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An evening with the Rt Hon Helen Clark ex NZ PM and former Head of UNDP

The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) hosted the former PM of New Zealand and former Head of UNDP the Rt. Hon. Helen Clark. We watched the movie “My year with Helen”, it followed her through the nominations and voting process for the role of the Secretary General of the UN, a role which Helen put herself forward for in 2016.

The UN was established in 1945, shortly after the end of WWII. The UN Charter sets out four main purposes:

  • Maintaining worldwide peace and security

  • Developing relations among nations

  • Fostering cooperation between nations in order to solve economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian international problems

  • Providing a forum for bringing countries together to meet the UN's purposes and goals

Since it’s creation, there have been 8 men holding the role of Secretary General of the UN, all enjoying 2 terms of 5 years per term each, one even didn’t realise that he had been nominated until he was appointed.

In 2016 the election process changed, there were 13 nominations, just under half of them women, although transparency and change was on the cards (with speculation that a women and /or an Eastern European would be elected), the 5 permanent members of the security council members (USA, UK, China, Russia and France) were still the key deciders. As per previous years, another man was elected: Portuguese António Guterres

The observation of the role of the Secretary General of the UN “You can’t be a real general as there is no army, but you need to use your voice.”

You must be a Secretary and a General;

  • listen, maintain & gather the members,

  • rally & lead.

We heard that previously the Security Council considered women as ‘victims of war’, the security council resolution 1325 adopted on 31 oct 2000 reaffirms importance of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, it was written to bring women to the leadership and peace keeping roles.

On taking up the role of Head of UNDP (2009 – 2017) United Nations Development Programme, one of her first challenges was to tackle the perception of fraud, she did this by setting the tone from the start and made reports which should be available, available. Very soon this department was seen as the most transparent in the UN.

Helen spoke of 17 UN sustainable development Goals and being the core of the development programme.

Advice Helen gave to women is that all governments need women to bring sanity to the process, also that you must believe in yourself or no one will believe in you.

On entering politics

  • You must know why you want to do it because it's hard work.

  • If you don’t know what you want to do, the parliamentary terms are short (3 yrs) and your next election will come around quickly before you’ve begun to make an impact,

  • Put your stamp on early

  • Develop the skills to deal with the challenges; never react immediately, breath through your nose and think it through.

There is a perception of New Zealand is that they're more progressive than Australia. The perception is understandable as New Zealand has had a female Prime Minister for more than half of the last 25 yrs.


  • The glass ceiling won’t break at the first crack.

  • It’s easy to win, but it's losing that brings out people's character.

  • Hard fought battles were started early

  • Leaders can’t be followers too

  • You need to take time out and look after yourself; take breaks, you're no good if you're burnt out

  • Do your homework

  • Bring people along on the journey even those who are not particularly nice

  • Suffer the fools and see the funny side

Responding to a disaster (we talked about the Haiti earthquake) .

  • First there is calamity then moving fairly rapidly you need to move to recovery

  • People need to be involved in the recovery, participatory planning. where will you rebuild? get the communities to plan how it will be done better

  • There are frameworks on how to manage a disaster. 60% of disaster funding is on humanitarian minimal on the risk and make development decisions based on risk assessment

  • Always look to build back better

Philosophy - seek to improve human wellbeing but how do we do that without wrecking the environment- People prosperity planet.

Helen was truly inspirational, what an amazing woman, so "matter of fact" and human. This was a brilliant event. Thank you Helen.

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