Creating Resilience for Communities with Global Adaptation Institute’s Dr. Juan Daboub

August 28, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us from Washington, DC, today, Doctor Juan Daboub. He’s the founding CEO of the Global Adaptation Institute and he’s done many, many things besides that. He used to be the Managing Director of The World Bank. He was El Salvador’s Finance Minister of Finance and he was also the Chief of Staff to President Flores in El Salvador. Welcome to Green is Good, Doctor Juan Daboub. DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be in Green is Good and I look forward to this fantastic interview. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, Doctor Daboub, you have one of the most interesting and fascinating and important histories out of any guest I’ve ever had on in the last three and a half years and I want you to share a little bit. Before we go into what you’re currently doing at your great organization now, The Global Adaptation Institute, I want you to share your journey, how you even got here. Can you share with our listeners your journey first? DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: Well, thank you. I’m originally from El Salvador, son of a family that migrate from the Middle East to El Salvador several, several years ago and because of the civil war that took place in my country in the ’70s and ’80s, I came to study to the United States. I came to study at North Carolina State University and once I finished — I did my bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in engineering and once I finished that situation in my country, it was still kind of difficult so it didn’t feel right for me to stay here and “take it easy” but rather I wanted to go back to El Salvador to actually do whatever I can from any trench that destiny will put in front of me and at the age of 26, I was invited to be part of the government at that time. In my case, I did not belong to any political party and I ended up being in government for about 12 years from 1990 to 2004. I worked for three different administrations without belonging to any political party and I helped transform the economy of my country, open it up to more competition, and make investment rates. We also rebuilt the country after the war and also after the two earthquakes that we had in 2001. After I finished my role in government, as you said, Minister of Finance and Chief of Staff to the last president in 2004, I was invited to work for the World Bank and that’s what really brought me to the United States. As a Managing Director, I was responsible at the World Bank of 110 countries. That’s all of Africa, all of the Middle East, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean and that’s a four-year appointment. When I finished in 2010 my tenure at the World Bank, I decided to start the Global Adaptation Institute as a platform, as a means through which I can continue to help people in need around the world with a practical and pragmatic approach to one of today’s greatest challenges, which is climate change, especially the fight of adapting to a changing world, which is very important, especially to developing nations. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and thank you for sharing that journey and it’s just amazing and I’m so glad you’re on the show today because you have so much to share and for our listeners out there who want to see Doctor Daboub’s great work and what he’s created, please go to his website. It’s www.gain.org. I’m on it right now. It’s a beautiful website. There’s tremendous information and a lot of areas to connect and become part of the solution and not the problem. You’re talking about climate change now, Doctor Daboub, and we’re talking about the discussion that’s existent today. What’s relevant today? Is climate change mitigation important or adaptation important and how do you frame that whole issue? DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: Well, here in the United States, there have been a division if you want, a polarization if you want in what we decided at the institute what to basically ignore or to not waste time in terms of political debates but rather, think about practical solutions that will not only save lives but improve livelihood to issues and problems that are happening already so we do not see, if you want, a tension between mitigation and adaptation. However, a lot of work is already taking place on mitigation and not as much on adaptation so adapting to a changing world, creating resilience for communities is very important. It’s already needed and also, coming from El Salvador and having worked in those 110 countries that I mentioned before, in developing countries, adaptation makes more sense now because many of the adaptation measures that people need will help to lift people out of poverty, improve water supplies, reduce health risks and increase access to energy in the poorer countries so certain practices and actions can help us to address mitigation and adaptation at the same time. Better agricultural practices, for example, can sequester carbon and increase yields but these do not cover the full range of necessary adaptation actions and that is why now with the ND-GAIN endeavor, we are focusing exclusively on the adaptation side of the equation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, ND-GAIN, your organization, you’re bringing private sector to the table. Explain what that means and how you can really move the needle and make change happen by bringing companies and private sector to the table with regards to climate change. DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: This is very important. From my experience, both in government and at The World Bank. Many of these big companies have gone around the world. You have a lot of bureaucrats and a lot of people sitting around the table except those who, in theory, you are supposed to be helping and those who, in theory, can also put the money for these things to happen so we want to make sure that the voice of the voiceless, and on the other hand, the voice of the private sector who can actually put the money and create the jobs that are needed is very well taken care of and in that sense, I think that the highest risk that, for example, the private sector faces today is lack of knowledge and lack of metrics to actually understand what is really going on. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, and so how do you propose companies that are going to be affected from this climate change, how should they be dealing with this and how is it affecting them? DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: Well, every day, as the world population shifts, not only grows but shifts from the rural areas to cities and very close to the shores in some countries, also as economies expand and climate patterns change, the use of resources comes on the more competition and different stakeholders in society so companies must communicate that their operations are helping people obtain access to essential goods and services and in this production process, that they are beneficial in the use of resources which are otherwise under threat. Companies are already involving creating adaptation solutions from making agriculture and water use more efficient to securing transport and energy infrastructure. That private sector is really helping to build resilience in these crucial sectors. Investments in long-term adaptation, John, will produce a high concern for early movers and I think that history has shown that humans are able and capable to adapt to the most adverse conditions when they have the freedom to create and innovate and so there is no controversy for companies to look for a double bottom line, one which provides the return on investment that they need for the shareholder and create jobs and two, for actually doing good from a sustainable angle. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, that’s such a great point and for our listeners who just joined us, we’re on with Doctor Juan Daboub. He has created an amazing organization, the Global Adaptation Institute, and it’s called ND-GAIN and you can check it out at Gain.org. Talk about, Doctor Daboub, your ND-GAIN index. What is that and why did you create that? DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: As I mentioned before, two of the things that the private sector, but also public policymakers, need is knowledge and metrics and there is some knowledge out there for the communication needs to take place but on the metrics side, we found that there was a lack of information so that you can actually, and you said a few minutes ago, can see how the needle can move, hopefully in a positive direction so a tool was needed to show governments and companies that live in society, not only where were vulnerabilities to global changes such as climate change and urbanization and population shifting but also where investments could make the most difference so an open source transparent and credible tool was also needed to show a path for how countries could improve on a specific sector crucial to human welfare and development, specifically energy, water, food, health, and infrastructure so that was the reason behind developing the index and recently, as of April the 28th, we have established a very strong partnership with the University of Notre Dame. They have a fantastic group of scientists who are helping us and we’re working together on addressing these issues in a way that is both very scientifically sound but very practical so that people can actually use it and policy makers can actually move forward faster. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, really, simply put, your great index creates measuring tools because then what you’re positing is what’s measurable is manageable and the more they can measure these different verticals, the more that can be managed towards a specific goal. DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: That’s exactly right and the index calculate box is the ability and that means how exposed a particular country is to these changes that I described before but also, how ready it is to take actions and how we can enable the environment to actually attract investment from the private sector to minimize those vulnerabilities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Doctor, we’re down to the last three minutes or so. Two things I really want our listeners to hear here: Why did you create this? What’s your background and personal interest on this issue and what’s next? You’ve done so much in your life but you’re still very young and you still have so much more to do, especially with this great organization that you’ve created. Talk a little bit about why you did this personally and where you’re going with this. DOCTOR JUAN DABOUB: Perfect. Well, as former Minister of Finance of El Salvador. I recognize the importance of having clear and credible information the decision makers could use to actually implement those decisions. Further, as the Managing Director of the World Bank, I saw the growing need to understand and build resilience to global changes around the world and finally, as a businessman, I understood the need to promote clear and fair regulations and laws that create a level playing field for businesses to facilitate innovation creativeness and create jobs so what is next is I’m going to be the chair of the Council on Climate Change at the World Economic Forum and I’m also providing some help again off and on for projects to the United Nations and I’m hoping that forums like the World Economic Forum and the UN will actually take on board the metrics that the ND-GAIN provides and make it the tool of choice for decision makers who want to go to a particular country, use the data that is an open source and available to everybody, and help prioritize the investment so that we can help people in need and improve livelihoods. We are going to have this year in Washington, DC, an annual meeting where we bring together some 200 to 300 leaders from around the world, both from public sector, private sector, and civil society to increase the level of awareness to use the index and to actually attract investments to those countries in need. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Doctor Daboub, there’s so much more to share about your great organization and there’s so much more that you’re going to be doing in the future. I want to right now put it out to you. I want you to come back on Green is Good and continue the story of ND-GAIN and what you’re doing. For our listeners out there, please go to see Doctor Daboub’s great work at www.gain.org. Doctor Juan Daboub, you are a brilliant sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good.