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How to become a leader at UNFPA - Suzanne Ngo-Mandong, Representative in Burundi

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by Impactpool

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)  Leadership Pool is a great and innovative initiative to find the next generation of leaders. Impactpool interviewed Suzanne Ngo-Mandong, UNFPA Representative in Burundi who were accepted to the pool in 2014. Read this interview and get great insights into what it takes to become a UN leader.  

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Photo: UNFPA Representative in Burundi, Suzanne Ngo-Mandong (to the left), distributing dignity kits in the field to victims of El nino.

“The smile of the beneficiary is priceless. Very rewarding the work we do at the field level, especially when dignity is brought to vulnerable women through these kits” -  Suzanne Ngo-Mandong, UNFPA Representative in Burundi

Interview with Suzanne Ngo-Mandong, UNFPA Representative in Burundi

Ms. Suzanne Ngo-Mandong is the UNFPA Representative in Burundi since February 2015. Before her appointment, she has worked at UNFPA headquarters in New York where she spent 22 years of her career. During this period, she held various positions such as Programme Specialist in Africa Division, Special Assistant to the Directors of Africa Division and Africa Regional Office, and Regional Desk Specialist/Adviser in Programme Division of UNFPA.

Prior to joining UNFPA in 1992, Ms. Mandong has held various positions in the Cameroon's Foreign Service around the world.  She speaks French and English, and is proficient in Russian.

Ms. Mandong holds a Diploma in International Relations and a Master's Degree in Social Sciences from the Long Island University of New York, USA.


 Hi Suzanne! Why did you apply for the UNFPA leadership pool?

 - My interest to a post of a UNFPA Representative responded to a message by the UNFPA Executive Director to staff, at one of general staff meetings around mid 2014, on the availability of a number of Representatives positions in Francophone countries of the Africa’s region. After 22 years of service at UNFPA’s global level, out of which 14 with the Africa Region and further to a discussion with my family, we felt that I had a contribution to offer to the work of the Organization in this region. Responding to that call meant applying to the Leadership pool.


What's your experience of the recruitment process? What kind of assessments did you go through?

- Excellent and professional actually! Also different from what I have heard of it, namely “quite a lengthy and clumsy process”. All lasted less than 6 months for me! I was selected to participate in UNFPA’s Leadership Pool selection process for the post of UNFPA Representative by mid-July 2014. The process included pre-assessment work, e.g. psychometrics, a 360 exercise, personality and managerial questionnaires to fill, career reflections to write, a briefing and a 2-day-assessment outside London in the United Kingdom (September 2014). In October 2014, I was informed of my selection to the pool and readiness to be deployed as a UNFPA Representative when such a post becomes available. I could not believe it!

It is important here to highlight the professionalism of staff (internal and external to UNFPA) of the recruitment process. They offered me detailed information throughout the assessment process, while remaining available to respond to my multiple questions. Impressive!

Why do you think you were you chosen and accepted to the Pool? In terms of Professional achievements/experience/personal traits?

- This is not an easy question.  I believe to have been chosen and accepted to the Pool because the Organization certainly saw something in me that could add value to the work of the Fund at the field level and to the people we serve.

With over 20 years of experience in supporting achievement of the ICPD goals in different positions (operational, policy and coordination), I had acquired a strong understanding of the UNFPA agenda, together with a diverse blend of competences critical to an effective execution of a Representative’s responsibilities. 12 years in the diplomatic field prior to joining the United Nations; extensive internal and external staff development training and hands-on learning on the job had strengthened my UNFPA professional journey. 

Growing professionally within the Fund, passionate about the ICPD agenda, courageous to embrace change and diversity, professional and committed to excellence, I had the privilege and honour to be part of all major corporate initiatives and reforms during this timeframe. I enjoyed a solid organizational awareness and a vast network to strengthen my ability to harness traditional and emerging partners around the renewed corporate vision. I could (a) lead and work in teams, (b) develop and empower staff, and (c) be an effective change agent for the Organization. And for me there was no doubt that as such, I would have contributed to fostering a spirit of consensus and commitment to move UNFPA towards a more effective organization in the post-2015 development environment.


What happened after you were accepted to the Leadership Pool? How long were you in the pool until you got a position? Were you offered a position or did you apply? What kind of support are UNFPA offering?

- After being accepted to the Pool (mid October 2014), I was kept therein for the posts of UNFPA Representative. Recruitment staff advised that suitable vacancies will be shared with me to apply in due course. A few days after, five posts were circulated, with a guiding note on how to apply for the ones of my interest; which I did, and Burundi was amongst those. From this moment, all went extremely fast and I received the Government’s clearance as UNFPA Representative to Burundi during the first week of December 2014. I joined my new duty station 10 weeks later. UNFPA support throughout the process was awesome. The process being complex and thorough, I benefitted from their guidance, coaching and “personal attention each step of the way”. In addition, the Division for Human Resources’ different webinars were of great help throughout the journey.


Did the Leadership Pool meet your expectations?

- Definitely! I am pleased to have gone through the Leadership Pool assessment. It truly brought the best out of me. This is a process that steered up serious reflections about my strengths and weaknesses at work (competencies) and in my personal life, and how I could better balance the two. It provided me with a comprehensive learning support package, before, during and after. For example, I was not expecting an assessor to give me a tailored feedback on my performance and work with me on identified areas of development after the assessment in London. It really shows again the quality of the process and the seriousness of the Organization about its leaders’ success.


What has it meant for you personally being part of the leadership pool? Career development? Rewards? Challenges?

- Being part of the leadership pool has meant a lot for me. Quite a rewarding experience I have to confess. Just being for a few days close to potential leaders of our Organization was humbling; realizing that if I can make it, means any UNFPA staff could do it. Each of us truly counts in UNFPA. Commitment, motivation and robust investment in what we do best end up by opening all doors. Just believe in it and in you!

Going through the leadership pool assessment has guided me in making further improvements in my career. Role plays in real situations during the two-day-assessment in London was very intense and stimulating. But you know, this is the real situation at the field level! I found myself in some similar situations in Burundi when the crisis flared up just a few weeks after my assumption of duties. So happy I was put to test earlier. It tells how serious and thoughtful is UNFPA.


Are you cooperating with other leaders in the pool? Sharing experiences?

- Oh yes!  The pool has contributed to strengthening the already existing collegial and friendly relationship amongst us, peers of my group. In fact, one of us has named the group “Class of 2014”. We do not only share experiences; we also care about each other. Burundi, the country where I serve, has been experiencing a complex situation since April 2015. My peers have been regularly reaching out with supportive and uplifting notes. In fact, within a bigger family, which is UNFPA, the pool has facilitated the creation of a closer caring and technical nexus.  And this is just wonderful!


Would you recommend others to apply? Why?

- Definitely! I believe that each UNFPA staff, depending on the career level, should go through such a comprehensive assessment, at least once in his/her professional journey, through this pool or others.  It truly brings the best out of you and significantly impacts on your career (and personal) development!


Thank you so much Suzanne Ngo-Mandong for taking the time to answer our questions and to provide these great personal insights into the UNFPA Leadership Pool. We advise the readers who are interested to learn more about UNFPA and the Leadership Pool to also read the below section. 



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