There is a greater classroom beyond the halls of Oxford, according to Jingmin, and it is developing Asia.
Why teaching outside Oxford is better
Look at this, says Jingmin Huang. “His name is Sadam.”
A principal urban development specialist and former Oxford lecturer, Jingmin’s mild-mannered demeanor turns ecstatic when pointing out the unusual names in the book she helped produce, Painting Our Green Future. The small publication is a compilation of artwork by students from the Altay Prefecture in Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China (PRC). The area is tucked away in the northwest corner of the country, a remote land near Kazakhstan and Russia, and thus, an explanation for the atypical influences behind some names and faces. But soon after, she shifts the attention to the environmental drawings, and truly they are clever and insightful. One in particular was akin to Roald Dahl’s The Twits, where animals take the lead over misbehaving humans. In the image, forest creatures were interviewing a man crying at the scene of his crime—cutting trees.
Despite how obviously proud she is of this book and creating community awareness, especially among the children, Jingmin is not one to sit on her laurels. Her mindset is always focused on the next project or person in need. And it is this same attitude that drove her to leave her pleasant stay in Oxford, where she obtained her post-doctorate degree and taught coastal engineering and numerical modeling. This mother of two girls prefers on-the-ground work. She currently manages two urban projects (both with a technical assistance component): one in Madhya Pradesh, India and another in Jaffna and Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka.
Whether consciously or not, Jingmin continues to share knowledge with others, from the interns she has guided in ADB to the government officials and local stakeholders she partners with. According to Jingmin: “We should improve people’s lives as much as we can now, because when living conditions are poor, people suffer.”
“ The biggest beneficiary of sustainable development will be our future generation, so listen to them. ”
Principal Urban Development Specialist
What’s a regular day like for you in ADB?
Jingmin: My day is usually composed of several parts: first, there is project processing; second is to support management, either to do peer reviews or join interviews; and third part is doing other tasks, such as reading articles and studying good initiatives. Normally I would start checking emails once I’m in the office by 8:30 or 9 a.m., and I may end the day pretty late. But, this is also because I work with South Asia, so there is that two and a half-hour time difference.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Jingmin: When I started my career in the 1990s, I was thinking how we could better treat the environment, either through preservation or improvement. Eventually, when I went to work on city planning for the Fuzhou Planning Design Research Institute [in PRC] for about 10 years, I found my answer. This experience helped me to have a vision for a city. Because I was involved in very big infrastructure investment projects and several urban master plans, it helped me to realize that proper urban development is the way to protect the environment. I think our generation is very lucky—we were able to be involved in this huge leap forward for urbanization.
And because I don’t think I will ever stop thinking this way, I went to the UK to pursue my PhD on water science and numerical modeling. But after studying and teaching in Oxford I felt that I prefer hands-on work more, not just doing research and publishing papers. There’s also so many things happening in Asia, and since one of the projects I worked on before was financed by ADB, I got to know ADB. That’s the reason I moved to ADB after Oxford.
Oxford sounds like a good time. Did you like teaching?
Jingmin: Yes, definitely. That was a really good experience, one I can never forget. In fact, after I joined ADB I took a lot of interns. From 2008 to 2015 I had one every year, so almost 7 interns. I stopped in 2016 because the workload became too heavy. Maybe I’ll resume again next year.
Which project has been most satisfying for you, so far?
Jingmin: I think I’m always looking for the next project. Of course, I’m proud of every project our team has processed. Here in South Asia, both Madhya Pradesh and Jaffna are both very, very exciting, and challenging. In China, we’ve processed some exciting and innovative projects concerning low-impact development to reduce carbon footprint during project design and implementation. We also got people to be involved through a 3R campaign on reduce, reuse, and recycle. We even have a book, Painting Our Green Future. All the paintings in the book were done by minority kids.
How did you come up with this idea?
Jingmin: It’s because all our projects are environment-friendly and about sustainable development. The biggest beneficiary of sustainable development will be our future generation, so just listen to them to know what they’re thinking about.
You’re also dedicated to water and wastewater. Why water out of all the development issues?
Jingmin: This is all under the big context of urban development. Because if you think about a city, water and power supply will always be the two priorities, and then maybe transportation. But compared to the two, water is always lagging behind. Energy is always commercialized and doesn’t occupy a lot of land. Even urban slum areas have proper power supply, and on the quality side, the electricity you get is the same whether you’re in a poor area or elsewhere. But for water supply, it’s completely different. Very rich people can get good water, while poor people have to fetch water from a long distance. Poor people also don’t have toilets. Some do it as open defecation. There’s really a long way to go for water and sanitation; and compared to water supply, sanitation has a longer way to go. When you compare SDGs, the sanitation side has not progressed so much. All of these will take time.
I always say when working for a development agency we always need to be patient and have passion, and work as a partner of the government. 3Ps.
Speaking of a long way to go, is there a project you’d like to do in the future?
Jingmin: Nothing in particular, besides I always think we should not create the project. The project should appear based on people’s needs. It’s not our intention to create anything. You see what they need, and based on their need, you discuss with them to develop some new ideas for the project. It should be their initiative.