Water Policy and Sustainable Development, Part Two: Careers in Development and Public Policy

Water Policy and Sustainable Development, Part Two: Careers in Development and Public Policy

In part two of our interview with Professor Briscoe, the former Senior Water Adviser at the World Bank and Professor at Harvard provides targeted advice to students and young professionals interested in careers in development and public policy.

What does it mean to be a “specialized integrator,” and why might this be important in pursuing careers in the development space? What is the relationship between academia and practical application? If you are interested in pursuing a career in development, or are interested in working for an international organization such as the World Bank, you’ll want to tune into what Professor Briscoe has to say!


“If I am trying to assemble a team at the World Bank to work on issues of water management in rural Pakistan, I need various experts. I need a hydrologist, and ecologist, an economist, a historian… When I put this team together, this is obviously an issue in which all of these disciplines and their perspectives is important. As the manager of this team, I want to be able to turn to somebody and say, ‘okay, explain to me what the implications of, say, sedimentation are.’ I need people who have specialized knowledge, but I also need to have people who can talk to folks in other disciplines constructively. I’m looking for people who are both specialists but also who can interact with folks in other fields of expertise.”

“Spend the first twenty years of your career learning your trade, your specialty.”

“Work in the field early on if possible.”

“Understand that practitioners don’t read, and researchers don’t practice. [And this is not necessarily a good thing.]”

About Our Guest: John Briscoe

John Briscoe at Lake Benmore on Waikati River 2011.preview

John Briscoe’s career has focused on the issues of water and economic development. He has worked as an engineer in the water agencies of South Africa and Mozambique; as an epidemiologist at the Cholera Research Center in Bangladesh; as a professor of water resources at the University of North Carolina; and, for the past 20 years in a variety of policy and operational positions in the World Bank. Most recently he has served as the Bank’s Senior Water Advisor and the Country Director for Brazil. He holds a joint appointment as the Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Environmental Health in the School of Public Health (SPH) and as Professor of the Practice of Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University.

He received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Harvard University in 1976 and his B.Sc. in Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in 1969. In addition to the United States, Briscoe has lived in his native South Africa, Bangladesh, Mozambique, India and Brazil. He speaks English, Afrikaans, Bengali, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Briscoe has served on the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Academy of Sciences and was a founding member of the major global water partnerships, including the World Water Council, the Global Water Partnership, and the World Commission on Dams. He currently serves on the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum; is a member of the Council of Distinguished Water Professionals of the International Water Association; and will be the first Natural Resource Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has published extensively in economic, finance, environmental, health and engineering journals. Recently he authored Water Sector Strategy, India’s Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future, and Pakistan’s Water Economy: Running Dry.



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