ASM: What inspired you to become a person of service not just to a specific continent but to the global community?
AD: Well, after university there was a program by the UN Association in the UK that took young people who were interested in international development to work around the world. One area of the program I was interested in was economics and international relations which I studied. So, I was given the opportunity to work at the UN Development Program Office in Nairobi; and that is how it all started. It led me to work at the UN in different parts of the world on different issues starting with development issues that evolved into humanitarian work. In the last decade, I focused on peacekeeping issues under the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When I retired, I was a part of a think tank here in Geneva when Mr. Anan asked me to join him in working at his foundation; and of course, I was glad to go work with him.
ASM: You mentioned your aim is creating a fair and peaceful world. What are some of the ingredients that will create that new world?
AD: I think the key ingredient is the political will by the leaders, people and communities to live and work together with love, understanding and be willing to dialogue and discuss. If you do not have that, you will not have a fair and peaceful world. The structure or the catalyst for that is what we call the three pillars. First, there is the peace and security, second is development and third is the rule of law and the protection of human rights. These three pillars constitute the underpinning of a fair and more secure and peaceful world. One without the other means the structure will not stand We believe we need all three elements together if we are to achieve that goal.
ASM: In enacting these pillars, do these solutions need to be invented or are they out there but have not been implemented in your opinion?
AD: I would think it is the latter. The expertise and the experience are largely there but too often they are not applied because there is no will to do that. It is about shifting that mindset, which is often needed in dealing with conceptual and objective problems. For example, taking the case of Ebola – a disease that has been around for a long time. But because it is not frankly a rich man’s disease, it has never had the attention of the investment that is needed to actually deal with the problem. The same goes for malaria and other illnesses. Because of the lack of the will and interest, thousands of people perished unnecessarily. That is just one concrete example where we have the expertise, evidence and experience, but we just need to apply them. Too often, it is about getting to the starting gate and making sure we get in the race. Unfortunately, there are economic, commercial and political pressures that prevents people from doing so.
ASM: What are some of the strategies you use in reframing the public’s interest?
AD: There are different ways but the most prominent way is with Mr. Kofi Annan himself and his voice that resonates around the world. He has a continuing gravitas and appeal to both the old and young – especially among the younger generation that he can speak out on these issues and help mobilize opinions. The second way is doing it through quiet diplomacy by talking to people and trying to get them to come together. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. It often takes a lot of time and effort but we must do it. The third is in the foundation’s capacity to convene a lot of people through the networks and contacts often from different sides or perspectives and have them talk about the issues. If we do not talk to each other, we will talk past each other and we will not really find answers to these problems. All of it requires political effort, political astuteness and diplomatic skills. I think that is where the foundation can be very helpful in a modest way. We cannot change things all by ourselves but we can be a small part of that change.
ASM: You mentioned special diplomatic skills and a certain type of charisma. Is there anything that you have noticed that is unique to this organization?
AD: We always start with the principal of the Mr. Kofi Annan by always emphasizing the need to listen. You may not agree with people but if you do not listen, you will not get very far. You should get to know others on the other end, understand them and their motivation; even if you do not share them. Try to understand and get a deeper knowledge of why people do or not do certain things. If you go into a situation with just your own views, it usually does not work. In addition to listening, show empathy to gain trust because without that, you will be seen as just another opponent.
ASM: We noticed that the foundation mentioned there is importance in empowering small local producers. Is there a special value of doing this or is it about achieving balance between working with large and small entities?
AD: This is very much an initiative that Mr. Kofi Annan is spearheading for Africa. He is concerned being of course from the region. In addition, globally Africa is a continent that does not really feed itself. It cost huge quantities of food worth billions of dollars, foreign exchange being used but in short supply. Above all, it does not create those imports or local employment and income. He has been pushing for sometime the need to improve the production of food in Africa through small holders who are the predominant mass farmers in the continent of whom majority are women. To increase the productivity is to aid in getting them into the value chain to move from subsistence to surplus - especially in food crops. But to do that, we must form a good, productive and fair alliance between the local farmers and those who can bring the technology, the higher level of experience from the outside. It is putting together small farmers with well-known international companies in the business. Also, working with large foundations like the Linda Gates Foundation with whom we work closely; and the World Food Program that buys a lot of food in Africa for its programs and projects. This will also include the government because sometimes it is about policy change that affects a country moving forward since the building of basic infrastructures are needed. It is about bringing the poor farmers into the food chain that will lead to improving the productivity and quantities of their produce. It is about finding ways of improving the quality of livelihoods, health, education and connectivity. We are beginning to see that in various parts of the world including parts of Africa.
ASM: As you look at your life, your work and how far you have come, is there anything you would pass down to the younger generation to know and pass forward?
AD: Well, I would say as I mentioned before, it is very important and crucial to listen to each other. Secondly, recognize that there are no quick or easy solutions to solve problems. We have to work and chip away at them and even talk out loudly about them. Patience and Persistence are very essential. I do think belief is also important. If you do not believe in what you are doing, you will not perform well. Of course, there will be disappointments, the ups and downs; but if you do not believe, you will not work successfully and you certainly cannot lead. I would also say that it is important to surround yourself with people you trust and can work with. I know it may be easier said than done sometimes, but it is absolutely crucial.
ASM: Thank you very much for your time and for all that you are doing for the global community. Our regards to Mr. Kofi Annan and wish you and the entire team the very best.
AD: Thank you for your interest in the foundation and our work. Your work and support is appreciated.