Sunday, April 8, 2012

Letter from Jessica to Colleagues on Leaving World Bank Employment

March 27, 2012 
Dear colleagues who know me (with apologies to others for cluttering your inbox),

On March 30, 2012, I leave Bank employment, 34 years after I first worked in Bank operations and 32 years since joining as a long-term staff member. I hope to see some of you either this week or, since I am remaining in the DC area, in the months to come. My Bank email (which I’ve had since the inception of email!) will cease to function after my departure.

Departing staff frequently share reminiscences – and given my years at the Bank, I have a lot of them!

I shall always treasure the people with whom I have worked – Bank staff and consultants, donor and civil society partners, government counterparts, and beneficiaries. The combinations of people from a range of professional disciplines, countries, ages, and life experiences help make Bank work special. Early on I had on-the-job mentors with extensive operational experience both inside and outside the Bank, (some which dated to colonial administrations!) who shared their insights and lessons. Subsequently, as a task team leader, I have felt like a conductor of an orchestra, with everyone contributing to the performance.

I am also grateful for the opportunities to pioneer new types of analysis and to contribute to the achievements of a range of operations (especially investment projects). Highlights include:

During my early years:

  • In 1978, as a summer intern, undertaking cost benefit analysis including nutritional benefits of a Rwanda project to increase agricultural production in household plots;
  • During my first Bank mission 1979, in the absence of recent census data, determining that about one third of the population of Surinam had migrated (associated with independence in 1975) by taking into account the difference between airline departures and arrivals for several years;
  • As a Young Professional in 1980, inserting an affirmative action covenant in the legal agreement for the Sri Lanka Construction Industry Training Project so that women would be included in the apprenticeship program for masons and carpenters in the same proportion as their representation among unskilled construction workers; and
  • In 1981, helping in the design and implementation support of a range of integrated rural development projects in Brazil. 

In the mid-1980s.
  • Articulating the benefits, instigating the impact evaluation research, and then leading the implementation support for the Thailand Land Titling Project, the Bank’s first stand-alone land administration project; and
  • Leading implementation support for a sustainable land management project involving hill tribe and other upland agriculture as well as forestry in northern Thailand, including collaboration with incubating methodological innovations in participatory rural development. 

From the late 1980s through 2002:

  • Contributing to the development of the first set of detailed Bank guidelines in environmental assessment;
  • Leading design and implementation support for four separate, pilot-phase Global Environment Facility biodiversity projects in Indonesia, India, and Bhutan. Perhaps the most intensive of these efforts was the India Ecodevelopment Project, a people and protected areas project which, inter alia, established precedents and procedures for a process-oriented (as opposed to blueprint) project design, a comprehensive social assessment, and extensive civil society dialogue with both tiger and tribal advocacy groups; and
  • Leading design and implementation support for a range of participatory forest management projects in India that provided local inhabitants with resource rights and responsibilities and transformed relationships between tribal people and forestry officials. 

During the last nine years, continuing to work as a task team leader for:

  • A forest management technical assistance project in Bosnia and Herzegovina that, inter alia, set precedents for good governance training and procedures, and completed the first country-wide forest inventory in over forty years;
  • Sequential immovable property registration projects in Kyrgyz Republic with notable accomplishments in good governance, efficiency, and client service;
  • A farmland restructuring project and the land agenda of Policy Development Program Operations that have accelerated the provision of land use rights to rural families; and
  • A sustainable land management project in Tajikistan that introduced livelihood-oriented participatory natural resource management approaches, rebuilt the assets of a significant portion of the country’s upland farmers, and fostered self-reliance of people who had been dependent on post-conflict humanitarian aid. 

Since the late 1970s, the Bank has gone through dramatic changes.

  • Office technology has evolved from typewriters and main frame computers to laptops and videoconferences; and from no electronic contact with headquarters during missions and evenings at home to 24-hour connectivity.
  • The Bank’s institutional structure and interactions have evolved from a dominance of hierarchies and European/American-centric male economists and other professionals who mostly graduated from just a few universities; to transaction-intensive matrix management, increased influence of other disciplines (including other types of social scientists) and academic backgrounds, and more cultural and gender diversity.
  • Investment patterns and guidelines have also varied in influence and repute over the years, sometimes cyclically -- e.g., policy reforms and conditionality versus field level investments; private sector versus public sector; rigorous (but sometimes expensive or otherwise infeasible) impact evaluation versus other forms of analysis, monitoring, and communication that influence decisions and implementation performance; credit versus grant financing, high risk and reward versus low risk, short-term versus inter-generational time horizons, focus on the poorest versus commercially-oriented economic growth.
  • The Bank’s reputation among civil society, government, and academia has also fluctuated. Some of these changes have involved trade-offs and synergies while others have been a manifestation of the ongoing tension within Bank operational work between the theoretically perfect or “first best option” and feasible “good practice” and second best solutions. 

Work/life balance at the Bank is a challenge for everyone, including me. Since my husband worked as a development professional at a foundation and traveled internationally, I tried out almost all alternatives: taking our daughter on mission 5 times before she was 3 years old; working part-time; taking leave without pay after our son was born; and then coming back to work for a few years in a non-travel position. Counteracting the Bank’s workaholic culture wasn’t easy, but it was well worthwhile in terms of family relationships.

Lately, however, I’ve lost my work/life balance. I’ve been so busy with work during the last few years that I haven’t had the time or energy to consider options for what I want to do post-Bank. Even before the Bank’s “cooling off” policy of 12 months of no Bank consultancy was announced, I decided I would take a sabbatical of about one year to devote some attention to the “life” side of the work/life balance, and to “figure out what I want to do when I grow up”. My immediate aspirations are to get physically fit, spend more time with my 91 year old mother and 90 year old mother-in-law, start to tame the mounds of paper clutter that have accumulated at home, and try out some pastimes that I haven’t done for a long time. Only then I will decide how to proceed, “as way opens”, to use a Quaker phrase, to get involved in activities that are intellectually rewarding and where I feel I can make meaningful contributions over the longer term. I’m looking forward to the exploration.

In closing, I wish the very best for all of you in the years to come, and do keep in touch!

Warm regards,


1 comment:

  1. Jessica, I read your letter put on blog. I congratulate you that you took a wise and timely decision. I am sure you are going to be more happy now than earlier. You got your life back. With newly won freedom you would do what you like and what makes you content. However, you being you, would still do things that would be useful and productive. With your rich and long experience, after your, planned one year sabbatical, you would get engaged in something of your choice. There are many organisation in USA and elsewhere in the World that need people like you.

    Best wishes, Irshad