Going far and going back
From the islands dotting the Pacific to the land mass that is Central and West Asia, Jude Kohlhase has traveled the distance to learn and here he shares his chief reasons why.
It’s easy to dismiss Jude Kohlhase as the token Samoan and Pacific islander, what with his appearance, demeanor, and a bit of his background (one of his master’s degrees was earned in Hawaii and he dabbled in bodybuilding), and that certainly would seem to be a case of stereotyping, except it isn’t—the senior urban development specialist is proud of his roots.
The only Samoan in headquarters, and one of a handful in the entire Bank, Jude joined the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as an infrastructure specialist in September 2013 as part of the Pacific Subregional Office in Fiji. Prior to ADB, he was the assistant chief executive officer for the Planning and Urban Management Agency of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa. He led a 30-person-strong team and managed infrastructure projects with a variety of development partners, such as ADB, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, UN Habitat, and the World Bank, for about seven years. He also held other positions under the government previously and briefly spent time with a private consulting firm in New Zealand.
Of his work in public office, Jude counts having contributed to the country’s urban development laws and regulations as some of his key achievements. “These are still in place and I was able to operate it when I became head of the agency, making decisions for government projects,” he said.
Additionally, he highlighted: “To see the staff come through, that has been another area of pride, having that level of commitment from personnel in Samoa.”
Jude admits, though, there is still much to be developed in Apia, the capital city and where he grew up (although born in Auckland, New Zealand). This is part of the reason why he moved to ADB and why after about five years in the Pacific Department he switched to the Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division (CWUW). “I wanted broader global experience. Similar to work in Samoa, I felt that I had done country-specific activities in Fiji, Kiribati, and Tonga, and it would be good to venture out to a different region,” he explained. “Central and West Asia offered that to me, which is why I was drawn to it. Now I’m working in countries like Pakistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and also contributing to discussions in countries across the region. It’s a pretty steep learning curve, albeit cool.”
At the moment, Jude is handling a project readiness financing facility in Pakistan, which will help prepare two of the division’s upcoming projects, and a results-based lending program on rural water supply and sanitation for the Kyrgyz Republic. This will be the first results-based lending program for the country, and a first for the water sector.
Water supply is his favored field for now, he shares. His recent projects focused on this and sanitation, such as the sanitation sector improvement project he managed in Kiribati. However, he prefers not to be boxed in. For him, working on urban development is not a matter of specialties; rather, “it’s a service need”, giving people what they demand.
Now this could be mere platitude if uttered by some, but as the interview progressed, Jude points to a red wooden necklace hanging by his desk: a ulafala. Usually made of pandanus, this Samoan symbol is traditionally worn by village chiefs, he says. And who are these chiefs, one might ask? Jude is one, a matai, and specifically for two villages. There could be no connection whatsoever, but his earlier remark suddenly resonates more. Again, it fits an archetype, or the narrative of a benevolent chief.
Revelation aside, this chief, father of three, and urban planner, says: “At the end of the day, hopefully God willing, I’m able to go back to the Pacific richer in terms of experiences and be able to draw lessons globally and see what worked there that may work in the Pacific.”
“[Operations and maintenance or O&M] is the name of the game. We’re investing and making sure that these assets are sustainable and reliable … It’s relevant to everything we do in the Bank and our reputation actually is at stake once we start building these assets.”
Jude E. Kohlhase
Senior Urban Development Specialist
Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division
What made you study urban planning?
Jude: Geography was my strong suit, and it was one of the development priorities in Samoa. At that time there were not a lot of town planners and I was fortunate enough that that was the priority of the day. I think strategically it worked out really well, because when I completed that course ADB was just moving towards supporting the government prepare an urban planning and management system and framework. I immediately signed up and helped prepare the government establish the Samoa planning system.
You worked with the Samoan government for 13 years. Why did you move to ADB?
Jude: With all the interactions I have had with the development partners, it gave me a different level of encouragement, that I could also play that role, supporting countries in the Pacific. I was quite fortunate to have opportunities pending with the World Bank and ADB. They both have a strong presence in the Pacific. These institutions are highly relevant. I thought my next career move should be in this area. I personally felt drawn to it. I wanted to have a broader impact, not just at the country level. At that time, I thought I had met the challenges I had set out to do, and I thought there must be another challenge out there. So I joined ADB and it took me to PARD, and now CWUW.
Among the ADB projects you’ve done so far, which one was especially memorable?
Jude: I think the most rewarding has been the Kiribati road project. It’s been one of the more transformative projects where you have a country that relies on one main road corridor, from the airport to the wharf, and we stepped in as a group of cofinanciers. We were working with our other development partners like the World Bank, Government of Australia, the country government, preparing that road. We mobilized everyone around a common goal, a national priority. Though I wasn’t part of the processing team, I came in two years into the implementation. We had a lot of challenges, but just seeing that we were finally able to construct the road and see people’s reactions to it, I was grateful. Now, the country has a lot more economic activity boosting people’s experience.
Why is operations and maintenance of particular interest to you and your work?
Jude: It’s the name of the game. We’re investing and making sure that these assets are sustainable and reliable. This was a core part of my third degree – asset management, looking at cost structures throughout the asset life cycle. It’s relevant to everything we do in the Bank and our reputation actually is at stake once we start building these assets. People’s lives are at stake. There’s only a small pool of funds available and so it has to be managed wisely and tariffs appropriately set, making sure those funds go back in to the infrastructure and service.
If you could change one thing to make cities more livable, what would you change?
Jude: Presenting opportunities for the communities and providing the governed the means to participate in the process, so they can present ideas and their vision for the city, what the future city would look like and what they see as responsibilities.
It sounds very democratic, but in essence you need that kind of forum for people to voice their opinion, and once you get those kinds of ideas you’re able to build it into a regulatory system and design the elements around those. Participation is needed as part of the process of designing livable cities.
Would you say you like urban planning? What if you had another choice, what career would you be in?
Jude: Oh yeah, I love it. I think it’s because of the opportunity to influence people’s lives. Although it’s long term and you don’t see an immediate result, there’s a kind of satisfaction when you look back and say, wow, you helped in the process to create laws that support systems. You go through a development regulatory process that was never there before and you’ve helped to create. You work on infrastructure projects that help strengthen those systems, to deliver services. Everything’s interconnected at a bigger scale.
I think I was quite fortunate to have this opportunity, the career that I’ve had to date. If I was to look back, I would have gone into architecture. I like the design aspect of dealing with problems and urban design is such a core part of visualizing new experiences with the physical and built environment.