really rethink what it is that we are doing and, accordingly, our role.  Agenda 2030 tells us the world is not conveniently organized up into sectors and mandates, and reality is multidimensional.  Thus, the problems we face are complex, have many different causes, and it is often difficult to separate causes from the symptoms.  Further, we are reminded that we have to look beyond the perspective of our own agency to think also from the viewpoint of the United Nations system – to the much bigger picture that our contribution contributes to.  In sum, the 2030 Agenda challenges us to go beyond just more joint programming and to look again fundamentally at our role.  In putting forward the Agenda, the Member States have been quite clear that they wish the UN to be working to its strengths and where it adds value, to focus more on developing partnerships rather than projects.  That’s quite a lot to take on board, and with COVID-19 coming into the mix, that’s a pretty heavy leadership challenge.  In this regard, the UN Mastermind was a very timely opportunity which helped us all unpack the growing challenges of our volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, which is a lot to handle for any leader.

How did the UN Mastermind help you in your leadership challenges?

Firstly, the composition of the Mastermind Group was very interesting.  We were six colleagues in one group—there were three agency representatives and three Resident Coordinators.  And we could not help but be drawn, if I can put it this way, to the situation of our colleagues, the Resident Coordinators, who have a very challenging role, especially in the context of UN reform – and at the time of our course, COVID-19.  In one case, a Resident Coordinator had just been deployed at the beginning of COVID and had not even had the opportunity to meet her team in person before taking up the role, yet she was expected to perform her role and provide leadership to colleagues that she was only able to interact with online.  

For each of us during those challenging days of mid-2020, the UN Mastermind represented a safe space where we could share our struggles openly and without fear of judgement.  The peers provided informed but objective counsel, which is not normally easily found.  The UN Mastermind peer coaching was safe and friendly, but our discussions were also frank and compassionate.  It's true that within my Organization, I can access this from peers, but UNESCO experiences also influence the conversations.  The UN Mastermind allowed me to get perspectives from other colleagues outside of my usual context, which proved very important.

We delved into more than challenges though.  The UN Mastermind also provided space for both personal and professional learning - we talked about what we can bring to the table as leaders and what areas we can still work on.  The Group allowed us the opportunities for practical exercises to hone our response to our respective leadership challenges that I still apply today.  Dealing with this brought us closer together, for as peers we counselled each other with empathy.

In sum, UN Mastermind provided a good mix of leadership techniques for both our personal and professional selves – and it did so just at the right time.  

What is the best part of the UN Mastermind, and who else can benefit from it?  Watch the full video below to know Michael Croft's answers and hear more about his personal learning journey (17 minutes).  



You can also view the transcript here.

Interested in applying for the next UN Mastermind Group?  Please read our Call for Applications.