Mihail Peleah | Programme Specialist Green Economy and Employment, UNDP Regional Centre for Europe and CIS Istanbul

Welcome to the United Nations Career Journey Podcast. In this podcast, we interview colleagues working for the United Nations all around the world. Our conversations explore their fascinating career paths, what career satisfaction means to them, and how they keep learning and developing on the job. My name is Petra and today, our conversation is with Mihail Peleah from UNDP Istanbul Regional Center.

Welcome to the Career Journey Podcast Mihail, thank you very much for joining us, and it is our pleasure to have you as our guest speaker today.

Thank you. It’s my great pleasure to talk with you today.

So would you like to introduce yourself a bit to our listeners?

I’m Mihail, I’m from Moldova, and I’m working in Istanbul, the Regional Center, the Istanbul Regional Hub. What I’m doing, I’m basically making sense how we could make development, how we could make achievements of SDGs a little bit faster. So I’m working on green economy and social inclusion issues mostly, but also a little bit on different other aspects of SDGs like innovation, coordination. Because you know, SDGs are a really, really broad topic which requires joint efforts.

And how did you become interested in this field?

Well, I have a little bit long path through UNDP. I became a member of UNDP back in 2005, back in Moldova. At that time, I worked for European Commission in Moldova as an economist, so I have kind of legacy working in social protection area. But it’s happened so that I always been on the kind of very strange and very experimental units at UNDP. And that time, UNDP Moldova was growing very fast. They got a lot of new people and I was the part of this expansion. Why I was so much interested in the work UNDP is doing, is because it was a little bit more complex and more sophisticated than what I was doing in all my previous jobs. In UNDP, we’re not talking about just very narrow social protection system technicalities, but a little bit more how this thing will contribute to overall development. And I was very much attracted by the concept of human development, which not only focuses on the basic needs’ satisfaction, but also include the component of agency — how people are able to participate in development themselves. I thought this is an element which is greatly missed in our part of the world, in Eastern Central Europe. So that’s how I get attracted to this. Later on, I joined Bratislava Regional Center is program officer, and I was working mostly on human development, social inclusion issues all around Europe and Central Asia region. Later on, I got to Istanbul Regional Hub, where my portfolio was expanded by green economy issues. And then in 2015, we go this new wave of development thinking in the form of SDGs, and I have to deal with them.

Thank you very much for sharing. It sounds like a very interesting journey indeed. Now, could you perhaps tell us three words that describe you the best and how do these words align with the organization that you work for?

I would say analytical, forward-looking, and sometimes overcomplicated. I like to think that somehow reflects UNDP. Because UNDP is doing a lot of thinking especially Human Development Report Office, but also some other units at UNDP. We are always forward-looking because we always try to think what’s next — governance issues, what are they coming next in terms of sustainability,… But sometimes, yeah, we’re a little bit overcomplicated. And sometimes we need to collaborate with people who are a little bit forward-pushing, let’s say,

And could you tell us how do these words align with your directed work on SDGs? Or if they are in any way reflected in your direct work on SDGs?

That’s a great question. Well, what you could do wrong with SDGs? Because we are talking about complex system, right? There are a lot of interactions. And there are a lot of inter linkages. And quite many of them are not visible on the first sight. So what you could do wrong? On one hand, you could say — okay, let’s do a very simple thing, and then we will sort out the rest. And so we basically say, okay, we reduce complexity in such a way that we simply cut out all non-necessary details. Typically, this is a recipe of disaster. Well, one example, in our region, one country, but I think that’s many countries were doing this. Countries were quite happy to bring more cars to satisfy people’s needs. So what they did, they simply reduce ecological barriers, and they said, okay, whatever you could bring in the country, you could drive it. And suddenly, they find out that quality of air went really, really bad. So the simplest, seemingly simple solution, it starts harming in some other areas. And I could give you much more other examples, like my favorite example is how Indonesia tried to reduce traffic congestion by enforcing the rule that you could drive the car on highway only if you have three passengers in it, and immediately they got a market of people who are driving with you for a very small fee. They are not solving the problem. So these very simple, simplistic solutions, they’re not working. They are a recipe of disaster.

Another recipe of disaster is paralysis by analysis. That is, when you start linking or linkages, you simply end up in analysis for the sake of analysis, right? And you say, oh, everything is so complicated, so we cannot move. What we really need and what we are really trying to do now is to look on what are the meaningful connections, what are the important things we need to take into account. That’s one thing. And second, how we go with experiments, how we go with tests, and we learn from this, and how we speed up feedback loop. So we are not simply sitting in our offices and doing some thinking, but we are learning from in the field experience. And we have a bunch of really great colleagues in acceleration labs, all over the region. But not only them, we have a lot of people who are experimenting, doing really interesting things. And we learn from this experience and trying to scale it up. Your initial question was how these three words apply to my daily job, and I think they greatly describe what I am doing in my daily job and what I try to avoid, this overcomplication in my daily job.

These are great insights and tangible examples from the work around the world. So thank you, again, for sharing those with our listeners. Perhaps we could now talk a little bit about some career tools and career development. What specific tools have been useful for you to develop career-wise throughout your career journey?

It’s a number of things which could be quite important, and I would stop on three things. One thing is sort of self-assessment tools. So what you know about yourself, what you know you know about yourself, from what you don’t know you know about yourself. This is quite important. Second is scanning for interesting things. And third, is seeking for advice, usually in form of mentoring, but maybe also in the form of network. So when we are talking about self-learning tools, I use a number of tools. I particularly like, that’s quite an outdated maybe from the 90s, it’s called Belbin group roles. And it looks how you behave in a group and diagnostics how you usually behave. She has a number of roles; one role is Completer Finisher, a person who pushes everybody to finish everything, and Shaper is taking lead on finishing things, but there are some other roles like Plant. This is a person who generates ideas and there is also Resource Investigator, I think she calls this. This is basically a person who looks around, looks outside of the group and starts scanning — what kind of resources are there, with whom we could talk, who’s doing interesting things. And the important thing is that in your group, you should have a balance of this. And actually, I have a very nice story. When we run in Central European University, we run a summer university school, and we assigned students for a two weeks’ long assignment. So they basically work together in a group on a special assignment. We had troubles with one group, and I tried to make sense what’s going on there. And then I applied this question, and I find out that the person who took a lead of this group, she was a Completed Finisher. She was great, but she basically pushed — we have a deadline, we have to deliver. But they had no idea what to do, because in this group, it’s happened. So they had no person who is a kind of idea generator. And when you have no idea, only the deadline, this is a little bit counterproductive, right? So what we did we sit down with them run small brainstorming, they got an idea and they start to work much better. That’s why I like this tool. And when you apply this tool to yourself, you start seeing what are the roles you are playing most often and what roles you would like to play. For myself, I find out that I typically play the role of Plant or Evaluator, and this is kind of quite strange combination. This is basically thinking roles and no action roles, and no outside world. So I thought, okay, this is not what I would like to do, I would like to have a little bit more connection. So I start looking how I could improve my performance as a Resource Investigator. When I start facing an issue, instead of thinking through it myself, I start calling people, saying: look, you faced something like that, what you did? And that helped me a little bit to expand my role repertoire. That’s one of one of the things, so knowing yourself. Yeah, this 16Personalities test, I also took it, but you could find a bunch of other tools.

Basically, the idea is to try to understand who are you, what is missed, and how you could improve. Not exactly improve, this is not really improvement. This is playing or doing a thing, which you believe is important for you. So if you identify like identified, I am doing analysis, I am doing thinking quite well, but what is holding me back is lack of connections, so I start working on this. That’s, knowing yourself. Second thing is trying to connect with others trying to reach others, and this is really important, because you start seeing things in perspective. Have you ever seen map of the world when it’s printed in Australia?

I don’t think I have.

Try to google it, and you will be shocked. Because in the middle of this map, you will see Australia and Slovakia and Moldova, you will be somewhere on the bottom, maybe somewhere in the corner. And this is a little bit of a shock when you’re habitual to these europocentric maps of the world, right? That’s maps we are seeing from the childhood in school, and that’s how we see the world. So this different perspective is really, really important because it could help you much better articulate who are you and what you are doing. And that’s why I’m quite interested in having some other perspective. Again, we had a very nice experience a very fun experience when we put together in a group economists and environmentalists, and we forced them to play the game called Fish Bank game. This is basically a fishery simulator. And economists, they quickly make a model, they find out the way to maximize profits, but that was the kind of big shock for them when the fish stock collapsed, and they found out that the bunch of ships which they procured in a game they’re completely useless because no more fish in this sea. And that was a shock for them. I still remember the face of this guy who’s kind of like: ‘What, how, how it could be? My model was perfect! It was predicting this!’ But on the other hand, if you listen to just environmentalists, you will have a perfect garden, perfect sea. But what will be our life as humans… most probably will cut quite significantly, our material possessions and so on…. So this different perspective is quite important. So that’s one of the things could be quite interesting for career development, because it’s not only looking at things from different perspective, but also looking for opportunities where you could apply. In UNDP, we are very creative with inventions of different acronyms and position names. But what I find quite useful is to look beyond these positions. You could scan around and see what are the opportunities. And I think I mentioned third thing, mentoring, and I think this is really important, it’s closely related with having another look. And I’m quite happy that UNDP now started this mentoring programme, because I tried to do it informally, it’s a little bit more, but when you have it formal, it’s much easier and much more accessible for most people. I think the biggest kind of myth or wrong attitude to mentoring is that it will provide you a lot of answers. My experience, being mentee in UNDP, and being mentor outside of UNDP, is that it’s mostly about questions. Your mentors should ask you a lot of questions. And there is a theory that it’s called ‘Five Why’s’. So basically, it goes like — if you would like to go to the root of the issue, you ask five times why’s. If your mentor asked you the right questions, you are able to shape your learning program and development programme much better.

These were very good insights and also tools that our listeners can use to understand themselves better, have self-awareness and understand how they work in a group. And also, it’s great to hear that you had a positive experience with being involved in the mentoring programme. I would like to ask you the last question for today. And that is, where do you aspire to be five years from now?

Oh, lovely question. I would like to be a world which is a little bit more peaceful and a little bit more developed. But I think your question that relates to my career. Frankly speaking, I don’t know. I don’t know the name of the place where I would like to be, I know the parameters of this place. One thing is that I still like the analysis, analytical work I’m doing, and I would like it to be a part of it. So, I would like to do this. Second, I also identified that I miss the role of Connector, Resource investigator. So, the other thing I would like to do is to be a little bit more in this networking, connections, bringing different people do better, because this is how we do progress. We have to talk with each other, we have to understand what are the drivers and what are limitations of each other. And this is quite important between different people, different professions, different countries, to see how we could come to common solutions. We need to talk with each other. So, I would like it to be a part of my thinking and the next five years.

Regarding the place, I am not sure. I like all countries. I am from Moldova, I lived in Slovakia, I traveled in neighboring countries. I traveled all through Central Asia and Western Balkans. I speak four languages, and I am learning a fifth. And I’d like to learn more. So, for me, every place is exciting. So that’s in short, where would like to be in five years.

Thank you very much Mihail for sharing your career journey with us and sharing all your tips and advices with our listeners. It has been a pleasure to have you on our podcast.

It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me.

And thank you all for listening. We hope you enjoyed this episode and that our conversations will inspire you to keep learning and advancing in your careers. If you liked this episode, please share it with your network and make sure to tune in for the next one!

Mihail Peleah



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