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Meet the MD: André Laperrière of GODAN

From an early age, André Laperrière says he wanted to be a world citizen. His international career has been driven by his desire to make organisations more efficient and their contributions sustainable towards a better, fairer and safer world for all of us. His current role focuses on harnessing open data to help end world hunger.

What is it the company does?

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative focuses on building high-level support among governments, policymakers, international organisations and business in both the public and private sectors all over the globe. It promotes collaboration and co-operation among stakeholders in the agriculture sector to harness the growing volume of data generated by new technologies, to solve long-standing problems and to benefit farmers and the health of consumers.

Through the use of open data to integrate different sources and improve the quality of data available to those in the farming industry, farmers can be provided with relevant and historical data. This includes weather data through satellite use or food consumption data, to improve the efficiency of their practices. Consumers can be further empowered to make better decisions when it comes to choosing their products. This information is easily accessed through the click of an app on their mobile phones.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

As executive director of GODAN, I have led the initiative to achieve over 950 partner organisations to date. By utilising global events as platforms to network, spreading key messaging around the GODAN initiative, and meeting with senior bodies from governmental, business and international organisations from across the globe, I have grown support for the initiative and established strong partnerships with key industry and government leaders. This support is based on mutual goals to proactively address the world’s ongoing food issues, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal: to end world hunger by 2030.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I have led/managed numerous projects on behalf of large private corporations and subsequently, within the United Nations and the World Bank. In this context, I played a senior role in the design and the implementation of major reforms within a number of agencies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. I have extensive work experience in the Americas, Caribbean, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, in particular in developing countries and in conflict/post-conflict environments.

Before joining GODAN in September 2015, I was previously the deputy chief executive officer at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Washington DC. Among other positions, I was also the first executive director of the Trust Fund for Victims at the International Criminal Court (ICC), director of the administration and finance division in the World Health Organization (WHO), and coordinator for reconstruction and rehabilitation activities under the responsibility of UNICEF in Iraq.

Prior to my career in the UN, I was a director in the international services of Price Waterhouse. In this position, I led multiple large-scale business evaluations, privatisations, mergers and structural reform projects in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Caribbean.

Both in the private sector, as well as in the UN, my roles had one goal: make these organisations more efficient and their contributions sustainable towards a better, fairer and safer world for all of us. 

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Passion, commitment and vision for the future, along with the capacity to spread this vision and have others adhere to it.

Great leaders work incredibly hard to breed success. They are innovative, ambitious and they believe in themselves and what they do, as well as in the unlimited potential of others to achieve.

Without ambition, you cannot expect to make a difference in the world and to be a great leader, you must have the skill to inspire others to be driven in the same way and achieve the same goals.

Ideas are also the fuel that powers every business and initiative, and by inspiring others to work together to achieve mutual goals, success will come.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

To date, there have been a number of barriers to making data accessible. The first obstacle may be an intrinsic part of human nature: the fear of the unknown, fear of what is new, fear of change, fear of becoming vulnerable once knowledge is exposed.

This ‘fear factor’ is very present in the commercial world, where competition is often fierce, but also in the political sector, where countries also fight to be competitive and to project a good image of themselves.

Surprisingly, this is also the case in research, despite the fact research’s mission is to generate knowledge and should normally mean it is disseminated. However, the lack of incentives to open data, competition for grants, and yes, sometimes for celebrity irrationally (experience demonstrates that open science increases visibility and exposure, and does not impede it) limits research data dissemination.

Finally, while there is a need for the private sector to recoup its research investment before making its fruits available to all, there is still a tendency for many to hold on to acquired science way beyond this financial need in the hope of maintaining control over their sector of activity.

Yet again, experience also shows that, especially in the pre-competitive space, private sector companies also gain when working together on the open arena. This was recently quoted by important banks such as Rabobank, pointing to the stimulation of the economy – and hence business – that private sector data tends to trigger. 

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to productivity and success. I always try to ensure I get exercise throughout the week to alleviate stress and to unwind. Spending as much time as possible with my family is my favourite way to relax after a busy week.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a world citizen. I was fortunate to be exposed to the reality of other nations at a very early age, thanks to my parents who also shared this interest. I wanted work that would allow me to travel to these sometimes faraway places to help; and then to bring back to Canada the best of what I would see in these countries, and to also grow my own.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I hate inefficiency, whether in the workplace or beyond. In the workplace, though, I have focused on this issue for a long time (my initial background was in industrial psychology). I have found that internal inefficiency typically comes from either of these possible causes:

  • The goals set are unrealistic (poor listening/analysis of the environment)
  • The tools required to achieve are not available
  • The instructions are unclear/insufficient
  • The non-performing individual(s) have issues (sometimes personal, may not find satisfaction from the work they are assigned to, may feel their work does not allow them to grow, to use their full capacity/potential). 

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

GODAN continues to proactively look for new methods to encourage and promote the sharing of open data on a global basis. Innovation is key to this and we are shifting our focus to ways in which the agricultural and farming landscapes can be changed for the better. Granted, this is not something that will be achieved overnight, but GODAN has earmarked 2019 as a crucial year for making great strides forward as we look to end world hunger by 2030.

Over the next five years, GODAN will be involved in a number of programmes and initiatives, such as Horizon2020, Erkonos, eDial and others. These are designed to maximise food production potential while safeguarding the environment, reducing the technological gap between advanced industrial farming and local traditional farming, and improving the quality of life of the millions of small farmers worldwide. For this purpose we will pursue numerous capacity-building activities worldwide, using open data and open source tools, expand their availability, and attend key events and summits where we will be showcasing successful initiatives that do make a difference through the use of open data. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Follow your passion and make it as contagious as possible. Get your team to seek the extra mile that makes the difference between ‘good’ and excellence.

The key is to make sure your work and that of your colleagues' is as productive and as fulfilling as can be. Never give up.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

I feel I would have probably saved a lot of time if I understood earlier the intrinsic politics, social beliefs and environmental constraints on what would otherwise be a very logical plan, such as those we learn in school. I wish that schools would bring in more practitioners in their ranks in order to inject some non-quantitative realities, especially in business classes.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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