Not long after she began work on July 20 as the first-ever World Bank Accountability Mechanism (AM) Secretary, Orsolya Szekely answered some questions about herself and the work ahead.
What is the significance of the establishment of the World Bank Accountability Mechanism to house both the Inspection Panel and a new Dispute Resolution Service?
The significance to the World Bank is specific to it having had only the Inspection Panel up to this point. There was no opportunity for the complainants and borrowers to use dispute resolution. The establishment of the Dispute Resolution Service will allow the parties, should they wish, to agree amicably on a solution. More generally, this whole mechanism is there to be a third eye on the development work the World Bank is carrying out, and there is a lot. And even with the best of intentions of the implementing personnel, mistakes can happen. In that case, it is very useful that there is an independent mechanism that is able to help rectify those things and help prevent serious harm from occurring. In the longer term, accountability is also useful because it helps build trust between the Bank and those it is trying to help.
What interested you about the Accountability Mechanism Secretary position?
I have been working with development and accountability, and almost in a parallel or at times merging manner, for more than 20 years within international organizations. What primarily interested me is that there is a chance here to merge all the skills and experience and interests which I have had during the past several years and put them to use in the mechanism that is yet to be established in part. It is a very important step in the life of the Bank to establish the Dispute Resolution Service and further strengthen the accountability mechanism, and I very much look forward to leading that process.
You just started on July 20. How would you describe your first days on the job?
Even though I just started on July 20th, I have been assisted by the teams in a very efficient and kind manner to come on board and be operational almost immediately. So, despite COVID and the online meetings we are having, I have found the first days extremely stimulating and at the same time very productive in terms of getting started.
What is on your near-term to-do list?
My priority is to establish the Accountability Mechanism’s procedures in discussion with a broad range of stakeholders internally and externally. To be able to do this, I need to get acquainted in-depth with the work that has been done and, at the same time, explore the various interests, challenges and concerns that the stakeholders have regarding these to-be-established procedures. Once the procedures are in place, in the longer term the operational parts need to be set up. In the meantime, we need to put some transitional measures in place until these new procedures are fully operational.
Which of your professional experiences do you think will be particularly important to you in the role of AM secretary?
My most recent position at the OSCE, a consensus-based organization, has shown me that reaching agreement is made possible through continuous outreach and discussion. My earlier experience at the European Court of Human Rights helps me to understand how case management is done from A to Z, including how to implement friendly settlement mechanisms. Finally, the development work I have done in the field in so many challenging countries, where I have had the chance to talk to government officials but also to grassroots organizations, will also be helpful. As a conflict-resolution expert, I worked in remote and difficult environments and complex political and geopolitical contexts. In my work, I’ve talked to people living in very remote places where poverty makes every situation more difficult. This has provided me with a wide range of skills that now are useful in setting up a mechanism that is targeted to the needs of the complainants but also to the needs of the organization. I am looking forward to having discussions with civil society and communities but I would like already to ensure them that I have their voices from the past and understand the major challenges they face when development work is carried out.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I consider work-life balance an extremely important factor of life, on a daily basis. I am quite keen to look for opportunities to recharge even if it’s a very limited time within a day. I like to do something that is connected to moving, so I do sports – Pilates, running, swimming – and, in normal times, I love to travel. Also, I like spending time with family, friends, loved ones and looking for something that is new and provides me with some sort intellectual and cultural charge. I love photography. I love arts, music, in general being part of the life that is happening around me. Another passion of mine is teaching. I enjoy immensely talking to young people whenever the opportunity arises.
Tell us one thing about yourself that people might find surprising.
I play the violin. I started out at the age of 6 and I was signed up to a music school as primary school, so music was an essential part of my life from the beginning. I started to play the violin and carried on for more than 35 years. I had to adjust that with studies and work and eventually I was playing from quite an early age in symphonic orchestras at any given place where I was. I found it extremely difficult to decide on my career path, but I am very happy that I eventually opted for the one I did. However, music continues to play a very important part in my life and it also taught me something essential. Being the first violinist of a symphonic orchestra where everyone has to play together in one sound really teaches how to bring together people from various backgrounds, instruments, strengths and make one voice out of it. It’s something that has been going through my professional life ever since, and I continue to remember it whenever I need to achieve consensus in a given context.