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Transcript episode 8 Ann Rennie from ADB

Author photo

by Impactpool

Intro quote: “Integrity is absolutely fundamental actually. If you don’t have integrity, then you won’t build trust. So integrity is the number one characteristic that you really need to have in this kind of organization.”

UNjobfinder: Hi there and welcome to the eighth episode of the UNjobfinder Career Podcast by INTALMA. My name is Magnus Bucht and this is the podcast where we want to increase your chances for having a career with the United Nations, European Union, development banks, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. In this podcast, we’re talking to people having a remarkable career in this field and trying to get their stories about how they once entered, the choices that they made during their career, challenges that they faced and, of course, not least, to hear what kind of advice they can give to us. Today, we’re going to talk to Ann Rennie from the Asian Development Bank. Ann is a person who made a transition from commercial banking into a career within international development, working with especially international finance institutions. It was truly a pleasure to talk to Ann and, as you will hear in the interview, she is definitely a person with a wealth of experience. So I hope you will enjoy this interview and, without further ado, here’s Ann Rennie.

UNjobfinder: Today I’m very excited about our guest here at the UNjobfinder Career Podcast. She is someone who’s been working at board and senior level for many years and currently she is the Deputy Director General for the Asian Development Bank and has had executive roles with the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and with DIFFID (the UK’s Department for International Development), but also from the private sector. So I’m very happy and honored to welcome Ann Rennie. Ann, welcome, and so nice to have you with us.

Ann Rennie: Thank you very much Magnus. Actually, I should clarify. I’m one of the Deputy Director Generals because there’s a few of us here. We all have different responsibilities. Just to make it clear because I know some people think that that means I’m the number two in the organization, which actually I’m not. But anyway, very nice to speak with you.

UNjobfinder: Great, thank you. You are responsible for human resources, right?

Ann Rennie: That’s right. I am.

UNjobfinder: Perfect. Well, Ann, that was a very short presentation. Most of it I hope was correct but I would love to hear some more from you about who you are.

Ann Rennie: Okay, that sounds good. Well, my background is a little bit kind of mixed because I started off as a banker in fact. I had 14 years in line banking, operational banking, working in London. I’m originally a Brit. I’m now a dual citizen: American as well as British. I had 14 years in banking, in all kinds of areas in banking. And the way I got into the international development world was just by stumbling into it really. At the time, I was on several boards. And I’d left banking and started working with Prince Charles, with the prince’s trust, and I was board director for a big recruitment company called Reed and their HR director as well. And I got a call out of the blue one day from an organization called IFC. Now, of course, everybody knows what the World Bank is, I hope they do, but to me, IFC was an unknown organization, so I just thought they were calling because I did a lot of radio and television in those days and I thought it was a communications company trying to ask me to do something. So I just ignored them for a couple of weeks. And then eventually I thought maybe I’d better at least look them up and find out who they are and I found out it was the International Finance Corporation, which is the private sector of the World Bank. They were looking for people who had kind of a banking background but also someone who, by that time I had moved into HR, they wanted an HR person who had a banking and an HR background and who had lived in various developing countries. And I had lived in seven developing countries, growing up as a child born in Pakistan and living in various other places. So they thought that I fitted their profile. So they called me and I hesitated a little bit about moving to the States, which is where they were headquartered, where the World Bank is. And it was my husband who said come on, you’ve always wanted to kind of get back a little bit more into the sort of international development type of world which is what my father was in too. Why not? Go for an interview. So I was interviewed and the rest is history. So after three years at IFC, then I moved to the World Bank itself, and then I worked for them and the IMF. And I did quite a bit of work on a DIFFID grant while I was in the World Bank and then afterwards for the African Development Bank, working very closely with their president, Donald Kaberuka, in terms of capacity building and restructuring. So very strategic kind of HR type of role. It’s a long story about how I ended up at ADB, but it kind of made sense at the time. I’ve been here three years now. That kind of gives you a rough synopsis.

UNjobfinder: Great. Thank you. From hearing that, we can all understand that you have really good experience and knowledge about especially the international finance institutions and we’re looking forward to hearing more about that. But I’m curious about your background. So you said that your father was working in international development when you were growing up and you had yourself been living in seven countries when you grew up.

Ann Rennie: Right. Well actually he was a diplomat but he specialized in international aid and he specialized particularly in Africa and Asia and he was really one of the sort of leading proponents of how to change the way that aid is delivered and so forth. He ended up as an ambassador. His last couple of postings were in Zambia and in Bangladesh. And he’d been in various other places before that. But he was heavily involved with international donors, with the World Bank, IFIs, the regional development banks, and various NGOs. So I kind of grew up in that kind of environment and I kind of fell into banking, but then I always was missing something. There was something that wasn’t there. As you know, banking, and especially commercial investment banking is pretty hard-nosed as a bottom line and the people element seemed to not be there in a way that I’d seen when I was growing up. So I was kind of doing things with my head but not my heart shall we say. So it was very natural to move into the World Bank group when I did move there in 1995.

UNjobfinder: Right. Very interesting. So you had a very positive perspective of international development even though you had been working for a number of years within the private sector.

Ann Rennie: Right.

UNjobfinder: After all these years within the private sector, I’m curious about you joining the international development, using your skills and knowledge. When you finally went to IFC, was there anything that you didn’t expect working in this field? Were there any major differences that you could spot?

Ann Rennie: Yes, absolutely. I mean in terms of the various career moves I made during my career, that was the biggest shock to me actually. It was very different from what I thought it would be. I kind of had the impression because it was IFC and it was the private sector arm of the World Bank, that it would be like the private sector. But no, not at all. It is or was, I mean it’s changed maybe now, but when I joined, it was much more kind of consensus oriented. You couldn’t just write a memo and send it out. You had to consult everybody. And it would go up and down. And also, the other thing, I found it very political. And political with a big P and a little p. Obviously, in the private sector, it’s quite political when it comes to organizational politics too, but this also had an overlay of other types of politics: nationality politics, having different types of people coming in from different countries. Very complex. Much more complex than I thought. And quite difficult. I found it very difficult initially to navigate until I figured out the system.

UNjobfinder: Okay, I’m coming back to those strategies that you used for navigating because I think that’s interesting to hear. But I want to jump back to Asian Development Bank. Of course, well known to many of our listeners as one of the major international financial institutions but also I’m sure that there is many of those who don’t know much about what you do. So could you please say a few words about that?

Ann Rennie: About ADB?

UNjobfinder: Yes.

Ann Rennie: Itself?

UNjobfinder: Yes.

Ann Rennie: ADB is one of the regional development banks and is set up in a very similar kind of fashion. It’s owned by a number of governments. In our case, we have 67 member governments. About half are regional and half are non-regional. And by that I mean the regional ones are all the Asian countries plus very specific Pacific nations, because we cover the Pacific as well. And then the non-regionals are most of the European countries and North America and Canada. And Australia. Well Australia is part of the regional I guess. But it’s not a developing country. So we have 12 board members that represent all of these 67 countries. And our scope covers everything from we provide loans, grants, and technical assistance in a variety of different areas. Primarily infrastructure, but also health and education, increasingly regional cooperation, big projects that cross country boundaries, and now much more strategic projects that involve climate change, sustainable cities, and public/private partnership operations. In other words, working with the private sector as well. So it’s an organization that, like the other MDBs, gets involved when there’s no other sources of finance or assistance, which is interesting. It’s a plus and a minus because we can be a catalyst for that, but then we also find ourselves in a way kind of competing with the private sector too and we have to keep reminding ourselves we’re not there to compete with them but to complement them in providing the support that these countries need. So does that give you kind of a little bit of an idea? I hope the listeners will get kind of a sense of it. And, by the way, the countries that we cover range from Afghanistan on the one hand and all the “stans” round there, to the Pacific islands of Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu, and these ones that are hit a lot by climate change and environmental issues. So increasingly we’re getting a lot more involved in related areas like crisis management and disaster management, environmental issues, governance when it comes to countries that are in war zones and so forth, which I’m sure is very common to a lot of UN organizations as well.

UNjobfinder: That would also mean of course then you have a need for a broad set of skills within the bank.

Ann Rennie: Yes. Actually when I talk about ADB at career fairs, I often use the analogy of the   banyan tree because it kind of goes down well in Asia, at least large parts of Asia. You need kind of a thick trunk in particular skills area or multiple skills. So for instance, you could be a specialist in roads and water or transport generally or whatever. It could be a number of different things. Maybe just one of those things. But you also need the cross-cutting skills as well. So you need to know one or more, preferably more, of the countries that you’re going to be working in. We give priority to people who know those countries already. You don’t have to be from those countries. You just have to at least work in them. Because we have very few people who come directly from sort of the non-regional countries and who make that adaptation and also who are credible. We do have some who have very specialist skills we bring in. But the cross-cutting skills, for instance being able to work across boundaries, work with governments, adapt to these kind of countries, different situations, be able to work in teams. We have very small teams. You’ve got to be able to do a lot because we’re not the size of the World Bank for example. So you have to get your hands dirty and be able to work with people. You can’t just close your door and work in your office all day on your own. So those are the kind of, in a very broad nutshell, that’s kind of what we’re looking for.

UNjobfinder: Excellent, thank you. We’ll come back to that as well. So going back to you, you’ve had an extremely interesting career. Was there anything, now when you look back, a story or an experience that you are specifically proud of or that has been rewarding for you in your career?

Ann Rennie: Oh gosh, yes, there’s been quite a few actually. When I moved over to the World Bank from IFC, we had a new president who had just come in. And I had started being the IFC person for all the reforms that he was carrying out, which are very similar to the reforms that the current World Bank president is doing now, except we never got the bad publicity that they’ve been having. And then I’ve moved to the World Bank itself. I became HR director there, working for a vice-president. And so I had the mandate of implementing all these reforms. And, believe me, they were all these reforms. The entire bank changed, both on its operational side and the non-operational side. So every single thing on the HR side changed. And simultaneously, we turned over 6,000 people, which doesn’t sound too much but in those days it was 10-12,000 depending on the starting and end point. It’s a lot of people. And my proudest moment during all of that change was not having a single tribunal case. So you can imagine. We actually did it fairly scientifically and did it in one very compressed time period. So it was extremely stressful for everybody because we had to do a lot very fast. But I believe we did it very carefully, very scientifically as far as one can do these things scientifically of course, providing a lot of help and advice and find placement for the people who were leaving. And turned over many people and brought in completely new skills. So my proudest moment is being able to do that in a very short timeline and also to not have the tribunal cases that often organizations get when they’re moving a lot of people out simultaneously. So I guess that was one of kind of my proudest moments. But closer to home, here now, I have an HR group here of 110 people. So it’s a little smaller than the World Bank in that sense, but 32 of them, which is a third of them, have just completed doing degree level qualifications. We did it through CIPD, Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, through distance learning and through onsite tuition with a tutor coming here. So we were kind of a prototype for this in Asia. And 32 of them now got a degree, well they’re recognized as degrees in HR, which has taken them a year or a year and a half. They already had some HR qualifications but this actually gives them a degree level qualification. And they just completed and it’s the first group ever apparently, according to CIPD, whether in London, which is where they’re based, or abroad, where all the individuals who went through this course came through with a qualification. So I’m trying to professionalize the function here and, in some ways, that’s almost the biggest thing I’m proud of because of my staff being so wonderful and dedicated and hard-working, putting the time in to do this on top of their normal job. It may sound like a small thing but, to me, I’m very, very proud of them all.

UNjobfinder: I fully understand it and that’s wonderful. I mean not only for the individual development for your colleagues, but also of course with the impact that that will have for the organization I’m sure.

Ann Rennie: Yes. And people are noticing it already. People are much more professional, confident in their skills, in their knowledge, in their advice and so forth. The client orientation measures that we use have already improved a lot. Now we’re getting kind of top scores on that. So I think it’s made a big difference to them and already to the organization actually. So very pleased with that.

UNjobfinder: Very good. The first thing that you mentioned when you did change basically the World Bank makes me wonder. I’m sure that you have been dealing with change most of your career, especially when you’ve been working with HR. Would you say that the IFIs or the international organizations, from your experience, are changing more often because of the political governance or the political part of these organizations? Because I think that’s also something that people hear a lot constantly. But would you say that that’s a reality or is that as common with other major organizations?

Ann Rennie: Actually, it may seem like all world organizations are kind of changing a lot. And I think there is something to that in terms of the political change. Every time you get a new president or whoever is the head, quite often they bring changes with them and they’re changing over quite frequently, every 3-5 years, whatever it happens to be. There is something in that. But actually, I don’t think we do change as radically or as quickly as some of the private sector organizations. I mean when I used to work in banking, I worked for a very large bank that went from 25,000 to 100,000 people within 2 years. And then, a couple of years after that, downsized again to pretty much the same level. That was pretty major. And bought up other organizations all over the world. We’re not so quick in changing I think as some organizations. But in some ways, it’s tougher because we have a different kind of board. So we have in our case 67 governments that are watching what we do. Plus the other thing I think that affects us, well maybe it affects the private sector too these days, but even though we don’t have a bottom line, we’re being looked at very closely, scrutinized for being as efficient as you possibly can. So there are changes that come with that too in terms of streamlining, doing things quicker and so forth. I personally don’t think our kind of organization do things quickly enough yet and the clients still want that to happen more. But I know that for ADB for example, amongst all the IFIs, ADB is regarded as the most efficient of all of the IFIs. So it’s mostly good, but it also means that there’s no fat. People are working flat out the whole time because we had to be really careful about not staffing up. We have to really justify what we’re doing the whole time. But we are very efficient and we get complimented on that in the press, on the board, and in other places. Anyway, changes are always going along to restructure and make us as most efficient as we possibly can.

UNjobfinder: Great. Thank you. I think it’s good to have that clarification because what people perceive as being the difference between private sector and this international development sector is not as big as many people think in that sense.

Ann Rennie: No, you’re exactly right. We have the same pressures and sometimes more because we have so many governments who are interested in what we’re doing. And we have to account to all of them. So we have different pressures and different pressures in the private sector but there are a lot of similarities for sure.

UNjobfinder: So going from your experience of the stories that you are proud of, it would be now interesting to hear more about the types of challenges that you’ve faced. I mean we can understand that you’ve faced a number of challenges, but if you could choose a story about something that was maybe one of the greatest challenges in your career, for you or for your organization, that you had to deal with.

Ann Rennie: I guess that I would put them around organizational culture and political kind of culture. The organizational culture being more hierarchical, it’s much more difficult to be innovative without having to go through these layers of people and have to buy in a consensus and things like that. Which in the private sector, if you had a good idea, you could generally run with it if it was a good enough one. In these kinds of organizations, ADB is no exception, you have many people to persuade, so that’s the biggest challenge. But also nationality wise and sometimes that’s also related to politics too. We don’t have quotas of course for different nationalities. I know some organizations do. We don’t. But somehow, the biggest shareholders always push for their people and you end up looking around the different departments and adding up how many x nationality you have versus y nationality. And especially at the top of the organization, that becomes more to the fore. You have x number of Europeans. Or you haven’t got any Americans. Or maybe you needed Japanese. And then how many Indians and Chinese and others are missing at the top? So that bit is quite tricky to manage because you’re trying to do things on a fair and merit based process, and I’ve introduced those changes and reforms into ADB. But you always get the political pressure saying well my person is the best. They happen to be from this particular nationality. And you have to kind of push back. So it’s how do you get that trade-off and balance between doing absolutely pure bare based types of things whilst understanding you work for a very political organization and there’s shareholders involved. So, in a way, that’s the most challenging I find.

UNjobfinder: And obviously, and we’re coming back now to your strategies for navigating in this culture. You have been successful in doing that. So what kind of strategies have you used yourself to be able to, of course, have an impact in this organizations that are hierarchical, that you have to still be innovative? How have you done that?

Ann Rennie: I guess the way I’ve been able to be successful is because I’m a good listener and I have an open door policy and I’m fair. I’m really fair and I will go into bat for things that I believe in. Where I think it is an unfairness, I’ll really fight it. And I’ve actually been quite pleasantly surprised that, although I get battles of course, if you are really fair, I mean if you’re principles based and you can explain it to people, you do get support. And I have a huge support here in ADB even though I still have run-ins and disputes and arguments with people. For instance, even just this morning, I had a person I don’t know very well who came in and said: Ann I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done. And I said: well, what do you mean? And I hardly knew this person. And he said: well, you’ve intervened in very difficult disputes and fairness situations and bullying situations where people wanted to be promoted and everybody knew they were being pushed and you intervened and I just want to say thank you for your fairness and your objectivity. I think as an HR person, that’s probably the highest accolade you can have is being fair and not having your own agenda. I have to be completely impartial, unbiased in that respect. Everybody has their natural biases, but you have to rise above that because you’re dealing with so many different points of view and nationalities and backgrounds and so forth. So I always check myself all the time when I’m in meetings or writing papers or just listening to people, that everybody’s got a point of view. It might not be your point of view, but it’s a point of view. And there is a principle behind all of this. So I think that’s what’s made me successful. Also, I’m a trained coach. I have coaching qualifications from Georgetown, so I’m ICF accredited. And I have to say, in this kind of organization, having coaching skills is really, really key because you use… I have a lot of coachees but I also use a lot of coaching techniques with people who aren’t my coachees as well. And it really helps because people open up and kind of trust you a lot more I suppose is the word. And that includes even the president here who will open up and just by the fact you listen and you use kind of a coaching style. So that also helps if you’re an HR practitioner.

UNjobfinder: But even for those who are not working in HR, having a coaching style, and when you say coaching style, do you then mean that you are asking questions a lot?

Ann Rennie: Yes. Let me just kind of say that what I tried to do was to get people to solve their own issues. Or make it seem like it comes from them, maybe rephrase it a little bit. So in other words, I find that people who are not so successful in these kinds of organizations are people who have very strong views and they’ll try to impose them on other people and not be open to other people’s views. And/or if they’re the boss, try to resolve somebody’s problems for them. Whereas I think the key in these kinds of organizations in particular, it’s not just HR, it’s anybody, is to guide things in such a way that someone thinks they’re come up with their own solution if that makes sense. And you don’t have to be a leader out in front. You can lead from behind. So if somebody solves a big problem and you know it’s you or I know it’s me that has really done this for them, you don’t go round saying well I helped this person solve the problem. And sometimes quite big problems as well. You let them take the credit and you have to have the confidence to know that you’re the one who’s actually helped that to be the case. But if the person thinks they’ve solved it themselves, that’s actually much more powerful and better for the organization. So that’s much more a style I find that these organizations need because you need a lot more what I would call lion tamers rather than lions. Not so many people who are out there in front, the leaders who are leading from behind, helping people, guiding people, but not taking the front seat.

UNjobfinder: One of the ways you had to be successful has been to be a good a listener and I would say empowering your colleagues a lot and have a lot of integrity.

Ann Rennie: Yes. Integrity is absolutely fundamental actually. Because I mentioned earlier on this kind of organization is very political in various different ways. If you don’t have integrity yourself, you can get swept up in the politics and you can be a casualty. That’s for sure. I’ve seen that happen so many times to people who didn’t have integrity. They may say one thing to one person, another thing to another person. They’ll support whoever is in power at the time or be nice to the top boss, that kind of lack of integrity, and you can’t do that. You have to still be polite and diplomatic, but if you don’t have integrity, then you won’t build trust and you won’t be having people coming to you and you can’t really then influence things. So integrity is the number one sort of characteristic that you need to have or the competency you really need to have in this kind of organization.

UNjobfinder: Great. So moving on from there, what would you say are the most important lessons that you would like to share with our listeners who want to pursue an international development career?

Ann Rennie: I think it varies a little bit between whether you want to work for a UN organization or an international financial institution. In fact, we do get a lot of UN people apply here and sometimes they’re successful, but what we tend to look for is kind of hard operational skills. For instance, the private sector or financial sector, in industry. For instance, if you’re working in roads and so forth, you might be looking for a large transport company. If you’re working in energy, you might have worked for a large energy company. But having said that, you need to have experience of and/or interest in developing countries. So we wouldn’t recruit somebody, at least it’s quite rare for us to take in somebody who’s a very strong energy expert that’s only worked in a non-developing country. We do do it sometimes if they’re really, really serious experts. We do draw on people like that. But if you haven’t lived and worked and understand the kind of countries you’re going to be working on, you’re probably not going to be so successful. So you have to have the strong technical skills and the knowledge and understanding of one or more of these countries in Asia or Pacific. And more on the soft skills, you have to be very adaptable and able to kind of work with all sorts of different nationalities. The people who aren’t successful are the people who come from one culture, one country, and they’ve only ever worked with whatever their nationalities are around them. And I’ll just give you one quick example of that. For instance, we’re headquartered here in the Philippines even though we cover 34 countries. And two thirds of the staff here are Filipino in Manila. And if you have not worked with Filipinos, you may not realize, as some people who come here have kind of a surprise, any Filipinos listening may be able to identify with this, there’s a very high power distance ratio, if you understand Hofstede. And so, one thing is individuals don’t really speak up when they go and tell you what they think, they wouldn’t say no. And I’m stereotyping of course and it’s not always the case. But if you’ve only worked in say the US or, I mean I don’t want to name countries, in general in other places, it’s very hard to adapt if you don’t realize that people are very different from maybe the way you are, depending which country you come from. And I think sometimes people get caught out a little bit so you have to be knowledgeable, adaptable, able to understand other people’s cultures, points of view, things like that.

UNjobfinder: Since you are recruiting a lot of people then in their mid-careers who’ve had a couple of years maybe from the private sectors, from different areas as you’ve described, how much do you assess or actually look at their motivation then to work for ADB?

Ann Rennie: Well that’s actually the number one criteria. So when we interview, we always start off by looking at the motivation. I have a very favorite, very simple opening interview question which I use a lot. So I kind of adapt it a little bit but it’s more or less along the lines of: why you, why now and why this position? And we look for the motivation and the fit in that very first question. And so, if they just say well I fancy living in Asia for a while, maybe that doesn’t show the right motivation. But if they say, I’ve always wanted to work for development and I have a background that makes me really curious about expanding my skills in these kind of countries, then maybe they get a better chance. But I can’t tell you how many people that we’ve done a first interview with who say well I’ve always liked the idea of working in the Philippines or living in the Philippines or living in India. And you’re kind of like well actually just living in a country doesn’t make you a development expert, especially if you’ve never been there. So that’s absolutely the number one. And you have to then be able to demonstrate your fit with the organization. And if you’re too for instance impatient, I say we look at the private sector, we also do look at the public sector too. But if you want independence, results straight away, working with people like you, then don’t work for an international organization. Because there are going to be people who are not like you in all kinds of different ways. So those are some of the things we look for when we interview is the fit, the motivation, the skills, the background, the interest in development, and ability as I say to work across boundaries, work with teams and be very adaptable because all kinds of things happen. It’s kind of a, I would say unstable, especially working in the Philippines, which is the headquarters here, it’s a country which is really a wonderful place to work, but it’s also a country which has typhoons, it has all sorts of disasters and people just kind of get on with their lives. They’re very resilient. So if you can tolerate stuff like that, then you’d likely to be quite a good fit for the organization.

UNjobfinder: Great. Thank you, Ann. If you then turn that around and you would have to explain why should people come and work for ADB?

Ann Rennie: Yes. Because right now Asia is one of the most fascinating continents to work in. If you think about all the things that are happening right now, the rapid growing economies, all sorts of interesting things going on. If you’re interested in climate change or environmental issues, of course that’s happening right here. And also, every day there’s changes, whether it’s environmental, economic, financial. If you look at the papers, it’s just a fascinating place. You’re right in the heart of it. Plus the fact that the headquarters is in the Philippines. It’s now a lower middle income country, but pretty much you have poverty all around you. You feel it, you breathe it, you see it. But I mean that in a positive way because it kind of enriches you. We’re not based in a developed country. We’re in a developing country, but the Philippines and the other Asian countries are very, very rich places in terms of the people, the things to do and see, and the fact that you could make a huge difference and you’re right here on the ground. It doesn’t take very long to fly from here to any of the other Asian countries. So it’s a real feeling of reward, which I get here even more than some of the other organizations I worked for because you are right here on the ground. So when you have a typhoon come through, even if you’re not working on that in operational terms as a project, you get involved anyway. You go off and you work on the food baskets and pack people’s trucks with them and help people. You’re living that life of helping and improving people’s lives. You’re right here. So it’s a very rewarding place from that perspective. And ADB has made a big difference in a lot of the economies in Asia. It’s helping to pull people out of poverty big time by large scale projects. And even the ones that are smaller scale which then you can scale up. And you can see it. You can really see it. The impacts on it. We’re in all the new countries that are just opening up now. Myanmar is the latest one for example. I don’t know whether they will open up in North Korea, but if it gets stable enough that we could go in, we’ll probably be the first organization in there. But working in real kind of frontier territories, you’re seeing things kind of grow from nothing almost. So it’s a very rewarding organization and region to be working in.

UNjobfinder: I think it sounds extremely interesting working with an organization that has a mission to remove completely poverty and make Asia Pacific free from poverty, right? And you can see that development in that region.

Ann Rennie: Yes, absolutely. You can see it really literally in front of your eyes. And actually, the headquarters here, we’re the most environmentally friendly building in the whole of Manila because we have solar panels, we have geothermal energy. We recycle all our water. We have several floors full of blankets and bedding and food if there is a typhoon or an earthquake. So we’re pretty self-sustaining and very well built building grounds and so forth. We eat our own vegetables. So we quite enjoy that kind of demonstration effect on all of our clients actually. And they’re always quite interested. When they walk into the building and they see all these self-sustaining types of energy and food production, things like that, they always get quite interested and excited about it. So that’s also an additional interesting thing for people when they come here.

UNjobfinder: Absolutely. You mentioned earlier that when we were talking more about sort of the mid-career specialists who had operational and technical skills that you were recruiting. But are you also recruiting more junior staff? Do you have any type of youth program?

Ann Rennie: Yes. We have a young professional program like most of the other IFIs. And we do that once a year. We just actually finished. We just made the offers to the latest batch of recruits and they’re aged up to 32. You have to have 4-5 years of experience of working in different areas and they don’t need to be full-time jobs. They can be internships or assignments through universities and things like that as well. But you have to have at least a kind of master’s level degree. We also have an internship program, which is fairly extensive actually. You have to be signed up for a mater’s level program. So you have to have done at least one undergraduate degree and then, either as part of your master’s, or in between the undergraduate and the master’s, you can come here and do an assignment as an intern. That actually helps you later on to get a job in our kind of organization. So quite a few of the young professionals we recruited over the years were here some years before as an intern in their sort of, say their early 20s. And then in their late 20s, early 30s, they’re applying for the YPP program and they definitely have an advantage over other people. But it gives them an advantage also for some of the UN organizations and the other IFIs as well. So the other IFIs pick up a number of our interns because they were able to show the experience of working with us for a while. And the departments choose their own. So HR really doesn’t get that much involved except for facilitating the process and making sure that there’s enough supply to meet the demand and so forth. Usually, you have many people applying. But it works quite well because the departments do the interviews themselves and they will contact them. And it really depends on their needs. But I would encourage anyone who’s interested in that to look on our website because we have a very good website. And also on LinkedIn we have a careers page which has real people talking about their real jobs at all levels basically.

UNjobfinder: So if you look at maybe the coming 1-3 years, are there any specific skills that you have identified that you are specifically looking for?

Ann Rennie: We actually are very lucky because we’re going to be scaling up. We have combined our two funding sources, which gives us the capacity to expand by 50%. And we’re just proving to the board that we’re even more efficient than we were before ramping up in terms of staffing. And our concentration is going to be in several areas. One is the private sector. The other one is public/private partnerships, climate change, livable cities or sustainable cities, and the environment, kind of the key areas. But we also have started building up health and education quite a bit too, which used to take a bit of a back seat to some of the other areas, but they’re now increasingly important because we want to have teams that cut across all these different areas together. So, for instance, you might be a transport specialist, but you’ll be working maybe with education specialists as roads are built and schools are built and ways of getting the kids to school along the roads, just to give you an example of how they get combined. So those are kind of the areas we’re looking for.

UNjobfinder: Wonderful. And I’m looking at the time now. I can see that we have been talking for quite a while. I want to respect your time. Before we end, do you have any final tips that you would like to share with our listeners, any advice for people who are interested in this type of career?

Ann Rennie: Maybe just a couple of tips. One is never burn your bridges because it’s a very small world. Anybody who works in this kind of world… You never know. Because I’m always seeing people I’ve worked with before in other organizations. If you storm off in a rage because you don’t like working for a particular organization, guess what, chances are you’ll end up with your boss or your colleague in another organization. It’s a very small world. So don’t burn your bridges. Never make enemies in that respect, particularly in this kind of a world. And the other thing is make sure you have a good work/life balance because sometimes it can get stressful for all kinds of reasons, not just the volume of work, but because it might be too hot or it’s raining so much it’s flooding, or whatever it happens to be. So you have to have some outlets. And that’s perfectly fine, especially in this organization here, to have a good work/life balance where you might spend the weekend sailing or diving or travelling or doing something with your family. And it’s not like the private sector sometimes when you’re expected to work 24 hours a day, but it’s even more important to do that in this kind of environment, to have that break and have something, an interest or a hobby or some things you can do outside of the work itself. So that’s kind of a bit of advice that I would give for this kind of organization. And the other thing is, I suppose the final thing is, just be open-minded. Especially living in a developing country too, always expect the unexpected. And if you’re too rigid in the way you look at the world and what you expect from the world, it’s a problem. I guess I would end by saying be a cup half full person rather than a cup half empty.

UNjobfinder: Exactly. Be positive.

Ann Rennie: Exactly, right. So anyway, so that’s what I would suggest.

UNjobfinder: Excellent. Thank you so much, Ann. Thank you for being with us today and for being willing to share all of your insights and experiences. It’s been truly valuable, so thank you so much.

Ann Rennie: Okay, well you’re very welcome Magnus. Thanks for the opportunity.

UNjobfinder: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Ann Rennie from the Asian Development Bank. Ann, thank you so much for joining the show. Once again, I also want to thank those of you who’ve been sending us feedback. We really appreciate that and are really happy to hear that you appreciate what we’re doing. Keep that feedback coming. You can send us tips or questions that you would like us to ask our guests or anything else. You can always reach us via Twitter @UNjobfidner, via, or via the contact form that you’ll find at We also want to remind you again that if you want to be sure to receive all these new episodes, we advise you to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. Showing what you think of this show and leaving an honest review on iTunes is something that we really appreciate. You know that you will be able to find all the show notes and transcript of the show at So thank you so much for listening, bye for now, and see you on the next episode!



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