My career interests currently revolve around conducting research aimed at understanding and solving problems of corruption and establishing good governance in international development while teaching in an interdisciplinary program, perhaps at a leading liberal arts college (please also see An Agenda for Reflective Education).
The wide-ranging applicability of the the broad set of approaches I use gives me flexibility in the subject matter of the work I pursue. More significantly, influenced by my great teacher, Donald Schön, all my approaches focus on a theme of reflection on the assumptions that constrain us and ways to reframe perspectives on the world to allow us to move beyond such assumptions and see new light.
Encounters with corruption in Mauritius and then Bangladesh have driven my current interests. Funded by the African Development Bank and the World Bank, I was nonethtless a direct employee of the governments as a transport adviser in both nations, and the experiences educated me on how corruption traumatizes processes of development. Unlike most Western development experts who steer clear of issues of corruption and focus on technical work, I saw it as my duty to the vast majority of citizens that want honest government to confront corruption and work for better governance.
A month-long program in Mauritius was successful in breaking more than a decade of stalemate in transport policy. I brought together stakeholders in a consensus-forming exercise in which I worked to iron out differences and have the group agree on a set of policies they could endorse. Nineteen out of twenty members of the group reached agreement. The results were presented at a Cabinet briefing. The most important proposal, to create a new Singapore-style Land Transport Authority to bring integrity and coordinated planning and operations to the transport sector, was developed into a parliamentary bill and eventually enabled as an Act of Parliament.
I spent a subsequent year assisting the goverment prepare for implementation of policies agreed in the consensus exercise, including working on the specifications and tender processes for projects to create the Land Transport Authority, implement comprehensive reforms in the public bus sector and develop Bus Rapid Transit, and to establish a program for bus fleet renewal.
The concept of the new agency posed a major threat to corrupt forces, and unfortunately drew opposition, while I was subjected to personal harassment. Following my departure and passage of the legislation, consultants arrived to implement the Land Transport Authority but faced obstruction from those who stood to lose from the systems of accountability the authority was to bring. Effective implementation is still to be achieved. I hope it will eventually be a reality.
It is hard not to fall in love with Bangladesh, a country of cultured, gentle and hospitable people which turns out to be one of the most welcoming in the world. I made friends with many faculty and students from Bangladesh when I was teaching in Thailand, and was invited to visit the country for the first time in 2007. I was hosted generously by many Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) alumni, who made the whole visit one big celebration for me, and also gave lectures at Bangladeshi universities in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and intelligence of the faculty and students.
While in Bangladesh, I met a journalist from the Daily Star on Mother Language Day, one of the most significant occasions of the Bangladeshi calendar. He asked me to write about the experience. After watching crowds laying flowers on the Shahid Minar memorial in tribute to those who faced oppression for demanding the right to speak their native Bangla, I was sufficiently caught up in the emotion to go back to the Star offices in the middle of the night and start typing A Bangla Language of Government.
My return to Bangladesh was not so happy, at least in work life (my interactions in personal contacts were once more overwhelmingly wonderful). Corruption is an everyday fact of life that impoverishes the people of Bangladesh. The Minister of Communications, Abul Hossain, whose ministry I was to advise, was recognized as the most corrupt minister in the government (and subsequently removed as a result of international pressures). While I completed as much technical work as feasible, I realized that such work has little or no meaning when corruption destroys viable paths to successful project implementation. With regulatory agencies taking corrupt payments, what chance was there for reforming the transport or any other sector? I attempted to develop a proposal for managerial reform with the same objectives as in Mauritius to develop integrity as well as managerial efficiency, to provide pay rather than bribe-based incentives to good work and systems to stamp out corrupt behavior. However, my draft proposal — a threat to corruption — was quickly shelved.
Since leaving Bangladesh I have focused on issues of eliminating corruption and improving government. I helped edit a new manual on corruption control for the German development agency (GIZ). I was invited to appear at two World Bank panels in Washington DC on the subject of corruption control and to deliver a lecture on moving beyond corruption and mismanagement for the Asian Development Bank in Manila. The lecture has also been given at a variety of universities in Taiwan and Sri Lanka as well as at a range of leading educational institutions across the United States.
My first strong interests in teaching were as an MIT graduate student given the rare privilege of developing and teaching my own course, a critical examination of assumptions in engineering and policy making that attracted students from around the institute. I have also taught at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, UCLA, the University of Reading, the University of Sydney and Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand. I taught in French at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
During my two years at AIT, I focused on making education more relevant for the masters level students I was helping prepare for professional careers. I revamped the curriculum to make it more Asiacentric, and adapted teaching techniques to encourage active participation by students used to passive systems of learning.
I raised money from the Singapore Government, also, for a field trip to Singapore to offer the opportunity for students to learn about good governance and reflect on how if might be applied in their own countries.
I propose conducting future teaching in international development with a focus on discussion of how development processes can be reframed for greater effectiveness and of the role young professionals can play in moving their countries forward. I also plan teaching in the areas of philosophy of engineering, ethical epistemology, professional ethics, and theories of metaphor imagery and myth in driving political and managerial understanding and decision making.
I involve myself in student counseling, promoting on-campus community and diversity, and extracurricular activities, as seen here. I have recently also become interested in issues of access to education by talented low-income children of immigrants and would like further involvement in promoting their interests.
My MIT dissertation, Transport of Delight — The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles, produced working with Professor Donald Schön, developed a theory of metaphor, symbolism and myth to explain the decision to restore urban rail passenger service to Los Angeles. Using techniques from engineering, economics, political science, literary criticism, philosophy, and anthropology, its critical analysis uncovered the role of assumptions explicit and implicit in both engineering algorithms and processes of policy formation as well as ethical aspects of the planning process.
The dissertation was updated and published as a book, an excellent case study in the power of myth, and it provides us with a compelling picture of a place where culture and technology blend seamlessly, according to the Technology and Culture review.
A book on The Private Provision of Public Transport was researched and written while a Fellow at the Taubman Center of the JFK School of Government, Harvard. It was featured in an article in The Economist as well as in transit industry publications, while a review in the Journal of the American Planning Association said the book is required reading for all researchers and practitioners involved in the delivery of urban mass transportation... Accessible to researchers and practitioners alike, The Private Provision of Public Transport promises to become the definitive coverage of the current state of affairs in transit privatization at the opening of the 21st century.
My future research interests revolve around using similar broad approaches to those of my past work for evaluation of development processes both as seen in developing countries and practiced by funding agencies with the goal of identifying paths to more effective development. I am particularly interested in interacting with development professionals to surface assumptions, pinpoint areas for redesign and propose and test new models for development practice in areas such as professional operating principles and modes of institutional and individual learning. I believe that eliminating corruption demands the provision of alternative incentives for performing well in generally poorly-paid jobs, and I am want to study paths to empower young professionals in building their career effectiveness.
Following undergraduate work at the London School of Economics, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at MIT, where I received masters and doctoral degrees. While at MIT I was honored by being invited to deliver the keynote luncheon speech of the Transportation Research Board (National Research Council Academies of Science & Engineering) Executive Committee following my nationally-publicized role in surfacing corruption in engineering and financial analysis for a proposed Southern Californian high speed rail service. I delivered a critical commentary on high-speed rail proposals for the United States and gave recommendations for ethical practices in using analytical procedures for their assessment.
At MIT I received a major prize for leadership in enriching student participation in the arts. Recently I was the invited graduation speaker at the London Medical & Dental Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh where I lectured on ethics in dental practice to the graduating dental assistant class.
I have been active in arts writing since my days on the student newspaper of the London School of Economics where I was an undergraduate. At MIT, I was Arts Editor of The Tech and am currently a member of the newspapers Advisory Board. More recently, I have written on Asian as well as Western arts and culture for The Nation (Thailand) and The Daily Star (Bangladesh) and am currently a contributor to Opera magazine. At both MIT and Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) I led initiatives to encourage student attendance at arts events, and I have arranged concerts by the pianist Steven Lubin in Boston and Thailand's leading young classical artist Trisdee na Patalung at AIT.
I have contributed editorials on subjects ranging from transportation planning to professional ethics and governance.
I have traveled extensively to learn more about the world. Among other adventures, I have roamed over remote areas of Vietnam and Burma; scaled cliff monasteries in Ethiopia; approached a Bedouin encampment in Jordan late in the evening and stayed overnight; crossed Madagascar by taxi brousse and truck; spent a day (voluntarily) experiencing prison life in Bolivia; and hitch-hiked across Tibet to the worlds highest elevation monastery, Rombuk, and on to Everest Base Camp. I have also led student groups on numerous adeventure and cultural trips.