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Tony Whitten and colleague Stephen Van der Mark in Cambodia

The First 100 Days – and Counting

Posted on: 05.05.11 (Last edited) 6 May 2011

Dr Tony Whitten, Fauna & Flora International’s Regional Director Asia Pacific, reflects on his first 100 days in office.

When I started working at FFI in mid-November, I intended to take breath after 100 days to assess what I had learned and what I still needed to learn about my new job. By then, I figured, I should have got to know at least something about all the 70 or so projects going on in our Asia-Pacific Region, have figured out the finances, have got to know most of the field staff as well as my office colleagues in Cambridge.

I had expected that the 100 days in question would have ended towards the end of February 2011 since that would have been 100 days after I started, but it proved rather hard to find any space to reflect in that period. So, I now find myself more or less at 100 work days since I started – taking account of leave and holidays and weekends.

The tradition of giving attention to ‘the first 100 days’ started in 1933 with the first presidency of President Franklin Roosevelt – son of President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the three founders of FFI in 1903 – when he had enormous support but faced enormous expectations for action. He thus embarked on an intense period of significant law making. Since then, US presidents have had their initial progress stacked up against Roosevelt’s for comparison.

In my case I had not intended to make any major changes to what was going on because it seemed that projects were being won and conservation was being delivered – why should I tinker? In fact, I have instituted a new financial reporting system so that we can catch small problems before they grow and be better able to report to our donors; I am giving attention to our monitoring and evaluation of project success – a tantalisingly difficult matter to grasp with across all conservation organisations; and I am encouraging my colleagues to blog so that our supporters get a better idea of what is going on, not least because there is some really exciting and cutting-edge work that is not so well communicated.

Anyway, irrespective of the precise number of days, this initial period at FFI seems to have flown by. During this time my strongest impression is one of a really committed and hard-working staff who are a real pleasure to work with. The days are dominated by the seemingly never-ending process of grant applications and discussions on the complicated considerations of the co-financing the larger donors require. It has shown me just how important our supporters are, because their contributions cover those costs of projects and other work which the large grants don’t always cover.

Starting in January I took a five-week trip to all the countries in my Region except Vietnam and Philippines, but managed to visit only cities rather than any of the field sites. I was especially pleased to visit Burma for the first time (this was not allowed in my last incarnation) to meet our NGO partner, the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA). It had been with BANCA and colleagues from our other partner in Burma, the People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF) that we discovered the new species of Snub-nosed Monkey last year. We are now raising money to do additional surveys and conservation management in the remote, far-northern area where it is found. Indeed a survey team was there a few weeks ago but their efforts had to be postponed because the snow in the hills was too deep to hike through.

Just before I joined FFI I asked my colleague Paul Hotham, Director for the Eurasia Region, whether he would mind if I slipped Mongolia out of his Region and into mine. He was adamant that this was not going to happen (and at the time I had no idea just how busy I would be giving attention to the seven countries for which I have responsibility). But it’s been hard to keep my beloved Mongolia out of my mind, and I’m pleased that any day now FFI will be signing a contract with Oyu Tolgoi, the massive copper-gold mine in South Gobi in which our oldest corporate partner, Rio Tinto, has a major stake. Mongolia stays outside my Region but I’ll be involved with the critical habitat assessment with a number of in-country and other partners.

Of course, there have been issues which have not been an unequivocal joy to deal with, but I’m not going to dwell on those here. They have my attention and I trust that over the next 100 days (however counted) they can become mere memories and we can give ever more focus to the things that matter to achieve conservation.

Written by
Tony Whitten

If I were fabulously rich I'd probably try to do something similar to what I am doing professionally which is the fulfillment of my goal since I was very young. My first research was on ducks' sense of smell and my second paper was on the mating display of the Blue Duck. I moved from an interest in waterfowl to primates for my PhD, studying the endangered Kloss gibbon (and the people) on remote Siberut Island, west of Sumatra. That unwittingly set the course for the rest of my life in terms of commitment to Asia and also resulted in my first 'popular' book; indeed, for nearly 20+ years I had one or more books on the go. With gibbons behind me, I began work as Advisor in the Centre of Environmental Studies at the University of North Sumatra. Seeing the capacity problems facing environmental management in Indonesia, I initiated a series of major ecology books on different areas of Indonesia. Over the following 12 years - most of those in Indonesia - I wrote three of the volumes (on Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java and Bali) while employed by Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. During the ten years living in Indonesia I became very involved with freshwater fish and also land snails and ended up writing books on those too. Meanwhile I consulted for most of the major development agencies on land settlement, indigenous people, forest issues, and biodiversity. I became staff of the World Bank in 1995 through being a consultant for its independent evaluations arm working in Malaysia and Indonesia on land settlement and transmigration. While there I was engaged in three types of work: support to others' projects on habitat policy issues, regional initiatives, and my own conservation projects in Mongolia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Laos. The first of these I found very stimulating and satisfying; seeking to find practical and sustainable solutions while allowing the projects to deliver their benefits. My regional initiatives sought to fill important gaps and to get the Bank’s imprimatur on important topics (freshwater biodiversity, karst biodiversity, biodiversity and impact assessment, faiths and environment) that were not commonly supported.

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