I joined the International Water Management Institute, IWMI, in October 1996, and was assigned to its Pakistan office as its Research Coordinator. This position reported to the Director of IWMI Pakistan, IWMIPK, and to the Deputy Director General (DDG) of IWMI, who was based at IWMI Head Quarters, IWMIHQ in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Professor Gaylord Skogerboe (Skog) an American, with a wardrobe full of bright colors, tall, obese and blonde hair was the Director of IWMIPK. For Irrigation Engineers, Skogerboe was a familiar name, he has written a few text books, and I was excited that I will be working with him.
But, there was a problem. I was interviewed and appointed by IWMIHQ, and Skog was unaware of it, until a week before I went to Pakistan. Those at IWMI Pakistan were with an impression that I was sent to replace a Senior Researcher (SR) who was very popular among the locals. The SR was Skog’s graduate student, and Skog too had a lot of respect for the SR. Obviously, the communication between Skog and IWMIHQ was not great.
There was a reason. IWMI HQ communicated through emails, but Skog can’t type. Emails had to be printed, Skog will write his response whenever he returned from field trips, and his secretary will then reply on his behalf. So, any communication between Skog and the HQ took longer, and it will become public knowledge at IWMI PK almost instantaneously.
It took me a week to realize why I was getting a cold shoulder from staff at IWMI, and Skog too maintained a distance, but took care of me and helped me settled well in Lahore.
In the meantime, I too communicated matters on behalf of HQ to Skog and vice-versa, some he liked, others he ignored. By mid-December, after two months on the job, we both had to be at HQ in Colombo. Skog spent time with the DG and DDG, understood why I was sent, and how I have represented activities in Pakistan at HQ over the two-month period. One evening, he walked to me, hugged me, lifted me in the air (I was 15 kg lighter then) and said that I had been a bridge-builder. So, after three months on the job Skog accepted me as his ‘Deputy’. Our relationship improved day by day.
I noticed how masterful and foresighted Skog was compared to his peers at IWMI. He ran the largest program of IWMI, and it was the same size as that of the Headquarters.
Skog did not have a policy for capacity-building, but he facilitated a few overseas MS and PhD scholarships for IWMI PK staff. He opened opportunities for at least 20 Masters students enrolled for degrees in Pakistani Universities. He made sure that every staff – National or International – published research reports. He wanted them to learn to write research reports, and was not worried about how great the science in the report was. He facilitated training of 2000 farmers in a year. He did not touch a computer, but, introduced Remote Sensing tools to IWMIPK, well before IWMIHQ. He also taught the support staff how to maintain the gardens, office space, toilets and office cars, and how to document their activities. He did not tolerate late-comers, and those who do not submit draft reports on time for him to review.
Skog did not have a policy for uptake, but he developed research with 26 National Water related agencies in Pakistan – some in research, some in implementation and others in policy. He brought staff from line agencies on secondment to IWMIPK. His steering committee included Secretaries of Irrigation and Agriculture from all four provinces. He met with them every six months, massaged their egos, and informed them of IWMI’s progress. Uptake of IWMI’s products was automatic.
When travelling with him I was astounded by his drinking habit. He used 12 ounce tumblers to drink whiskey. He poured whisky, then ice, then soda, and drank. He had a few of them at a time. Half a liter will be gone in no-time, before we sat for dinner. Then he will say, its the company which makes the food into a meal. A compliment to those joining him for the meal. While drinking, we spoke extensively – actually he spoke and I listened. I am glad I did.
Skog’s lessons started with Clichés. There were many. He said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Once I understood what it meant, I learnt how to control anger. He said that everyone must learn to suffer gracefully. Since then I managed my disappointments without making myself a bitter person. He told me there’s a reason for everything, and you will only know at a later stage. This has become very evident to me many times over the years. He also said that all bad things come to an end – I added, all good things also should and must come to an end, else, we will not appreciate how good things were.
Skog was borne on the 1st of April, and he joked about it too. He died in 2006, the day on which he was to present IWMI’s work to an audience at Utah State University. IWMI’s mission was high on his agenda, even 8 years after he left IWMI. Had he lived, he will be 80 this year.
I am now finishing my second stint with IWMI. Four and a half years in late 1990’s, another two and half years now. I went to Pakistan in late 2013 in my official capacity after 13 years, and I was told that the time Skog and I led was IWMI PK’s golden era. In reality, I struggled to fill Skog's shoes.
When my departure after my second stint was announced within IWMI a month ago, I received many complimentary emails from junior colleagues describing me as a caring person and a role model. I wouldn't have been one, if I did not learn from Skog.