Tatiana Molcean, addressing the Regional Conference on ICPD 2023, Palais des Nations © Violaine Martin

Leading the UNECE with confidence
Delving behind the scenes of UNECE with its Executive Secretary, Tatiana Molcean
1 Jul 2024

Ambassador Tatiana Molcean of Moldova was appointed Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the 26 July 2023, where she has led with purpose since her term began in September 2023. Ms. Molcean has 20 years of experience in the public sector with international cooperation and development experience, not to mention an expansive knowledge of the UNECE membership. In this interview she divulges more about her role and how she sees the future of the Commission.

Before you became Executive Secretary of UNECE, you were the Ambassador of Moldova to the UN. How has your experience prepared you for your current responsibilities, and how do you use it in your role at UNECE?

As Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Moldova to the UN, WTO and other international organizations in Geneva, as well as Ambassador for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, I learned a lot about UNECE’s work, which impacts the daily life of everyone, but often goes unnoticed.

Moreover, the skills I learned by representing a small but very active country, in particular prioritizing and multitasking, are necessary when at the head of a multilateral institution. 

So, it helped me to form the foundations of my understanding of the organization and equipped me for the challenges I would face.

Out of the 56 members of UNECE, 20 are small countries, so I understand the challenges that these countries are facing. My previous experience of working with EU, North American, Central Asian, Eastern European and Western Balkan countries, which are all members of the Commission, has stood me in good stead to lead UNECE forward with confidence.

As you look to the future of the Commission, do you feel that any changes need to be made, and in which areas?

It is true that there is the temptation to change the way that things work when you first enter a new role. I spent the first six months resisting the urge to do that, committing to get a better understanding of the system from the inside and the way that things work before engaging in any reform processes.

One thing that I have come to recognize based on the experience of over twenty years in the national public system, is that international organizations face similar challenges, in particular bureaucracy, procedures and budgetary constraints.

While there is no magical solution for any of these challenges, efficiency is the key to addressing them. Since we are interacting with so many institutions in Geneva and around the world, we need to avoid duplication and think about how we allocate and use resources.

I have already put it as a priority in UNECE work to ensure better engagement in dialogue with key partners within the UN, such as WHO, WMO, UN Women and UNFPA.

Additionally, making the best use of the extended implication of the diverse range of actors, national and local authorities, civil society and private sector is a win-win situation both when it comes to policy making and impact, as well as resource mobilization.

When it comes to the internal administration of UNECE, I see the need to work on the sentiment of belonging of staff, to reinforce the feeling of unity and belonging within the Commission. Much was lost following COVID-19, but also due to the permanent budgetary and logistical constraints.

What sort of relations do you entertain with the other four regional commissions, and how does that differ with your relations with other agencies?

We all work towards the same overall objective: to support our members’ development and foster economic cooperation, while accomplishing the Sustainable Development Agenda. As such, we are closely coordinated, both at the strategic level, in preparing for the Summit of the Future or in conducting regional forums on sustainable development. This aims to assess the extent to which the SDGs are implemented, or on more specific targets like the ones related to affordable and clean energy, reducing inequalities, water management, critical minerals, sustainable cities, and so on.

Speaking about sustainable cities, we are inviting all commissions, together with representatives of local authorities from their regions to the UNECE Forum of Mayors, to share best practices and the vast knowledge we have on housing and land management. With the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), one of the recent examples of cooperation refers to the promotion of Public Private Partnerships for SDG advancement. A natural, closer cooperation is with our colleagues from the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), with whom we co-chair the Special Programme for Economies of Central Asia (SPECA).

What will the main contribution of UNECE to the Summit of the Future be this September?

Besides the joint work with colleagues from other commissions to coordinate regional responses on the expectations towards the Summit of the Future, during the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in March, we had a productive discussion with the co-facilitators of the Summit, Germany and Namibia, to understand what concrete actions can be put in place either through the Pact that is to be adopted at the Summit or immediately thereafter. We share the view that there is a strong need for actions and for an ambitious action plan, eventually offering and building on our rich set of normative tools.

The Summit can also be an occasion to increase dialogue with local authorities. Four years ago, UNECE launched the Forum of Mayors, as it views cities as key actors in delivering on sustainable development through the localization of the SDGs. This year, the 4th Forum of Mayors will take place in Geneva on 30 September and 1 October, immediately following the Summit of the Future. This aims to take the work of the Summit forward as part of a more networked and inclusive multilateralism, as enshrined in Our Common Agenda. 

Regarding youth engagement, we want to fully incorporate the knowledge and the interests of young people in various specific areas, such as critical minerals and just transition, for instance. This is a key priority for UNECE and the entire UN system moving forward.

Going back to the Forum of Mayors, what makes this platform unique?

Cities are on the front lines of addressing humanity’s most pressing challenges, from climate change to migration as well as natural disasters and socio-economic inequalities. As the world is becoming more urbanized, and by 2050, almost three quarters of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and these challenges cannot be addressed by national governments alone. 

This was the starting point for convening the first Forum of Mayors.

Since 2020, the Forum of Mayors has operated as a unique mechanism within the UN system to link local and national authorities in a normative intergovernmental framework, and to put into practice a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateralism. 

Damaged housing in Kharkiv, Ukraine (2023) © City of Kharkiv

When it comes to Ukraine and the support you are offering them in rebuilding the cities destroyed by war, what is your concrete plan?

Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged, and the country must provide housing to some 3.7 million internally displaced persons (as of January 2024). One key component of our work in Ukraine is supporting affordable housing, to ensure it is both accessible and architecturally desirable. Mobilizing experts from across the region, UNECE has helped Ukraine draft a law to address housing challenges.

On a more targeted approach, since 2022, UNECE has been supporting the development of reconstruction master plans for the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv. This project is supported financially by Germany and made possible by pro-bono engagement of the Norman Foster Foundation and Italian company One Works. This work, undertaken through the UN4UkrainianCities initiative and in close coordination with the UN country team, also mobilizes local architects and communities.

To help put the master plans in action, we are supporting Ukraine in preparing projects and identifying financing partners and private sector investors so that actual reconstruction at scale can begin once the war is over.

A key international priority is the promotion of peace. Do you see UNECE playing a part in trying to find common ground between Russia and Ukraine? Do you see the organization playing a part in trying to find common ground between Ukraine and Russia?

I think we can contribute practically to peace efforts through rebuilding connections in our spheres of competence, like transboundary water management, transport, energy and environment. UNECE was created after the Second World War, so it is designed to help countries rebuild amidst challenges.

All our work, albeit seemingly not directly related to the peacebuilding agenda, is in fact conducive to achieving sustainable peace and preventing conflicts, by supporting economic growth and reducing poverty, and seeking greater integration between countries in dialogue and interaction.

I also hope the Ukraine peace summit convened by Switzerland can result in positive outcomes and that we can start working together towards achieving this much desired peace.

Do you have any more plans in the next few years to make UNECE more efficient?

I think all the UN institutions need to reform. The trust in multilateral institutions has eroded and must be rebuilt. We need to go back to the roots of the UN, to ensure that all countries are active on the international stage. We have to acknowledge the benefits that multilateralism in general and the UN in particular, with institutions like UNECE, bring to our world. Much of our work is taken for granted, as if cooperation or standardization would happen by itself. To that point, my plan also relates to better communication and engagement.

On a more practical note, many of our instruments have been around for years and even decades, and in some areas they can be adjusted and modernized. In this respect, UNECE is focusing on reforming and digitalization, including integrating the vast potential of new instruments and processes.

Lastly, how do you balance your busy personal life with a highly demanding professional career?

It is difficult and challenging and I would say you have to work twice as hard to succeed. Often, being a woman is disadvantageous, such as when on mission, when we are sometimes faced with challenges that men do not experience.

On a personal note, I am proud to be supported by a strong circle of female leaders here in Geneva who are trailblazing the path for the next generation of women. 

* Prisca Chaoui is the Editor-in-chief of UN Today.
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