We had a discussion with Phillip about his career and expert insights. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.
What was your first paid job?
After completing my degree in physics, I disliked the idea of working in physics, so I crossed that off. I tried accounting for a few months and crossed that off too. It was then I knew I wanted to experience other countries and cultures.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
The development project I headed in Afghanistan. It was a $70-million AUD, three-year program of broad support that involved working with people all over the world: Australia, the United States, Dubai and the Afghan government. We started projects and supported ongoing projects like public financial management, teacher training and scholarship programs.
In 20 years’ time what single important change would you like to see in Bangladesh?
I think many people would like to see Bangladesh funding its own development and not relying on overseas aid. With aid, the development agenda is driven from elsewhere, but when Bangladesh can pay, that will shift.
In Bangladesh what opportunities exist now for young people that did not exist when you were a student?
Opportunities in the private sector have grown enormously. Thirty or forty years ago, a lot of people were striving to get jobs in the public sector, but now their first choice is in manufacturing, banking etc. This is a testament to Bangladesh’s growth trajectory.
What has been Bangladesh’s greatest achievement in terms of social or economic development in the last five years?
Progress on social goals, particularly around health outcomes like maternal mortality. The country achieved many of these targets in the Millenium Development Goals and is now making progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
What remarkable innovations have there been in your profession or area of expertise?
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, people are talking a lot about the delivery of technical assistance and consulting online. However, it remains to be seen whether this innovation will be cemented. The question I have is how do you develop trust online?
What are two of your strengths that have made you effective in your work?
I’m sensitive to the political issues that can impact projects, and I can offer practical solutions. While we often know what technically works because it has worked elsewhere or is considered best practice, that may not be practical if, for example, the government doesn’t have the money, personnel or skills to do it, or powerful people here resist. We need solutions that can be implemented.
Who do you look to for career inspiration?
I look at people who are well regarded in my field: What is it about them that makes them effective?
What advice would you give a young professional looking to start a career in your profession or area of work?
People who are just there to do a job are not the most effective. To be effective, identify the wider context: Why do we do this kind of work? What does it contribute to a bigger goal?
Do you have any other interests?
I quite like sports like tennis and swimming, and when I get the chance, I like to see visual art exhibitions.
Connect with Phillip on LinkedIn.
About Shaila Rahman.