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Farewell

Tony Whitten's picture

It is part of World Bank tradition that, just before retiring, a staff member sends a short email to his/her colleagues to express how much they have enjoyed the challenges of working here, the partnerships they have had in their focus countries, and - most of all - the camaraderie of their committed, dedicated, hard-working co-workers. All this could be perceived as trite, but the feelings are absolutely genuine – as I am now finding.

A few months ago, as part of a Bank-wide initiative to give experienced staff the opportunity to focus on other regions, I was required to shift from the East Asia and Pacific region (where I have spent my whole Bank career). I considered the offer to move to Lusaka, Zambia, but, after 35 years of living in and working on Asia, I concluded that although it would be interesting, my net value in the world of conservation was probably greater in Asia than in a continent about which I know virtually nothing. So, I have resigned.

So, after a month off to ‘reboot’, I join Fauna and Flora International , the world’s oldest international conservation organization, based in Cambridge, UK, as their Director for Asia and Pacific. I am daunted at the prospect but I have been a member of FFI for nigh on 40 years, have been close to the World Bank projects it has executed, and admire its work. FFI’s current Asia-Pacific program is rich and exciting – working with local partners in exceptional conservation-landscapes around the region, pioneering REDD-related work, and helping build capacity. What is more, some of the country staff have won international awards, such as Tuy Sereivathana  or ‘Uncle Elephant’ as he is known in Cambodia. FFI doesn’t (yet) work in Mongolia, but who knows what may happen.

Memories of the work I have engaged in and the opportunities afforded to me over the last 16 years at the World Bank will remain with me forever. 

I remember Alexander, the Manusela National Park  ranger who went camping with a colleague and me to guide us through his forest while we were preparing a multi-island conservation project in Maluku/the Moluccas in Indonesia. He was so knowledgeable and so enthusiastic and so serious about his job. I was shocked some months later to hear he had been murdered for standing in the way of illegal orchid collectors.

I remember working with a fine (if maligned by some) bunch of Bank infrastructure specialists over the years to work out ways in which their projects could be more friendly towards biodiversity. The Nam Theun 2 project  absorbed me. 

I remember the thrill of seeing Wild Ass racing across the stony Gobi desert.

Giving a speech at the 15th Anniversary of the Mongolia Environment Program a few days ago (the local team had given me the "del"  which they insisted I wore.

I remember a meeting of conservative Christian leaders who came to the Bank to discuss the links between their faith and good environmental management. One of them commented during lunch, “I’d always said to my wife that if I weren’t a missionary I’d be an environmentalist. And now I can be both!” The message was moving and gave hope.

I remember the remarkable conference of Buddhist monks we supported in Cambodia. Some years on and in part inspired by what grew out of that meeting, a group of Cambodian Buddhist monks recently won the UNDP-sponsored 2010 Equator Prize  (and a special commendation) celebrating outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity and reduce poverty.

I remember watching the dancing display of the exotic Wallace’s Standardwing bird-of-paradise as dawn broke one morning on Halmahera.

I remember absorbing and revealing discussions with rural communities  living adjacent to protected areas.

I remember meeting Papa Kahoho, probably the last semi-nomadic member of the Forest Tobelo, at one of his temporary homes in the forests of Halmahera. I heard earlier this year that he had died.

I remember breaking my finger while climbing a limestone hill in Laos to see a beautiful green snail. I realize I have never really blogged about the wonders of snails – only a few may be disappointed.

I remember the young, hard-working researchers of the Lake Khuvsgul biodiversity/climate change project, many of whom are now completing their PhDs in top universities around the world. It has been a privilege to see them grow.

I remember the countless cups of coffee in the Bank’s cafés to scheme, pitch, strategize, argue, weep and celebrate with so many good friends.

And so, so much more.

When I walk out of the Bank’s main entrance at the end of today and hand in my ID pass, part of me will be deeply sad. It is ironic perhaps that when I have gone there will be no full-time World Bank staff with ‘Biodiversity’ in their job title. And this is the International Year of Biodiversity. There are, of course, many highly competent colleagues who manage important biodiversity projects, and others who morphed from biodiversity to take on other important functions within the institution. But …

I am hoping to continue blogging in my new role, but until the new-look FFI website is launched later in the Fall, I will be present on a blogspot site

So, farewell until we cross paths again, hopefully in the field where our best work is done.
 

 

Comments

Submitted by daniel sellen on
We never managed to meet, but I have long admired your blog and look forward to the next one. I especially respect your decision to leave the Bank to keep doing what you love to do.

Submitted by Michael Brady on
Hello Tony, You were a great inspiration to me 25 years ago when I started my peat forest research in Sumatra, and I can see that you have done the same for many others. Best wishes in your new work with FFI and hope to meet up with you again in Asia.

Submitted by John McIntire on
Tony, Goodbye from your former neighbor on Marjory Lane. There is ample biodiversity in Tanzania if you ever want to visit. A friend and I went hiking in the Eastern Arc mountains last month and he found 12 plant species under a single ficus. All the best.

Submitted by Cora Solomon on
There is after all a more meaningful and momentous life after the World Bank, and I am happy to note that you are one of the brave ones who are exploring it sooner rather than later. All the best to you, and look forward to reading more of your evocative and significant blogs, which always bring joy.

Submitted by Bryony on
I have forgotten how to say that in the local language of Talaud, Indonesia, but I remember all the other things I learned on World Bank missions (and the mystifying maze of GEF operations...) in two years as "your" JPA. Good luck, and looking forward to conservation strategizing in Cambridge!

Submitted by Nona Sachdeva on
I remember when I first met you and how excited I was to meet Mr. Snails in person. Farewell Tony, you will be missed.

Submitted by Qing Wang on
Tony, this is amazing blog to me. I can imagine how much you have dedicated yourself to biodiversity and how many fantastic memories you have. You are a wealthy person with your loved people and things. I admire you and you will be missed. Wish you all the best!

Submitted by Sofia Bettencourt on
Dearest Tony: Ah... you don't know what you missed here in Lusaka! But absolutely right to stand by what your professionalism. Our loss, FFI's gain... But only in the short term, as the World-Wide Bank family continues to exist and we hope to see you often. Warmest regards, Sofia (from COREMAP days)

Submitted by Peter Paul van Dijk on
Good Luck, Tony, in your new role. I do appreciate your conviction to stay with Asian conservation. FFI will give you the opportunity to look at familiar places and issues from a new angle - exciting new perspectives and opportunities! Take care, travel safe, and above all else, have a great time!

Submitted by Stephen Ling on
Those familiar with your blog may assume you are lucky to have landed all the fun jobs in the Bank. Those of us who have worked with you appreciate the prodigious work rate that has enabled you to find ways to support the projects you though most critical. You've never chosen the path of least resistance. You've made a tremendous impression, personally and professionally, on colleagues within the Bank and many more in the real world (my life has certainly changed as a result of that conversation 6.5 years ago in South Kensington). Would that those of us left behind were able to fill a small part of those shoes. I look forward to hearing about the next chapter over that pint in Cambridge (or perhaps a bottle of nasty rice alcohol somewhere in Asia one day).

Submitted by Al Arief on
Tony, Well done. I will miss your reports and videos from Indonesia. Sampai jumpa lagi -- til we meet again.

Submitted by Joe Tuyor on
Hi Tony, We didn't have a chance to work together - well, almost in the Laguna Lake Project in the Philippines. But I already knew you even before I joined the Bank because of your biodiversity work in Indonesia. Your dedication and passion on biodiversity and your enormous contributions to science and conservation will always be valued wherever you maybe. It's been a privilege to meet with you and interact with you albeit very informally along the corridors of MC building during the SDN weeks. Bye for now but hope to finally work with you someday.

Submitted by manuelbondad on
Leaving an instittution that one devoted so much a part of one's life can be sad.I could feel it.We wish you all the best in your endeavor!

Submitted by Gomboo on
Hi Tony, We have had the wonderful time in Mongolia working together on different issues including Redlist, WPI and guide books, birding near Ulaanbaatar. All Mongolian biologists including my team are very appreciated all your efforts and supports for Mongolia and its biodiversity. I personally apologize for delaying the books. Hope we will finish bird maps and finish books sooner. We would like to have a champagne after the completing books someday. Cheers!!! Hope you have had a progress report for the book in UK? We wish you all the best to you and your family. Wishing you the quickest adaptations to your new duties. Gomboo and his team.

Submitted by Robert Mather on
Dear Tony, this is the first time I have looked at your blog - it's really inspiring. Looking forward to interracting with you in your new role - IUCN and FFI have a small collaboration goin on in Laos on gibbons, and my good mate John Parr has recently become FFI Programme Manager for Vietnam - so some small starting points.......... best wishes Robert

Submitted by Asmeen Khan on
Tony its not good bye I am sure our paths will cross again but thanks for all the hard work in keeping our colleagues interested and entertained on biodiversity conservation in EAP- Asmeen

Submitted by Tracy Hart on
Tony: Flora and Fauna gains a tremendous resource in your leaving the Bank. It is even a bigger "rotation" to leave here and share your skills there than the intent of the internal rotation! I hope that you will be able to "pinch tighter" to close small philosophical gaps between the World Bank and the NGOs, as biodiversity needs a strongly gathered community. You have built a tremendous amount of good will here, and it is capital you have banked to spend in your new job in the name of cooperation. Fondly -- Tracy.

Submitted by Ken Avis on
We've never met. Your blog link was sent to me. What a moving and thought provoking farewell. All the best.

Submitted by Bolormaa Amgaabazar on
Tony, A big thank you from me and my countrymates for your wonderfull work in Mongolia. I have also had a privilage to see your work in Indonesia. It is a real pity that the Bank could not find a way for you to continue working in East Asis that you love. All the best. Bolormaa

Submitted by sukhad on
Dear Dr, Whitten, We have never met, but I have followed your blog for a long time gaining inspiration and insight on Mongolia (my PhD study area and a country I adore) from it. You write well - Passionately and yet so objectively. Your resignation reflects the logic, the feeling and the conviction I read in your blogs, but it was with shock that I read on the Mongol bioweb that you will leave the WB... and Mongolia. I was hoping to somehow bum an appointment from you on my next visit there!! Ahh! The best laid plans of mice and men.... I hope you will bring in FFI presence in Mongolia and I pray you are even more powerful with FFI than you were with WB!! May the force be with you! sukhad

Submitted by Charles Di Leva on
Tony, it has been great to work with you. We look forward to working with you in your new capacity and to enjoying learning of even more accomplishments from you in the protection of biodiversity. Thanks for everything.

Submitted by BC Albaghetti on
Dear Dr. Whitten, after delighting myself with your writings and ideas since the inception of the EAP blog, I am terribly sad you will not post here any more. The so-called "opportunity to focus on other regions" that forced you to resign, a WB legalese if I ever saw one, costs the Bank a most valuable conservationist. (And one not only scientifically the most interesting by the depth and breath of both his knowledge and areas of interest, but likely one of its best communicators as well, if not the best.) It must be difficult to leave. But would like to think that you may be enthralled by the challenges and opportunities of your work in FFI. Best of luck in your new position.

Submitted by Nat Pinnoi on
Sawasdee Krub Khun Tony, I had a privilege of working with you during the preparation of Thailand Environment Monitor 2004 focuing on Biodiversity which was launched at the IUCN World Conservation Conference held in Bangkok in Nov 2004 and learning from you during several conversations with you on various topics while you were working on the NT2 project. I really admire your decision to leave the Bank and join the FFI to carry on doing what you love in Asia. I am sure that our path will cross again. Until then, take care and the best of luck. Nat

Submitted by Robin Broadfield on
Tony, sorry we didn't get chance to say goodbye. Your GEF work was inspirational, and I know you'll do great things at FFI. Robin

Submitted by William on
And to think that one of the truly great pieces of biodiversity literature could have been your comparison of the Nakai plateau snails with their Nyika plateau brethren.... Tony, its been a pleasure. Great blog, great decision, and I'll take you up on the ale offer at some point.

Submitted by Kimberly Versak on
Tony - lovely post.. I can't help but feel a little sad to hear of your departure from the Bank. I've loved having the good luck and fortune to have worked with you over the years - you've certainly bailed me out from time to time with some of those anti-Bank types and journalists - and feel the Bank will be a different place now. Have many good memories that your post reminded me of.. being introduced to beef rendang in Jakarta way back when; the passionate discussions about protecting the watershed in Lao/NT2; your honest and insightful discussion in bangkok with a group of US students studying Pak Mun (especially when you explained to them why debt is GOOD); and countless other conversations and encounters. Best of luck to you in all you do.

Submitted by Nyambayar on
Dear Tony, I am glad to see your are not "retiring". What you have done for environmental issues in Mongolia and Asia is beyond simple achievements. In fact, not just Mongolia, the whole Asia needs you. FFI is another wonderful place dedicated on environmental conservation in this region. As always we will be expecting a new fully recharged Tony. Good luck again for your new post at FFI. Hope to see you again in Mongolia.

Submitted by truong quang tam on
Dear Tony, what for a surprise when, first I cannot send to your WB Email, I looking looking and ... I foudn this page. I am not surprise as a globetrotter, Tony will move to another best position to support nature conservation...btw give me yoyr new address..I have something to communicate to you reg my activity in nature conservation in Vietnam..hope to see you in Vietnam

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