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.