Interview with Zehra Aydin-Sipos

IPMS 1999
Coordinator, 2002 United Nations World Summit on
Sustainable Development
U.N. Johannesburg Summit Secretariat


(This interview was conducted in 2002.  Currently, Ms. Zehra Aydin-Sipos is the Focal Point and UN system-wide Task Manager for Major Groups in the Division for Sustainable Development of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DSD/DESA) at the United Nations.)

Current Activities (2002)

Zehra currently occupies a key leadership position as Coordinator for the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Global Sustainability in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her chief responsibilities in this effort include ensuring that the Johannesburg Summit is an opportunity for all groups to voice their concerns regarding sustainable development. Among the groups of special concern with whom Zehra is working to this end are media associations, the educational community, and the elderly.

Most Important IPMS Lessons

Among the important lessons that Zehra took away from her IPMS experience was an appreciation for the importance of focusing on understanding the true interests of others through active listening. The emphasis placed on thorough preparation and background reading for discussions involving multiple stakeholders was also a key benefit of the program. Zehra describes IPMS as a truly unique experience in that the mutual gains approach to negotiation achieved an articulation of principles that she had always known instinctively, yet never clearly defined for herself. She found Dr. Lawrence Susskind’s lectures to be particularly well-informed, perceptive and a reliable source of new insights on dispute resolution processes.

Applying IPMS Lessons

Up until her participation in IPMS, Zehra had traditionally viewed her role in the U.N. Secretariat as one of serving national governments as an outsider with no direct involvement in negotiation processes. She indicates that taking on the role of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) and private firms during IPMS multi-party negotiation simulations changed her understanding of the U.N.’s role in these disputes. In chairing one of the IPMS simulations, Zehra assumed a role that ran contrary to the neutral, non-leadership capacity in which she had been accustomed to working as a U.N. official. Performing this role prompted her to realize that she was indeed a leader in her work, and that many of the groups with whom she was accustomed to working also looked for her to fulfill more of leadership role. Since making this discovery, she has engaged many groups much more actively, particularly NGOs.

Suggestions for Improving IPMS

To improve the IPMS experience for future participants, Zebra encourages the use of case studies to further understand how the interpersonal dynamics of disputes affect the outcome of negotiation processes. She readily admits that this information is not found easily, but expresses confidence in the experiences of IPMS faculty in this area. The faculty, according to Zehra, should continue to help IPMS participants raise their awareness of the influence of such dynamics. She also encourages the allocation of more time during the programme to simulations, citing that the area in which participants have the greatest training need is to understand negotiation as a process.

Suggestions for Other SCF Activities

Zehra recommends that IPMS organizers consider the possibility of implementing similar programs at the national level. She explains that in many countries there is a lack of inter-institutional coordination characteristic at this level of government. A program such as the one offered by IPMS, with its emphasis on role-playing and multi-party negotiation gaming, can do much to improve the processes in which governmental agencies coordinate their efforts. Such a national level program, according to Zehra, could lead stakeholders to understand that coordination at the national level is not as threatening to individual agency interests as many believe. She also suggests that a regional level IPMS-type program could serve as a hub for service to a variety of countries. To illustrate her point, she refers to the gains that have been made in intra-governmental processes as a result of linking up with national level training programs for G-77 countries.

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