Considering Social Impacts of Investments

December 22, 2013

The World Bank has what we call ‘Safeguard’ policies which call upon us to minimize and mitigate the negative environmental and social aspects of our projects. When working with the government designing the Tuvalu Aviation Investment Project we had an issue with building a fence around Funafuti runway. There is a serious problem with dogs on the runway endangering aircraft so ideally we should put a fence around the runway. However, this is the only large open area on the island and is a centre of recreation. In the end we decided that the negative impact of a fence from a social point of view was too great and are working with the government to have other mechanisms to control dogs. 

I was interviewed on this issue by a Dutch team who were there doing a documentary on football—two Tuvaluan players are in Holland. They sent me through the video below which shows the challenges we face really well. Note the dog running across the screen as the plane lands!

The Meaning of Life According to Bill Watterson

August 28, 2013

Calvin and Hobbes is a cartoon strip which is the greatest comic strip of all time. Like man of its aficionados, I was saddened when it’s author Bill Watterson retired. I have the full collection and have read and re-read them many times. And continue to do so today.  I am really looking forward to the upcoming documentary ‘Dear Mr. Watterson’. Check out the trailer below.


Bill gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College which, as would be expected, is very profound. From this, the author of Zen Pencils has created the excellent cartoon below. Words of wisdom we should all reflect on. I know that I for one have been truly blessed with my career. While working at the World Bank is really challenging, it offers me the personal and professional opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives in ways that few other jobs could. Very rewarding and fulfilling—and one which allows me to live my values. The best job in the world, except for the extended periods I’m away from my wife Lis. Even the best job can have a high price …

World According to Watterson

Health in the Pacific Island Countries

April 6, 2013

Most people think of the South Pacific as a land of sunshine, beaches and palm trees … which it is. But there is a much darker side to South Pacific: disease.  The countries are suffering from an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The attached chart came across my desk the other day and it paints a very distressing picture. Compared to other lower middle income countries, we are significantly higher for NCDs with both women and men. 

The accompanying report noted that “Each of the 10 countries in the Pacific for which data is available have 60% or more of the adult population overweight, and in six countries more than 75% are overweight. In four countries in the Pacific at least half of the adult population is obese”.  Some 70% of all deaths are NCDs, and life expectancy is falling. Given the precarious nature of the government finances in the Pacific, this is a disaster and a real development challenge. Much harder than building infrastructure!



Working in Obscure Places

April 2, 2013

You know that your job takes you to out of the way countries when your current work places represent 20% of the list of the ‘25 Least Visited Countries in the World’.  These are (in descending order) #19 Tonga; #18 Timor Leste; #11 Solomon Islands; #4 Kiribati and #3 Tuvalu. Quite the contrast to a few years ago when I worked in China (the third most visited country).

The author also has an interesting perspective on Tuvalu. Quite fascinating to see how things that look so normal to me are noteworthy to a first time visitor. He forgot to mention that it is probably one of the only countries in the world with absolutely no credit card facilities. If you forget your cash you’ve got problems…

The Joys of Cancelled Flights

March 19, 2013

I was sitting in the Air Canada lounge at Toronto airport chatting with a passenger about the joys of being an incessant traveller. One thing that we can count on is having flights cancelled. Considering the frequency that I travel this happens not as often as one would think. But it does nonetheless happen. She asked me for some of my experiences and half way through she said that I should write them down. Good suggestion … so here we are.

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Virgin America Airlines: Customer Service Still Exists!

October 10, 2012

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a somewhat frequent traveller – typically over 150 days a year of business travel. One thing you learn is to roll with the punches and to expect bad things to happen—like losing your luggage. My worst experiences were with Air Canada, who wanted me to come to Beijing airport to collect my bag when it finally arrived, even though I was about 1500 km away in outback China, or United who lost my bag for 10 days between Los Angeles and Washington D.C. I wrote up that experience here, and shared the great music video ‘United Breaks Guitars’ about someone else’s less than satisfactory experience with United.

Recently, I had my first trip ever with Virgin America from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and, unfortunately, they left one of my two bags in San Francisco. However, they largely turned the situation around by providing what is now a totally abstract concept with most airlines: customer service. So much so, that in the future I will do what I can to fly them. How did they turn a bad situation around? It was actually quite easy:

  • When I exited the flight there was a fellow with a sign with my name on it. He said my bag had not been loaded in San Francisco and they did not want me waiting at the baggage carousel for it when they knew it would not arrive. I was told to talk to a customer service agent at the carousel.
  • At the carousel the woman said – you must be Mr. Bennett. She had a form ready to fill out and for me to sign.
  • The next morning at 10:00 when I got up (I arrived at midnight) my bag was at the place I was staying.

Talk about minimizing inconvenience to a passenger! If United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Qantas and other airlines who have left me waiting for the carousel to stop turning and the lights to go out to realize my bags would not be arriving would adopt practices like this they would get customer loyalty. Well done Virgin America.

Solid Waste: A Problem in the Pacific Islands

March 23, 2012

I went for a run in Funafuti. Being a narrow atoll, you have two options upon leaving the hotel: turn left or turn right.  I had decided to do a long run so it was to the left. Eight kilometres later and the road ended; that is the length of the island (the red line in the satellite image below). Had I turned to the right it ends just over three kilometres.  So just imageenough to do a half marathon by running to both ends of the island.

One really gets a sense of perspective on just how small Funafuti atoll is when you are standing on the one road and the island is less than 40 metres wide. But besides reflecting on how small the place was, what my really brought home was the problem with garbage. Never before have I seen so much in such a small area.

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