“Boring” is the new fulfilled
Having her fair share of seeing open defecation, getting nearly bombed in Sri Lanka, and living in Italy and Germany, Kristine Roa-Fallorina wanted the quiet life, or just enough time for her babies to grow until she can face a new adventure again—processing a loan, maybe.
Kristine Roa-Fallorina readily admits that her story is a mess.
But what she calls chaotic is actually a colorful and even enviable life. This senior operations assistant for the Urban Sector Group, under the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department (SDCC), is a full-fledged, focused mommy. Her world now, she says, are her two kids: Kai, three years old, and Klaire, 20 months old. Those familiar with Kristine – or Tintin as she is called for short – or those who are also located at the fourth floor of ADB headquarters, may have seen her cute, endearing children in the office from time to time. Her life now revolves around them, and by the way she recounts her experiences you can easily identify it as B.C. and A.D.—before children and after diapers.
During her B.C. years, Tintin – who hails from Cagayan de Oro (CDO) in northern Mindanao – was engrossed with technical development work. With an undergraduate and budding graduate degree in economics from Ateneo de Manila University, she became a senior project implementation officer for Pöyry IDP Consult, Inc. for about six years, in which time she also served as a consultant (through the firm) for ADB, working on technical assistance (TA) projects for urban and water. She has worked around the Philippines, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and in between that time while studying her master’s degree on and off, she also managed to squeeze in a one-year internship at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Frankfurt, where she assisted in conducting training programs around Europe. Not to mention, after her undergrad, when she started her MA degree, she took her first leave of absence to go to Italy for a short-lived course on public management at Bocconi University.
The current A.D. years are more straightforward and started naturally when she decided to tie the knot and settle down with her husband, who she knew from college (both have the same course) and worked with at their first job in Keppel Bank. She joined ADB as an assistant in April 2012, part of the human resources’ pool staff, and was assigned to the Office of Cofinancing Operations before eventually moving to the Regional and Sustainable Development Department (RSDD), now SDCC, in December 2013 as an operations assistant for the urban and water sector. She also worked for the health sector for nearly two years, until she decided to switch back to urban in her current position, supporting Chief of the Urban Sector Group Manoj Sharma, as well as Lara Arjan, Stephane Bessadi, and Paolo Manunta. She presently enjoys contributing to the processing of a new TA project, the Revitalization of Informal Settlements and their Environments using a Water Sensitive Approach (RISE) project.
“Sometimes,” says Tintin, “I ask myself if I regret giving up all the traveling for a desk job. I miss it. It was like I was at the peak of my career… But I didn’t want to be a consultant anymore. I wanted a stable job. I was able to do so many things, tried lots of things, so I wanted the next chapter to be more predictable. I may miss that life, but I have no regrets.”
“If I could change one thing to make cities more livable, it would be to have open spaces and parks, especially for kids. I wish there was more access to nature.”
Senior Operations Assistant
Urban Sector Group, SDCC
How did you start working for ADB?
Tin: I started in ADB as a consultant, but through a consulting firm. I was working for Pöyry IDP Consult from 2006 to 2012, and at that time IDP was one of the most active consulting firms in the Philippines. I was doing both technical work – as a consultant – and business development work, booking or bidding for projects. One of the big projects that we won was for Khulna’s water supply. We went to Bangladesh to setup the project office and we visited the water district.
But the first TA I did was with Urban, as research assistant for the Metro Manila Urban Services for the Poor project. It was a cross-subsidy between commercial buildings and social housing. I was referred by my teacher from my master’s degree. The team leader was also an economist. We went to sites in Makati, Marikina, and Quezon City. What I liked about it was I was applying my background in economics without it being purely about economics, since we were also focused on the sector.
I’ve heard about ADB before, and have always wanted to work here but people always say it’s difficult to get in, so I did not pursue it. It was only later when I gained experience working for a commercial bank and when I did my master’s that I began to seriously consider it. That was also when I shifted to IDP and started doing development work.
Since you were already immersed in development in IDP, what made you formally join ADB?
Tin: I was still single when I was working for IDP. The only reason I decided to take a desk job was because I no longer liked going on trips. It was overwhelming! When I was doing the project for the Philippines, I would have three bags, so that when I got home from one trip I would get the second bag for the next trip. It was that quick. We went all around the country, going to the water districts and treatment plants.
For another TA on water regulation in Sri Lanka, we did three trips until the area was bombed because it was the height of their civil war then. The first trip we made this province was bombed, second trip it was another town, and on our third trip it was already on another street near where we were. So my boss said, let’s not go back here. I remember we even had to fly at night since if the flight was during the day it could be attacked.
Whoa, exciting… and dangerous. The realities on the ground can really be quite different.
Tin: It wasn’t exciting for me. I became tired and I was going to get married, so I thought of finding work that was more office-based. No more back-to-back trips. Sometimes I would even risk flying in the midst of a storm just to get back home and catch a basketball game with friends. But some of my friends from IDP are still doing this type of work, going on several trips. I, on the other hand, moved on and joined ADB. At that time I was thinking ADB would be a good employer. I wanted work-life balance, and ADB covers maternity costs, insurance, and all.
Sometimes I ask myself if I regret giving up all the traveling for a desk job. I miss it. It was like I was at the peak of my career. My team leader then, the one who hired me at IDP, told me not to take the job, to wait for a better opportunity. I had taken a number of exams in ADB, for national officer, an analyst, but the fastest application process was for the assistant role. I had this fear that what if I won’t get accepted by ADB? So I told myself to take it. I didn’t want to be a consultant anymore. I wanted a stable job. I was able to do so many things, tried lots of things, so I wanted the next chapter to be more predictable. I may miss that life, but I have no regrets.
What influenced you to work for development?
Tin: In Ateneo, one of the student organizations I was part of was the Ateneo Student for Catholic Action or AtSCA. Every Saturday morning, we would teach kids in a nearby urban poor area. We would just go to the community, bring toys, play with the kids, and teach; but in a very informal way, nothing structured. There was also the immersion trip that every Ateneo student has – mine was at Gabaldon in Nueva Ecija. We went up the mountain to an Aeta community and lived with one of the families there. I guess all this early exposure to the gap between the rich and poor helped shape what I decided to do now.
As for ADB, I actually learned about it in some of my college classes. I studied economics because it was one of the hardest subjects back in high school. It appealed to me and it was interesting. But during my undergrad, they said it was difficult to get in to ADB. I also heard that you had to have about five years of work experience before you could be considered. So I went on to work for Keppel Bank instead, while starting my master’s degree. It was only then during my MA and when I joined IDP that I began to seriously think about it.
In your 12 years working for development, what would you say is the most memorable?
Tin: I think my work in Bangladesh for the Khulna Water Supply Project. I was able to win the bidding for that project and I had to go there to setup the project office and buy the equipment… To be a woman there out in the field, it was quite scary. Since the currency is low in value, all the money for the project was in a bag. I was carrying so much money. I bought the air conditioner, the computers… To arrange the office for the TA team was very interesting for me. Previous to this I was doing more research, meeting with counterparts, like in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. In Bangladesh, I was mostly by myself. And where I went, like in malls, there were no women. This whole experience left an imprint in me because I was there in a male-dominated country. It was probably the scariest situation I’ve dealt with, especially with all the money I had with me. But all the people I met were warm and kind, and before I left they even gave me the traditional Bangladeshi garb.
Do you think about doing more technical work again in the future?
Tin: Definitely it’s in my list of goals. My life has become boring the past few years. It’s calmed down, but I’m thankful that my past years have been relaxed especially with the two kids, so I’m not so pressured in my work. I think soon it might be time for me to go back to the field. My goal is to go to the Central and West Asia Regional Department, since the countries they focus on are a little more challenging and inaccessible. But also, more importantly, so I can try working in operations, on a loan project. They say you only become a legit bank staff once you’ve processed a loan. So those are my two goals: a -stan country and to process a loan.
If you could change one thing to make cities more livable, what would it be?
Tin: Open spaces and parks, especially for the kids. I wish there was more access to nature. All the playgrounds they’re used to or can go to are based in malls. If it was possible that cities and towns here can reserve open spots for children and recreation that would be great. At the moment, you have to pay to access a decent playground. In my immediate radius, from here to our home, there’s nowhere you can go to. You’d have to go to UP [University of the Philippines] or Ateneo for an open field. There’s no greenery you can go to for the weekend with your family. In my childhood I was living with my family upland in CDO and there was a Japanese cave at the back, and sometimes there would be hawks flying. You feel that you have this great childhood, but my kids have yet to have that sense of the great outdoors.