Director's cut with FCDO's David Whineray

Directors do some of the most interesting and challenging work in the civil service. Here, David Whineray, director of global health at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, explains what it takes to do his job

The World Health Organization building. Source: Adobe Stock

By Civil Service World

01 Aug 2023



What does your job involve?

I lead a brilliant team of around 100 people in FCDO’s global health directorate. We’re responsible for global health security, diplomacy and development – everything from negotiating a global pandemic agreement, reforming the World Health Organization and addressing the impacts of climate change on health, to championing sexual and reproductive rights, healthcare in Ukraine, tackling antimicrobial resistance and supporting UK science and technology. 

We also oversee approximately £1bn in UK aid programmes to help strengthen countries’ health systems; support work on clean water, vaccinations, AIDS, malaria, TB and malnutrition; and help end preventable deaths of mothers, babies and children.

To do your job well you need…

A great team – and passion for the cause. You also need to be able to work with the US, EU, other allies and global health organisations and funds, such as the Gates Foundation and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Multilateral skills are important to work the G7, G20, WHO and UN angles. You also need to make sure UK global health programmes are effective. And work as One Team across Whitehall.

First job in government?  

Working in the international and organised crime directorate in the Home Office.

Proudest achievement to date?

On policy, when I worked for the UK Mission to the UN we negotiated a Security Council resolution – despite Chinese and Russian reluctance – deploying the world’s largest peacekeeping force in Darfur. On the corporate side, when I was FCO deputy human resources director we secured HMT’s agreement – despite a pay freeze – to a 10% pay rise for some underpaid FCO staff. People thought both weren’t possible.

Most bizarre thing that’s happened to you at work?

A senior civil servant years ago advising me not to tell people I’m dyslexic because it could damage my job prospects.

If you weren’t a civil servant you’d be...  

Looking for a job.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?

Not to spend your whole career in one department but work across Whitehall – and to gain experience in the private sector too. That was from a permanent secretary.

If you could wave a magic wand over the civil service, what would you change?

Pay. So civil servants aren’t paid less each year in real terms.

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