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Responsible Leadership: An interview with the CEO, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

Claire Melamed speaks with Derek Wilkinson on how working towards the UN sustainability development goals is an exciting and challenging time

The second in the series, Derek Wilkinson interviews Claire Melamed, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

Derek: Today I am joined by Claire Melamed who is Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. It's a growing network that brings together over 300 members from government, private sector and civil society to harness and leverage data, data technology towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. So what better person to talk to about responsible leadership.

Claire, tell me, what does responsible leadership mean to you and to your organization?

Claire: Thank you, Derek. For me, it means at least two quite distinct things. First of all, I'm very conscious about the way that I lead this organization in a way that has integrity - that supports the team - and to really deliver the very best that they can and do so in a way that makes them happy, that keeps them enjoying their work and feeling like they have power and control over what they do. Because obviously, in the end, that's what we want everyone to have: is power and control over their lives. So there's some things that we have to think about in terms of how we build organizations.

And then as a network, which has sustainable development at the very core of what we do,

we have to think about how we lead in the space, and how all of our actions, large and small, are really contributing towards a clear destination, which are the UN sustainable development goals, and which is the kind of ethical, responsible, sustainable data systems that need to underpin and inform that progress towards those goals.

Derek: That's excellent. It's, it's interesting, isn't it, that sustainability, of course, for the planet for the world or for society at large is, of course, that appropriately focused on what we have available to us on this planet. And perhaps, if we get to the point of no return, trying to figure out how to ensure that we continue to be good stewards, as human beings and as organizations, but sustainability also has to do with people and people in organizations, and being thoughtful about being good stewards of those who whom you lead and guide.

Could you say a few more things about about that, about how that is perhaps a part of what GPSDD does internally, and perhaps how it helps focus on it externally?

Claire: Sure, I've been very conscious of that, in the six years now that I've been been privileged to lead this organization. It's a very young organization so we had the opportunity to create an organizational culture, and a set of working practices really from scratch. And it's also an organization that's always been very international, our team members at the moment, are based in seven different countries. And it's always been the case that we've had team members who've come from very different sector backgrounds, different countries, different approaches to work.

And so we've had to think very hard and, and really more deliberately than I have ever done before, about how we want to work together, and how we can do that in a way which has integrity, and which sort of satisfies our desire to be good people as well as to be a good organization.

I think that you know, there are many, many different dimensions to that, obviously, in a, in a situation where we have people based in many different countries, there have been some very practical questions about how we treat people equally given that people are working under very different legal jurisdictions and very different contracts of employment and so on, they've been some very practical questions about how we can satisfy ourselves that we're treating people fairly.

And then there's been the more intangible and cultural issues about how we treat people, our expectations around working hours, how we respond to people's requests for time off, and so on, and just the sort of role of the leadership in setting a culture.

I think I was never so conscious of an organizational culture before I had the responsibility of creating one - but it's made me think, really very hard about it, about all of those much more intangible things, but the things that basically really make a difference between whether people want to come to work or not, and in the end, if you didn't have that then you don't have an organization.

Derek: Excellent, excellent. Back to the macro level of sustainability and the mission of GPSDD, of course, part of what is intended by your mission is to empower people and organizations and parts of society to have access to data that gives them depth of understanding with regard to sustainability. Maybe say a little bit more about what you'd like to see where that's concerned happening in the next handful of years?

Claire: Well, I think what is so fascinating about the world of data at the moment is that we're really creating the system as we make it. For many countries, they're in the process now of writing their legislation of developing their systems. At the same time, as particularly over this last year, they're forced to very quickly accelerate their use of data to cope with the big challenges that we're facing pandemic challenges, climate challenges. And I think, you know, we don't in other areas, such as public health, for example, we have a clear idea that it's been developed over many years, if not even centuries about what we collectively as a society would like to see, and the kind of protections that we aspire for people to have. And so they may look different in different countries.

But we know what the goal is, I think on data, and when it comes to data system, we're much less clear about what the goal is what what, what does a good data system look like? How much you know, what is a good privacy regime? What does it look like to share data between the public and the private sector in a way that protects privacy, but also gives government access to the real time data that, you know, as we have all found out this last year, they absolutely need if they're to do right by their citizens during it and protect them during a pandemic, for example, there are big public policy questions around data that, in fact, we don't know the answer to yet. All right, we're discovering as we go, what makes a good system.

And every small thing that we do is taking one step towards that larger goal. So we have to be incredibly thoughtful and responsible about each small step that we take.

Because, you know, we are as the saying goes, making the road by walking, and more so because it's not a road that has been well travelled.

So I think, you know, we were collectively deciding what a sustainable and an ethical data system looks like, at the same time, as we're working together to create it, then I'm going to be exciting and privileged position to be in. But, it does require a lot of thought and a lot of difficult conversations. Really, that's what the Global Partnership specializes in, is bringing together organizations, points of view different interests, whether they be commercial or political interests that perhaps don't naturally find themselves in rooms together. And there may be that because to some extent, they they have somewhat different perspectives and different approaches.

And really, that's what we're about - is doing the hard work to get all of those different perspectives together and better understand how to create the system that gets us to where we want, and in a way that brings everyone along with us.

Derek: If you were going to offer one challenge to leaders from all walks of life in the world, small organizations, large organizations, what might be that one challenge you'd like to offer them from the perspective of the Global Partnership?

Claire: As you know, Derek, I'm nothing if not optimistic. For me, what is so exciting about this moment is how many different models were being offered for how to do things. It used to be maybe 1,520 years ago, there was sort of one way to get things done. And that was the men generally in suits and smoke filled rooms way. And I think what has been so exciting about the last few years and the way that, that some of the big activist movements have combined some of the new forms of leadership that we're seeing in companies and governments, some of the ways that those two things have combined and activists and governments and companies talking to each other more has been that we're being offered lots of different ways to do things.

I think, as a leader that's incredibly empowering, because it really means that you can think harder and do better. And I think as people who collectively are trying to shape the planet, the more options that we have, the better. So I think is a very exciting, although also somewhat daunting time.

Derek: It's excellent Claire, thank you very much. Not just for taking time to speak with us today but for leading the organization that you lead it is incredibly important. It is a very exciting convening of different parts of the world that are going to affect positive change where sustainability is concerned. So we thank you very much for everything that you do.

Claire: Thank you. It's a pleasure to work with you.

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