I remember Kofi Annan saying ‘did he say a million or a billion’? So we said ‘no sir he said a billion with a B!’
Recently, the Difference Makers Podcast spoke with Amir Dossal a Chartered Accountant and 25-year veteran of the United Nations.
Amir is founder and president of Global Partnerships Forum, an international platform to address economic and social challenges, through innovative partnerships. He is also vice-chair at the Blockchain Commission, a champion for the UN Safe Ground Campaign, and a distinguished fellow in healthcare with the World Economic Forum.
Despite his glittering career, Amir came from a humble background. When asked how he became interested in becoming a Chartered Accountant, he credits his parents with putting him on that path. “My mother used to run a convenience store, a grocery store. And I used to help her with buying supplies, buying the goods, going to the wholesale market, and then actually helped her calculate profits on income, sales and so on” he says as he recalls his childhood. “And then my mom and dad realised whoa, this guy can add, subtract, so why don’t you go into finance? My father had grown up in Sheffield. So he was keen that I studied there; the best education system. So I said, okay.”
Living in London he was keen to qualify and start moving up in the world. “Admittedly, I was focused on the day I qualify is the day I’ll get rich” he says. However, once he began his career, Amir found that his perspective quickly began to broaden. “I felt at some point in time, I’d love to do something … where I can do well and do good in the process.”
Working as a financial controller for a civil engineering company in London showed Amir that he could put his professional skills to work “helping people improve their quality of life…. if you’re building bridges, low cost, housing, city centres, and so on”.
Ten years into his career Amir set his sights on the UN, prepared to accept the changes in salary and lifestyle. Amir got his chance to interview for a position in 1985, an operational manager for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He has never looked back. “I was quite happy to say okay, I’ll take a step back and learn something new, a new direction, and hopefully there’s an opportunity to see something different.”
Five years later, Amir moved into the UN’s programme work overseas. He started as the UN’s deputy representative in the Caribbean region and continued with another five years in its peacekeeping operations.
He arrived in the position at time of tremendous upheaval internationally. Amir recalls the period saying: “…and if you might recall, the crash of Sarajevo, Rwanda genocide, all of those things, those were sorry situations the world was watching and seeing unfold in front of their eyes. You sat there watching CNN and saying, ‘Oh, my God, these countries are crumbling.’ And it was 1997, actually, when Ted Turner came on the scene, and he committed $1 billion to the United Nations.”
Amir was tasked with delivering the news of the billion dollar donation to Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN at the time. “I remember Kofi Annan saying ‘did he say a million or a billion’? So we said ‘no sir he said a billion with a B!’” he recalls with a laugh.
Amir credits this one act with reshaping development aid and the fight against poverty. “That actually changed the way the UN operated” he exclaims. “With Ted Turner’s funds we were able to leverage others, other foundations, other donors, other companies saying ‘You’re doing well. And by the way, we are doing good. Why don’t we partner together?’”
In 2005, the MDGs, the millennium development goals were adopted by the UN. “And we struggled with it” admits Amir. “We didn’t make much progress … [and] it became clear that we needed a new set of goals, which was developed in consultations with all the governments but also civil society, also the private sector.” These goals became what we know today as the UN SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals.
Reflecting his training as an accountant, Amir stresses the importance of being able to apply and measure progress when it comes to achieving the UN SDGs: “It was an excellent way for companies and NGOs, nonprofits Foundation, to come together and say this is what we need” says Amir. “In my country. We have a gap in our education structure. We have a gap in providing clean water safe drinking water. We don’t have very good health system. So we must focus on these and put targets and set up KPIs.”
After Amir left the United Nations, his foundation was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and his passion for the fight against global poverty continues today. “I’m very, very grateful that I get the opportunity to learn about what so many people are doing” he says as he reflects on the work to meet the UN SDG targets. “You learn about innovation; you learn about entrepreneurship. You feel oh, there’s hope there’s hope for humanity that there are millions of people out there wanting to do things.”
The world needs leaders with vision, capability, and compassion. Some of those leaders, like Amir Dossal, are Chartered Accountants, using the skills they have learned in the profession to create a better world.