Hot passion, tigers --and shoe shops

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ImageThe Bank is full of hot passion.  Indeed we are expected to fight passionately in our work, and for a small group of us recently the subject of that passion has been tigers.  Passion in the World Bank makes for noisy meetings, adrenalin and angst. I thus find it fascinating that when colleagues are about to retire they send around an email which almost invariably mentions that their most treasured memories will be of the colleagues alongside whom they fought.  Our biennial staff surveys typically find us moaning about management and work-life balance, but when it comes to the questions of whether we enjoy our work and feel proud of working here, the ayes have it overwhelmingly.  

One of the reasons I enjoy my work so much is that wherever I go there is part of the conservation network to plug into and it is invariably people who feel passionate about the need to save the world’s last wild places and natural ecosystems. It makes for close bonding because we all face the slaps or disinterest with which biodiversity is often greeted. 

Let’s face it, there are easier things to do than conservation. As someone who worked with me some years ago said, conservation was so hard that she was on the edge of taking a job in a shoe shop.  Everyone needs shoes, there are no forces against the wearing of shoes, and at the end of the day you have finished your work and know the next day that more people will want more shoes. 

Over the last few weeks my belief in there being a unity of purpose within the conservation community has taken a knock. For the last half year or so a group of us have been trying to build up a unique partnership with the International Tiger Coalition (ITC) to “save the tiger”.  Of course ‘saving the tiger’ has been done before, and the Bank itself has supported 30 projects which should have benefited tigers. Yet conservation NGOs, governments and we have to admit that the fruits of our labors do not, in almost all cases, include more tigers.  Instead, they have been getting rarer and rarer.  It is a basic failure in the delivery of conservation. 

On Monday this week we launched a Tiger Conservation Initiative with the ITC and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) at the National Zoo here in Washington DC followed by a day of high-profile related activities. Our President, Harrison Ford, Bo Derek, senior government officials from the US and beyond, celebrities from tiger range countries, and many of the world’s most renown tiger scientists came to support the day

Yet, in the weeks leading up to this, the planning was marred by infighting, misinformation and bitterness, much – I would personally suggest – due to misunderstandings and the problems of language and institutional characters. NGOs and the World Bank work differently and have different yet complementary constituencies.  The hiccoughs were perhaps inevitable – like communication difficulties within a new passionate couple. Communication skills develop but they can take time, and thus patience and accommodation need to be cultivated.  

Even though a couple of implacable groups have decided not to associate themselves with the collective efforts, on the day I believe the collective passion to move forwards together for the sake of the tigers was rekindled.  If I am proved wrong, I may be on the look-out for an opening for someone with no experience at my local shoe shop. 


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