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…
East Asia Transport Unit: Graduate School on Steroids
In October 2003 I started with the ‘East Asia Transport Unit’, under our manager Jit Bajpai. Jit and I crossed swords many times, but he was singularly the most strategically insightful person I have ever worked with. He had assembled a very strong technical team which if memory serves me had 11 Ph.D.’s out of his 12+ staff in Washington. Hence calling it graduate school on steroids.
I was part of a cohort hired by Jit which included Bahir El-Hifnawi, John Scales, Simon Ellis, and Shomik Mehndiratta. We were later joined by Aurelio Menendez. With Bill Paterson, Hatim Hajj, Jerry Lebo, and others, it was a deep pool of talent which was very intellectually simulating and rewarding to work with. It says a lot about Jit’s eye for talent that many of his team ended up taking senior management or technical leadership roles in the Bank.
As mentioned in Part One, Jit assigned Sally Burningham to be my mentor. He probably didn’t know that one of the first things she told me (and I’m sure Sally will deny it!) was “Don’t worry about budget. There is always money floating around somewhere and you get into more trouble by keeping to budget and doing a poor job, than going over budget and doing a good job.” This put me in good stead moving forward (although not all managers appreciated it!). I worked with Sally in Cambodia and she introduced me to the importance of considering the broader transport agenda, including the importance of combatting HIV/AIDS which was spreading rapidly in many of our client countries as we improved roads which were a vector for transmission. Here is Sally being sceptical about something during a mission in Cambodia …
I also worked with Hatim Hajj and Jerry Lebo in Indonesia. Hatim was an incredibly hard worker and managed to churn out what seemed to be one major transport project a year. He was also a man of detail: I recall Jerry telling me the story how Hatim didn’t trust that a contractor had enough bitumen for a project so went to the port and looked into the hold of the ship! Hatim was also the one who warned me against the ‘Special Finish Massages’ at our hotel in Jarkarta. It was not Finnish as in the country …
What can I say about Jerry except that he was the most fun person I have ever worked with. It was always entertaining to be with Jerry on mission as he not only regaled us with stories but one never know what might happen. He is the only staffer I know of who was offered a local girlfriend by a client. After all, Jerry was away from his family a lot and they were just trying to be hospitable … Jerry gave them the VERY CLEAR message that this wasn’t on!
Genie Jensen was a very special friend who provided me guidance and support throughout my career at the Bank. I consider her my ‘Big Sister’ who with her son Erik really became my Washington based family. She was unfortunately widowed early in my career when her husband Preben (Danish like my wife) died. He had taught me procurement and his passing was a great loss not only to his family, but the Bank. The Bank provided a bus for the staff to attend his funeral which was a testament to his impact. It was a privilege to watch Erik grow into an amazing man, and also follow in his parents footsteps as a transportation professional. Below is Geni (at my right next to Bill Paterson) at Bill’s retirement party in 2007.
At the time of my joining we had a young administrative assistant Chris De Serio who I first met in Laos when I went for an early morning swim at our hotel. He was supported by Jit to go to graduate school and eventually became one of the first administrative assistants to break the glass ceiling and transition to the professional stream. I was fortunate to work closely with Chris for a number of years—particularly as he helped lead the ‘Pacific Aviation Investment Project’. The photo below is from a 2016 planning session for the project at my home in New Zealand. Chris is on my left, then Agnieszka Grudzinska. Across from Chris is Darin Cusack and then Ollie Whalley. Chris has become a great asset to the Bank and is now working in Africa.
I am fortunate that I joined the Bank when I did, and that I was part of this incredible team that Jit assembled. It provided me with a foundation second to none with regard to navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by the Bank. I learned so much from my colleagues, many of whom have become life long friends—albeit as is the practice of the World Bank, friends distributed to the far corners of the world.
As mentioned in Part One, early on I was assigned to work in China under Michel Bellier, and ultimately took over his projects in Hubei. Later, I took over Yushiro Kawabata’s projects in Jiangxi. Michel had assembled a great team so I was spoiled. We had (below left-to-right) Anil Somani (environmental specialist), Jean-Marie Braun (highway engineer extraordinaire), and Zhefu Lui (very dedicated social specialist). This is the four of us 15+ years ago inspecting the Xiaoxiang Expressway in Hubei.
Anil was nearing the end of his time as Bank staff, but stayed on with me as a consultant afterwards. He became a valued friend who supported me throughout my career at the Bank. His depth of understanding and commitment to ensuring our projects did their best to mitigate negative potential environmental effects left a profound impact on me, and his mentoring laid the foundation for my eventually becoming the transport sector’s first ‘Advisor’ for addressing environmental and social impacts on projects. I can never repay Anil for all he has done for me personally and professionally. One time another Task Team Leader (TTL) burst into my office exclaiming “How can you have so many days for Anil Somani? I can’t stand working with him!” This was a not uncommon refrain as if there was a problem, Anil would find it—and expect you as TTL to deal with it. The side benefit of this was that when our management saw Anil’s name on your team they knew things would be done properly. So if Anil had time, he always had a place at my table.
Jean-Marie taught me a lot about expressways and proper design principles. He drilled into me the importance of alignment selection. I recall the time in Jiangxi we had them move the expressway to the other side of a river and put in a tunnel. The client was not happy but once built they thanked Jean-Marie for his advice because it was such a better alignment. Whenever Bank staff asked for advice on a good highway engineer I recommended Jean-Marie and their feedback was always positive. Jean-Marie was given a special award by the Government of Hubei for his contribution towards their development. Well deserved.
Zhefu was another star who I inherited from Michel. He was very committed to maximising the opportunities to help people impacted by the project. One of his innovations was to try and recreate land for resettlement. When building an expressway there is a lot of ‘spoil’ materials from tunnelling etc. Zhefu got the idea of saving top soil and then using the spoils to fill up ravines. The top soil was then placed on top and could be reused for farming. On our Hubei Yiba Highway Project some 70% of the land taken for the expressway was returned to farmers this way. I’ve done a detailed post on this amazing $US 2.2 billion project, which the Government gave me an award for. But it really was the team, not me.
We were later joined by Fei Deng who was a ‘Young Professional’—a Bank program where 10,000 apply every year and 60 or so get hired. So yes, she was incredibly talented. I met her at training and when I heard she was thinking of Africa for her final rotation I convinced her to come to East Asia instead. From the onset I said to her that one day she would be my boss. Although she always said ‘No way’, had I not gone on sick leave this would have de facto happened as she is now helping run the program in Sydney! Fei took over from me as TTL in China and did an amazing job, especially with our road safety work. Here is Fei and I in 2006 up Wudanshan mountain.
Chen Wenling was an excellent engineer who we hired as a ‘Junior Professional Associate’ (JPA). One time we had a major non-compliance issue with tunnel construction polluting the water supply of a village. The contractor wanted 6 months to fix; with Wenling’s help she got it done in a matter of weeks. A really strong engineer, Wenling now works for the Virginia Department of Transportation and they are lucky to have her. Below is Wenling with Mr. Chen and Fei on the Shiman Highway inspection in 2006.
Emily Dubin was another JPA who holds the record of asking me the most questions in a job interview. Margarita Nunes and I were interviewing her for the JPA position and it went very well. As we always did, we said ‘do you have any questions for us’, and did she ever! As I later learned, Emily was very organized and thoughtful so came well prepared. Among Emily’s great work was helping the Yiba project develop an SMS based reporting tool for monitoring safeguards compliance. However, her most lasting impact was leading the work where we developed a toolkit for addressing HIV/AIDS on transport projects. There had been an ad hoc approach but this gave a very thorough framework. A decade later we were still recommending its use on our projects. Like me, Emily was a geography geek, and into technology. Even today when I see something on maps I’ll often send it to her. Here she is with Myself, Jean-Marie and Fei doing a highway inspection.
The most unusual recruitment of a JPA was Mariana Torres. I was at a public meeting chatting with Ke Fang when I noticed this young woman watching me. After we finished she approached me and said “I believe you are Chris Bennett. I am Mariana Torres”. When I asked how I could help she said that she wanted to work for me as a JPA! I was not looking for anyone but invited her to my office. Having just graduated from University she had no CV so I asked her why I should hire her. Besides speaking Chinese, she had studied all of my projects and told me how she could help me. I was so impressed that I said to her if Jit Bajpai agrees, I would hire her. Her drive was more than matched by her talent and within six months my friend Shomik had effectively taken her from me and kept her fully occupied. I have a fond memory of running in the early morning at Ganzhou, Jiangxi with Mariana through the fog, exploring the old city walls and crossing the boat bridge. Here is Mariana in 2014 when we met at the Bank. Sam Zimmerman our public transport specialist is on Mariana’s left.
Europe and Central Asia
When I transferred to Europe and Central Asia (ECA) to work in the Caucasuses (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) I inherited a great team that Olivier Le Bar had assembled. The photo below is us at a team dinner hosted by Olivier in an old caravanserai in Baku. From left to right along the table was David Silcock, Tamara Sulukhia, Mohammed Dalil Essakali, Dick, Gibet Camos, and myself.
David was a road safety specialist who I had first met while working in China. It was great to have him join our team as a consultant and he really helped us make the most of the road safety opportunities on our project.
Tamara was from Georgia and had been the Minister of Transport at one point. She told me lots of stories about Georgian history and the challenges of her small country, insights which many of us who are not based in country offices seldom have time to learn. She went onto to higher roles in the Bank and last time we were in touch she was leading our work in Turkey.
Mohammed was an excellent urban transport engineer who at the time was trying to get an urban transport project started in Armenia, and also Baku. While neither eventuated he did some really innovative work and he helped to round out my understanding of urban transport which I had started when leading the Taiyuan Urban Transport project in China. Like Tamara, he went on to higher roles in the Bank. It was great to interact with him some years later when he was tasked with helping address gender based violence issues in transport sector, and our work in the Pacific was helping provide a solution.
Gibet was a JPA hired by Olivier who had an incredible talent for languages. She spoke multiple languages and during her two years with us also learned Russian. I never got far beyond counting and being able to ask for a menu! From Catalonia, she had a different take on Spanish history than some of my Spanish colleagues. When I cycled through Catalonia I was able to understand what all the yellow ‘independence’ ribbons were all about. Like so many others, Gibet was an outstanding engineer and is now working for the Inter American Development Bank in Latin America. I had the pleasure of a whirlwind visit from her and some friends in New Zealand. Below is a photo of her on the team doing the reconnaissance for our Armenia road project. Yes, it was cold.
For the Armenia project Satoshi Ishihara was my co-Task Team Leader (TTL). From Okinawa Japan, he was most definitely not used to the sub-zero temperatures of January in Armenia! A social specialist, he had one of the most unique back stories before the Bank. He had been a semi-professional martial artist, and worked in the slums of Kenya doing social development work. Satoshi is a coffee connoisseur, and while I had bicycles stationed in every place that I worked, he had coffee machines. I think his ultimate job would be to have a boutique coffee cafe somewhere. Satoshi brought a great balance to our strong engineering team and was a key factor in making the Armenia project as successful as it was. He did a lot of heavy lifting for the team—especially on field visits. One time he was very late returning and I became concerned. When I called him on his phone to ask how it was going he said “Not well… we have just started on the third bottle of vodka for lunch”. Better him than me!
Elena Chesheva and I worked in Georgia. From Russia originally, it was invaluable having someone who spoke Russian which—for the older generation—was the second language for Georgians. The younger people were opting for English which Tamara advised was a mistake. Russia will always have a huge influence on Georgia. Elena shared with me may aspects of Russian history and literature, and we enjoyed a lot of travels around Georgia including travelling up the Russian Military Road to the border, where the photo below was taken. I recall a visit to the Sunday market in Tbilisi where she told me about the poverty faced by the elderly in the post-Soviet era—many were trying to sell anything they could find just to get by. Elena bought a very beautiful painting that day. Later, Elena joined me working on road safety and then in the Pacific to work on the Solomon Islands before being promoted to a position in Jakarata. It was a delight to host her in New Zealand when she visited as part of the road safety work. She particularly appreciated Wellington and I hope to have her here again one day.
Jiang Ningbo joined our team in Baku as a highway engineer. I had first met him in China when he was working as an engineer for Atkins. Really talented I thought he’d be a real asset for the Bank as he had both the technical skills and the right ‘values’. When the position opened in Baku he secured the position and did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, the Bank’s management were not willing to convert it to a permanent position but were willing to have him continue as a consultant. I didn’t agree with this as he deserved better so I contacted a colleague at the Asian Development Bank to see if they had something more worthy of Jiangbo’s talents. They did and he’s now one of their leaders in the transport sector. Our loss.
It was also in Baku that I met Jesus Renzoli for the first time. He had quite the back story as a former Colonel in the Cuban Army and First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in the Soviet Union who defected. . He had the most fascinating stories of the cold war era and I could listen to him for hours. He was the Lead Procurement Specialist and was of great help. Later he joined us in the Pacific as a consultant helping our clients.
I worked with Jen Oh and Svetlana Vucanovic on some technical papers. Svetlana was from the local Belgrade office and was a specialist in ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’, which we were trying to introduce onto more of our projects. I learned a lot from her. In 2015 I was doing a bicycle race from Brussels to Istanbul and since I was undertrained I rode from Istanbul to Brussels as a warm up. I was passing through the south of Serbia and Svetlana invited me to stay with her in Belgrade. “It’s 80 km off my route I responded”. To which in a very Svetlana way she said “What is 80 km to an Ironman? I am expecting you for dinner tonight”. One doesn’t argue with Svetlana and so I had a delightful evening with her, meeting her parents and young son. As Svetlana knows, it was a meeting that was supposed to happen and I look forward to visiting her in Belgrade again one day.
After Serbia, when I arrived in Brussels I stayed a few days with Simon Ellis who I worked with in Vietnam and elsewhere. It was great to spend the time with Simon and enjoy his hospitality, including riding with me towards the start line for my race back to Istanbul. Hope to return the favour some time! Simon and I had first met before I joined the Bank when he was at the Transport Research Laboratory. It’s a sign of the small circles that we move in as I had worked with his father. Simon was also a cyclists and I fondly recall some of our adventures. We celebrated his 50th birthday with a winter’s bicycle ride, and him and I ran my first (and last) 5 km race with Jerry Lebo. Since I was an endurance athlete Simon was usually a faster runner than me, and Jerry called him ‘rabbit boy’, but in that race I ran extra hard and beat him, in part because I followed Jerry’s (very Jerry) advice: “run until you want to throw up and then run harder”. It worked but NEVER again will I run 5 km. Give me a marathon any day! Below is a photo of the three amigos … after I had figured out how to breathe again! Jerry is on the left then Simon.
Olivier Le Bar always had a pipeline of young engineers. Alejandro Lopez and Roman Pison were two of these. I remember interviewing Roman in Paris. He was working as an engineer in Dieppe and was such a steady, confident and talented person that I thought he would do well at the Bank. That he did. He went on to work in East Asia and a few years ago left the Bank to join a start up on innovative transport solutions. He will go far in life with his abilities and commitment to hard work.
When I transferred to the Pacific in 2010 I based myself in Sydney for the first year. Two of the first people I worked with were Cris Nunes and Miriam Watana from the procurement team. Miriam supported our Kiribati road (and other projects). She became a friend and it was great to have her and her daughter visit us in Golden Bay.
Cris deserves a special mention. He had the challenge of helping us with our innovative ‘Pacific Aviation Investment Project’ where we had a regional project management team supporting multiple countries. He helped lay the foundation work for what was to be an incredibly successful and transformational project. Cris also made a lot of work for me as he was an ideas and solutions person (just my type!). When the Bank was introducing its new STEP automated procurement management system he suggested we pilot it on our aviation project—sure, why not (hindsight: it was a lot of work, that is why not!). Why don’t we try implementing the principles of ‘Open Procurement’ on the project. Great idea! But his ultimate (and hardest) idea was to have a geographic based system wherein we would monitor the status and progress of the procurements. It was very rewarding working with Cris and he led to a lot of innovations on our projects.
My first manager there was Charles Feinstein who was a very steady old Bank hand. I was often given very challenging things to do—typically 6-8 months to prepare a project in a new country. Chas was really pragmatic about it, and said to me once: “There is never enough information for you to make the right decision. Seven out of ten times you get it right the first time. Of the remaining three, two of them you turn around. So I never worry about your one failure.” It’s a shame that understanding was so lacking in the Bank management…
He was followed by Michel Kerf who was by far the best manager I ever came across in the Bank. He had these stellar performance ratings by staff, but rather than sitting back he would ask us how he could do things better! Michel went on to become the Country Director for the Pacific, and I’m sure is destined for greatness in the Bank. Would be great to see someone of his talent, commitment and values reach the upper echelons.
We had a really good financial management team with Stephen Hartung and David Whitehead. David was a cyclist and triathlete so we had fun comparing notes/rides etc. He had worked on projects in Papua New Guinea on the consulting side, so had good insight into things from that perspective. Stephen was a lot fun on missions and I enjoyed his company. When I found something suspicious in Tonga he dug in deep and found what I suspected: the sort of tenacious financial management person you always want on your team!
Scott Wilkinson was the first JPA that I hired in Sydney. The Pacific office was such a contrast to Olivier’s approach from the Caucasus’. He recognized that it was essential to have a pipeline of good support staff for the projects and so was on the constant look out for good people. That philosophy was non-existent when I came to the Pacific and so I copied it as with a growing program I knew we would need it. I hope it continues after my departure.
Scott’s interview was a classic. We had three people on the short list who we described as ‘Mother Earth’, ‘Rocket Scientist’ and ‘Mr Practical’. The first was a woman who was a very talented hippie; the second had come top in New South Wales academically, and the third was New Zealander Scott who had very average academics, but experience working in geology in the field. Ryan from HR said he’d never seen such extremes in a short list and asked the question ‘what are you looking for’ as we would have three different outcomes (all of them successful by the way) with whichever we hired. Since it was about projects and they would be working in PNG (very challenging), Scott got the job and he didn’t let us down. He was a great resource and help to the team.
Scott was followed by Ollie Whalley who was also from New Zealand. We met at the start of the 4,418 km Tour Divide mountain bike race along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. He won (I came in 26th about 6 days afterwards). Bicycles are important to both of us and the photo below was taken in Washington D.C. during spring training at headquarters.
I edited a book on the Tour Divide to raise funds for the college education fund of a girl whose father had died in the race. When I wrote to Ollie for an interview he asked if any jobs were going at the World Bank. At the time we were replacing Scott so Ollie applied and was short listed, so I recused myself. Ollie aced the interview and when discussing his potential hiring Sean Michaels said “do we really want two people on our small team who think it’s normal to race their bikes 4,418 km”. I said seems normal to me, but Sean pointed out I was recused! He and Jim Reichert decided to hire Ollie and it was a great decision. Ollie worked initially as a JPA and then was hired as staff. Like me, he put family first an returned to New Zealand where he telecommuted, but left the Bank when they would not allow him to continue telecommuting. The Bank’s loss. A really sound engineer he made a huge difference in the Pacific.
Sean was an American married to an Australian who had worked for the Bank but left the Bank to move to Australia. He applied for a position with us in Sydney and just aced the interview. Later I learned that he has a photographic memory so I had to be careful what I said as he would correct me! He slotted in really well to the team. An example of our team spirit came through when Sean and his wife Merissa were going through IVF. The Bank’s travel demands are not conducive to a successful IVF outcome so Jim, myself and Chris De Serio discussed it amongst ourselves and then got our manager Almud to agree that we would split Sean’s travel between we three. She told Sean that she wouldn’t approve travel for him until They had a successful IVF. So their son was really the outcome of a team effort. We had we (internally) joked that if a girl it should be called Nora Almud Michaels, or a son Jim Chris Michaels. Here is Sean and I at the ‘Little Italy’ restaurant in Tonga.
Jim was an American who was based in Sydney. He focused on PNG, Samoa and the North Pacific, while I did the rest. His wife Anita often joined Jim on missions. Before Sydney he had been stationed in Mongolia and I think found the transition from bleak snow swept vistas to the Pacific Islands a bit of shock. But soon he settled into the work program and, like many others, loved living in Sydney. I’m looking forward to visiting Jim and Anita in Colorado where they settled after he left the Bank.
Megan Schlotjes was the smartest JPA I ever hired. She had a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Auckland University and there was a certain parallel with Mariana Torres to how she was recruited. I had a meeting at Auckland University and was having lunch with my friend Theuns Henning. He extolled the virtues of one of his Ph.D. students who wanted to work for the Bank. I said we should probably meet, to which Theuns said good—she was waiting outside the restaurant! I was impressed and she joined our Sydney team, working in the Pacific Islands. She made an amazing difference. Below is Megan along with Ross our Sydney Social Specialist at our Hubei Yiba Highway Project site visit.
Nora Weisskopf holds a very special place in my heart. She is an aviation specialist and Dr. Charles Schlumberger suggested that she should look at helping out on our ‘Pacific Aviation Investment Project’. From humble beginnings she became what I would say was the most important person for that project from the Bank side, leading much of this incredibly challenging and innovative project. We transformed aviation in Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu—and without Nora we could not have done it. I was honoured to be at her wedding in Greece (to another aviation boffin!) with Dr. Charles, and it will be a memory I will always cherish. The photo below is of Nora deep in discussion with an air traffic controller in Tuvalu’s control tower.
When I was leading the Tonga Cyclone Ian Project I needed a structural engineer. Nora suggested that I meet her JPA office mate Monica Moldovan who Nora said was very talented and hard working. The three of us met and I was impressed so I asked Monica to come with me in a few weeks to work in Tonga. As she exited the room she said to Nora “what just happened?” “Welcome to the world of Chris!” was the response. Monica was an extremely thorough engineer who identified a number of issues with the housing designs and how they were being built. She went on to help us with the designs of our airport terminals, and eventually became a TTL and took over a project in Kiribati. The Bank is fortunate to have someone with her technical abilities on its permanent staff. She will make such a difference.
Maria Cordeiro was introduced to me by Shomik. Maria was working on climate change issues and with that being a key consideration for many of our projects in the Pacific, she was a great help. One of the first things we did together was an important knowledge piece on asset management for small island states. It was tough on Maria as not everyone was able to ‘check their egos at the door’ but she did a brilliant job of navigating things, producing a really valuable report. I was honoured to be asked to be her professional mentor and that helped cement a deep friendship.
As we started working more on maritime projects we needed help, and the Bank’s port specialist Reynaldo Bench joined us. He had worked on everything from boats to running ports, and so was able to straddle the full range of issues that we had in the Pacific—and there were many! It was really interesting to be involved in the maritime area for the first time.
Keelye Hanmer from New Zealand joined out project and worked mainly with Sean and Jim. I interviewed her at a cafe in Devenport Auckland after she had finished her studies and she came across as someone who was really committed to making a difference, and who would be committed to the mission of the Bank. That proved very true on both counts, and when she came to Sydney she dived into the work. In fact to the point where I became concerned that she was working too hard! Keelye is so talented that she has moved very quickly up the ranks in the Bank and is another potential future leader in the Bank.
Jim Reichert replacement was Pierre Graftieaux, a French engineer who had been working in Africa. Like Jim (and many others), Pierre and the family rather enjoyed the lifestyle in Sydney. His wife got a position teaching mathematics at the University of New South Wales which Pierre said was the best job she had ever had. Pierre and the family stayed at our cottage in Golden Bay and afterwards he said he could see why I had made the lifestyle choice over the career track at the Bank. I suggested that he do the same as his wife now has Australian citizenship!
Sam Johnson was the last of my hires for the Pacific team. Like Ollie before him, Sam is a talented engineer. He also has a very strong social conscience and had worked in places like India as a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders. I really appreciated the deep interest in social outcomes that Sam brought with him as they were also important to me. Sam was really interested in technology so I was able to use his geeky side to good effect on things like the project management portal that we developed with Cris Nunes.
So far I’ve mentioned the technical team, but we had a great support team with Fiona, Sam, Subha, Kanya, Caro, Geethi, Amin, and many others. So thanks to all of you as well!
In 2017 I sponsored a team dinner in Sydney and I’m glad we got this photo—it was rare for most of us to be together! From left to right we have Nora, Subha, Sean, Marissa, Anita, Sam, myself, Kanya, Keelye and Jim. What a great team!
My Mentors and Support Team
Asif Faiz was a valued mentor while at the Bank. He was the Bank’s Highway Advisor before retirement, and his friendship, support, advice and guidance made a huge impact on my career and our projects. He viewed projects as opportunities and helped me to introduce a range of innovations on projects from Armenia to Tonga. I’m a better person and engineer for having worked with Asif, and the things he helped introduce to the Pacific—like geocell pavements and Otta Seals—will have a lasting benefit to the countries. Below is Asif with myself outside the palace in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
Another key person for me in the Pacific was Colleen Butcher-Gollach. Collen was an ex-Bank staffer from Zimbabwe who moved to Australia and worked as a consultant on our projects. In the small world of the Bank she was also friends with Genie Jensen from Genie’s Africa days. With her deep understanding of the Pacific and a very strong urban transport background, Colleen was able to guide me towards maximising the development benefits from our project. Because she also worked with other donors like New Zealand and Australia, Colleen would often have a better ‘big picture’ view of what was going on. I benefited a lot by working with Colleen and following her advice.
Agneiszka Grudzinska was a retired Bank staffer who lived near me in Nelson. She was an expert in finance and organisational management, helping me with a number of my projects. She gave me a particularly innovative solution for Tuvalu when we were struggling how to separate the oversight of aviation from operations. Agnieszka has since moved to Golden Bay and most recently helped me conceptualize my post-retirement housing project. (www.mygbhousing.info).
As told in Part 1, my most transformational project at the Bank was the ‘Pacific Aviation Investment Project’ (PAIP). Below is our aviation team in Vanuatu in 2015. From left to right Darin Cusack, Nora Weisskopf, Chris De Serio, myself, Deviyani Dixit, Dr. Charles Schlumberger, and Loren Atkins.
Dr. Charles Schlumberger is the Bank’s Lead Aviation Specialist and, along with Nora, he taught myself and Chris De Serio all we know about aviation. Aviation is Dr. Charles’ passion, and he jokes that he is paid to do his hobby. The Bank is fortunate to have someone with Dr. Charles’ skills, as without his vision we could not have designed or implemented the project. Of course his second most important contribution was introducing me to Nora!
Darin was the Director for PAIP and I first me him when I took over the Tonga Transport Sector Consolidation Project from Demetri. There had been a procurement issue which the Bank didn’t handle well, but Darin didn’t hold it against me and he was invaluable in leading the complex beast that was PAIP. It’s nice to see Darin when I visit Christchurch.
Lasale Cocker led the project management unit for PAIP, and also became a close friend. She was half Australian and half Tongan. We joked that usually she was Australian but when she was Tongan we had to watch out! Lasale was an excellent project manager and also with her Pacific Islander background she was able to interact with clients in a way that others couldn’t. She eventually moved to Australia and I’ve been pleased to see that she is supporting DFAT and others in this space. One of the most talented project managers I had the privilege of working with, she deserves success in life.
Anne-Marie Bishop was our procurement specialist for a time and also became a friend. I last saw Annie when I was bicycle racing across Australia. Here she is marvelling at the pizza, pasta and salad I was consuming for dinner. I was hungry—in just over two days I rode 479 km from Ceduna to Port Augusta, and then 375 km from Port Augusta to Adelaide! Annie and Lasale were both used to my cycling: they stored my bike for me in Tonga. When I was arriving on mission they would deliver it to the hotel for me so it was awaiting my arrival.
I first worked on road safety with Jerry Lebo on the Vietnam road safety project. It was here I met Tony Bliss, also from New Zealand, who was leading the Bank’s newly founded ‘Global Road Safety Facility’ (GRSF). Tony had a lot of high level policy experience and so it was great combination when paired with people like Jerry who had operational experience. I always had a strong interest in road safety—my best friend from age 5 died in a car crash at 40 due in part to a road design error—and it was great to work with the GRSF team throughout my career at the Bank.
Tony was replaced by Tawia Addo-Ashong. One of the things Tawia organized was for a number of the Bank’s road safety ‘leaders’ to attend a five day course at Monash University. This was one of the most impactful training courses that I did at the Bank and am forever grateful to have had the opportunity. It was also nice to spend time with people like Dipan Bose, Martin Humphries and Veronica Raffo in Melbourne.
Tawia was replaced by Soames Jobs from Australia who I enjoyed a close working relationship with. Soames and I led the work on the ‘Good Practice Note for Road Safety’ where we were able to embed the good principles of road safety into a wide range of Bank financed projects.
Others who get a shout out to for helping me with road safety are Mark Shotten, Said Dahda, Radia Benamghar, and Radek Czapski.
Sean Moss was the East Asia Regional Procurement Manager and along with his team of Elmas Arisoy and Anna Wielogorska, were patient (and long suffering!), helping me to understand the limitations, and opportunities, with Bank procurement. Anna came up with the innovative idea of a regional project management unit for our ‘Pacific Aviation Investment Project’ without which the project would never have been possible. She was recognised for this work in a publication on innovations in procurement.
Anita Shrestha was Sean Moss’ administrative assistant. Like Chris De Serio, she was very talented and ambitious to move into the professional stream. I arranged for a one year assignment with the transport practice. She grabbed the opportunity and worked hard, eventually joining Chris as one of the few who have broken the barrier and moved to the professional stream.
Environmental and Social
Besides Anil and Zhefu, I was mentored in the environmental and social areas by Panneer Selvam and Peter Leonard. They helped me to see the opportunities that we could achieve in these areas, and people like Jo Tuylor and Surhid Gautman also helped immeasurably.
Paneer was our ‘Regional Safeguards Advisor’ when I had a very challenging project in Kiribati. This was going to be a transformational project but fraught with many potential social and environmental issues—starting with the local practices of ‘beach mining’ which was as nasty to the environment as it sounds. Paneer helped Anil and I design a pragmatic solution for the Pacific islands, which put us in good stead as the Bank’s program expanded over the coming years. He was also instrumental in laying the foundation for a number of the innovations we introduced in areas such as occupational health and gender based violence. A great example of someone who was not a barrier but a solution finder.
I was fortunate to work closely with Julie Babinard from the transport sector, who was involved in a range of social issues for the practice. She was particularly helpful with the disability agenda which I had first been introduce to by Shomik in China. Julie helped spearhead work in the Pacific where we sent persons with disability to several countries to document the issues they found with accessibility, and from which an excellent guide was developed so that we could ensure that accessibility was addressed across donor financed projects. Julie and I later wrote a paper for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) on this, which was well received. This is me at the TRB conference.
One area that I was unprepared for was the amount of legal work involved with projects. The Bank had a great team of lawyers—most of whom were female. I learned a lot about the legal aspects of projects, contract and procurement law from them and have a lasting debt for their time and patience with me.
My first lawyer was Carlos Escudero who was larger than life, especially with his cigars. He was always the one in charge, but I did discombobulate him once. He was the lawyer in the Beijing office and I called him one day to ask how would I suspend disbursements on one of my projects. I had been unable to get the designs corrected and was at the end of my tether. “In CHINA?” He said. “Nobody has ever suspended disbursements in China. Why would you want to destroy your career by being the first to do this?”. I gave him a two word answer: “Road safety. The Bank should not be financing roads we know will be killing people.” He told me the process, but that it would never be approved. My responsibility was to give advice, not the outcome as that was management’s decision. Being China, within hours a call had gone to the client from the Government in Beijing asking what was going on and to sort it out. Which they immediately did. It was using the Chinese proverb Shan gao, huangdi yuan — “The mountains are high, and the emperor is far away” — to our benefit.
I became good friends with a number of the Pacific team lawyers. We enjoyed a visit from Marjore Mpundu and her family to my wife’s B&B, and Loren Atkins and her husband Yoav stayed at our cottage in Golden Bay. Poor Loren had a tough start at the Bank: she joined Marjorie and myself on a mission to Tonga to try and resolve a legal issue around land for the Tonga Cyclone Ian project. Here is Loren in action leading the negotiations for the third additional finance for the Tuvalu aviation project.
As I transitioned more into being involved with the environmental and social aspects of the Bank’s projects, I worked closely with the Bank’s specialist legal team in these areas. Una Meades was leading much of the work and was super impressive with her knowledge and commitment. When I had a real challenge she was an invaluable resource. Sofia De Abreu Ferreira was another on the team, particularly interested in occupational health and safety issues. She joined me on a mission to Kiribati to see how we were doing things there and had the misfortune to have her passport stolen from our car the day we were flying out. Not easy to get a replacement passport in Tarawa … but the local police asked around and soon found the culprits. Nothing stays hidden in Kiribati. Here is Sophia and I enjoying the cuisine at Tarawa’s Chineese restaurant (Yes, that is how they spelled it!).
Xiaoxan Shi was someone who first joined me in Tuvalu when, while working for Paneer Selvam as a JPA, he thought she would benefit from some field experience. With the combination of talent, commitment, and a strong work ethic she fulfilled her potential by eventually returning to the Bank and working in the legal area.
Gender Based Violence and Child Abuse
In Part 1 I tell the story of how I became involved in working on the important issue of gender based violence (GBV) and child abuse. I am indebted to working with Diana Jemena Arango when we were tasked with writing the Bank’s ‘Good Practice Note’ for addressing Gender Based Violence on World Bank financed investment projects. While I had the practical experience of operations, and an understanding of the opportunities and limitations by which one could put in place solutions, Diana’s expert knowledge of the subject matter and commitment made us a great team. We were able to stop a number of well meaning, but potentially destructive, ‘solutions’ that the practices were looking at. Diana had one of the most challenging jobs in the Bank, but approached it with compassion and professionalism. An example to all of us.
I am also indebted to Diana for introducing me to Deviyani Dixit who came to the Pacific. Deviyani helped me adapt our ‘Code of Conduct’ for child abuse to also address GBV, and travelled to several of our countries to help see what opportunities there were. For example, in Tuvalu she found that there were no counselling services for victims of GBV so we included that on our project. Deviyani was helped by Subha Ram from the Sydney office and together they really movde the agenda forward. I tried to get her a permanent position in the Bank but failed; the Bank’s loss… Here is Deviyani and myself in Samoa at Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave.
My last work on GBV was in the Solomon Islands where I was joined by Jannie Charlotta Lilja. From Sweden, Jannie had worked in a range of post-conflict countries, but this was her first experience in the Pacific Islands. Like Diana and Deviyani before her, Jannie helped to identify opportunities for us to use the project as a mechanism to address GBV. She also has the notable honour of bringing the youngest member of any mission … she had just found out she was pregnant! I had the pleasure of meeting him a year later. Below is a photo from my 59th birthday in Honiara, with Jannie second to my left. Lasale is in the red shirt with my friend Glenn Fawcett from Christchurch to her right. He was helping out with road management on the project.
Thanks to All
This is the longest post I’ve ever done, and apologies to the many who I’ve not mentioned.
The length is but a reflection of the range of people I had the privilege to work with at the Bank. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience as the Bank is full of very talented people, most of whom have shared values of trying to help people and make the world a better place.
Personally and professionally I benefitted more than I can ever express from my time with you. So thanks for the journey.