Warning leads to career in economics

00:01, Jan 29 2013
Alastair McKechnie
Alastair McKechnie

Alastair McKechnie was given the hard word at James Hargest High School that he was in danger of failing School Certificate maths.

So he worked harder, which was just as well given a 28-year career at the World Bank lay ahead of him.

Retiring in 2010 he joined the Overseas Development Institute where he has provided advice on infrastructure investment and aid management to Liberia and South Sudan and general policy advice to the G7+ group of fragile states.

That long-ago mathematical motivation from Hargest, though unappreciated at the time, proved an invaluable prod and he went on to graduate as dux.

"We had really world-class teachers who taught us how to think and how to write . . . and the value of integrity," Mr McKechnie said from his home in Maryland, United States.

After studying electrical engineering and post-graduate economics at the University of Canterbury he worked for consulting firms in Britain before joining the World Bank's power and energy division as an economist in 1982.

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He headed the Afghanistan office during the turbulent years from 2001 to 2008, then became director of the fragile states group. Now his focus is on a research project, financed by Usaid, into whether fragile countries are more strengthened if their own systems are used for aid projects.

There was the satisfaction of seeing the G7+ group start to implement the 2011 compact signed in South Korea.

"We're starting to see these countries really analyse why they are at risk from violent conflict. They're looking at how to strengthen their systems of public financial management so they can receive money directly to their budget and not have it fragmented across lots of projects by donors and others."

But with many donor countries in Europe, and the US, under enormous fiscal pressure money was short and there was a strong political push for short-term visible results.

Many low-income, conflict-affected countries were tomorrow's emerging markets, Mr McKechnie said.

"I'm old enough to remember when people had a very negative view of east Asia, a region affected by poverty and political repression, and we've seen how many of those countries have transformed over the past 10 or 20 years."

AT A GLANCE

The Overseas Development Institute Is an independent think tank formed in 1960 and based in London.

Aims to inspire and inform policy and practice that leads to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.

Has more than 170 staff, including researchers, communicators, and specialist staff. Source: Overseas Development Institute website

The World Bank

Is an international financial institution formed in 1944 and based in Washington, DC.

Provides low-interest loans and technical expertise to developing countries for projects to reduce poverty.

Is like a co-operative in which 188 member countries are shareholders and has around 9000 employees worldwide including economists, educators, environmental scientists, financial analysts, anthropologists, engineers and many others. Source: World Bank website

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