As part of Engineering New Zealand’s ‘Lessons Learned’ series, I gave a webinar on my experiences managing transport projects in developing countries for the World Bank. Now retired, I was able to be a bit more candid than when I was still an employee.
Quick Overview of the World Bank Group
Experiences from selected projects
Can’t control the locals
Consultants: missionaries, mercenaries and misfits
Social impacts aren’t always what you expect
Buried treasures and dangers
A few solutions
The webinar can be viewed on Youtube here. The presentation itself can be downloaded here.
April 8, 2021 marked the end of my career at the World Bank when I took early retirement due to ill health. I received a traumatic brain injury after crashing out of the 2018 Tour Aotearoa which made it impossible to handle the demands of the World Bank.
A time for reflection on 17+ years which I would summarize as:
It was a blast
I had the best job in the world
This is going to be a lengthy blog post which when I’m older, and even more dottier, I can remind myself of when I had the job of my dreams, travelled to amazing places, and worked with some of the nicest and most talented people I’ve ever met. This, Part 1, is about the job and some of my experiences through a series of the ‘three most memorable …’ Part 2 is about the people. Of course there is some overlap. And, as you can see from the action photo taken below in Kiribati, it wasn’t all work!
What is the most important thing in the world? According to the Maori proverb the answer is: He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata. It is the people, the people, the people.
As Part 1 of my ‘Farewell to the World Bank’ discusses, during my 17+ years at the World Bank I worked on a wide range of projects in a variety of countries. What connected all of this work were the incredible people I worked with. Staffed by consummate professionals with an unrivalled depth and breadth of technical skills, the World Bank is a unique organization which is personally and professionally incredibly rewarding. I can never express my thanks enough to the people I worked with—I learned so much from each of you.
My manager Motoo Konishi used to rate us on five metrics: our delivery of new projects, management of existing projects, support to the global transport practice in the Bank, external activities (e.g. participating with the Transportation Research Board), and mentoring of other—especially junior—staff. The latter were particularly important and he said that irrespective of how well we did with our technical work, if we did not mentor our colleagues—in the same way we were mentored by others—we had failed. It was an important and valued reminder of the importance of people in our careers.
This is an attempt to remember some of you—and apologies for anyone I missed as the list was incredibly long! Thanks for the journey… Read the rest of this entry »
In March 2020 we had a reunion in Auckland of my old team who worked with me during the first 35 years of my career. It was a real blessing and honour for everyone to be together again and lots of lost memories were shared. It was suggested that I should document the history of ROMDAS over its inception until I joined the World Bank in 2003. So this is my attempt at telling the story of a small but very talented team who developed a great solution to collecting and managing data on roads, at the same time indulging our inquisitive natures and having fun. I used the Covid-19 lockdown for a walk down memory lane—warning: it’s a long post!
Nabin Pradhan, Paul Hunter, Chris Bennett and Zuwei Deng
Shortly after I joined the World Bank in 2003, I became part of a team working on road safety. It has been one of the highlights of my time at the Bank to have been able to address road safety, both on my projects and through supporting the Bank’s broader road safety agenda. Recently, I have helped lead the effort to prepare the guidance for how the Bank will expand and deepen its road safety efforts as we adopt road safety as a ‘safeguard’. This elevates road safety to be equivalent to other key development issues, such as environmental and social issues. This is a very long post which tries to summarize about a year’s worth of work by myself and the team!
Output and performance based road contracts (OPRC) is a contracting modality that is increasingly being used to help manage roads. Unlike traditional contracts, where the owners define what is to be done, and oftentimes how to do it, OPRC contracts define the outcome that the owners want to achieve, and the contractor is responsible to meet those outcomes. Performance is measured against a series of key performance indicators (KPIs) or service levels.
I was reflecting on the saying that “ignorance is bliss” as our plane was landing in Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific. We had been advised that portions of the recent runway resealing was failing in a number of locations, but it was the video below—showing the runway ‘floating’ under the weight of someone walking on it—that was particularly disconcerting. Runways are supposed to be solid!
Tuvalu has regularly been called the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change. The country is comprised of three reef islands and six coral atolls. With the maximum elevation of 3-4 m, and sea level rise of some 5 mm/year, it is already at a risk of a range of climate change challenges. Now we have a new one: runway failure from beneath caused by what appears to be a combination of very high (‘king’) tides and increased rainfall.
Few things are more depressing than seeing the damage caused by cyclones on transport infrastructure. Especially when it is a causeway that was only formally opened less than one month before the storm. That is what I found in early 2014 when participating in the Tonga Cyclone Ian Post Disaster Needs Assessment. The cyclone was a typical example of the heavy toll that climate change is taking on transport infrastructure, particularly in the most vulnerable countries. Engineers are taught that water is the greatest enemy of transport infrastructure, and unfortunately climate change is leading to an increase in floods and storms, especially within the South-East Asia region.
For example, the figure below shows the number of floods and storms for some Asian countries between 2000 and 2008. The significant increase in the number of floods is self-evident.
Number of flood and storm events in select South-East Asian countries in 2000 vs. 2008
In 2010 I visited Kiribati to start the work preparing what was in 2011 to become the ‘Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project’. As I recounted in my original post, the road was completely failed and was in need of major work. In late 2014 the World Bank did a short story on the project, and now that the road is completed, they have produced an excellent video. I’m grateful to have played a small role in helping to improve the quality of infrastructure in Kiribati. This is what development is all about.
Air New Zealand as always excelled themselves. It is by far the best airline in the world. I was travelling from Washington D.C. to Fiji via San Francisco and Auckland. While in San Francisco I learned that my wife’s sister had died in Australia which meant that Fiji was off and I made arrangements for me to travel to Sydney instead. The problem was my bag which was checked in for Fiji. Air New Zealand arranged for it to be retagged manually to Auckland; and in Auckland they again retagged it for Sydney. With so many opportunities for error I was not optimistic that my bag would make it. But as soon as I turned on my phone I got the message below that my bag was in Sydney. How? TrakDot.
TrakDot (www.trakdot.com) is a small device which runs off 2 x AA batteries. You put it in your bag and when it is in the vicinity of an airport it sends a message via e-mail and/or SMS to a list of contacts you provide. I have my wife on the list so she knows that my bag has arrived—and so in theory so has the husband. For only some $60 and a small annual fee, it is great for peace of mind. More than once I’ve arrived somewhere and got the message my bag was elsewhere and so I didn’t waste time needlessly hanging around the baggage claim area. One time our local airport rang to say my bag was there but my wife said I was on the way already since I knew the bag had arrived. She was surprised—and impressed.
So if you are a frequent traveller get a TrakDot—you won’t regret it. And also fly Air New Zealand whenever you can!