Born during the repressive Khmer Rouge regime, Andre Ban left Cambodia with his family for a refugee camp in Thailand before relocating to France in 1983 to start a new life. He was only seven years old. This big change was the first of several to come as Andre has swapped a home and career for new adventures.
Andre lived in France for about 26 years and earned a Masters in Information Technology from 2002-2002. His career took him to several French firms, where he mostly worked as an IT helpdesk. From 2006-2008, he started visiting Cambodia on holidays for about a month at a time, reconnecting with his roots and practicing his dormant Khmer, until 2009 when he took the decision to move back permanently.
“I felt the pull to return to birth country and live with my people. I have always felt at home in Cambodia, so I took the challenge to live and work here. Plus I felt that I could in someway participate in developing the country and help improve living standards,” Andre explains.
From IT to development aid
When Andre left France, he left his career in IT behind and pivoted to development cooperation. He started working with Sofreco, a consulting firm not unlike NIRAS International Consulting, managing an Asian Development Bank (ADB) project in the state rubber plantations.
“We were responsible for relocating people from the plantations and giving them proper compensation such a small house. I also got involved with other projects funded by the World Bank, EU and the French Development Agency (AFD).”
At the end of his first year back in Cambodia, Andre started working with NIRAS as a project manager on another ADB-funded initiative.
“I collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to provide support to smallholding farmers in the agriculture sector. The aim was to showcase and promote the take-up of climate-friendly agriculture production practices, using new ideas and technologies, so farmers could improve their incomes while protecting the environment and adapting to climate change. It was very interesting and fulfilling work,” Andre says.
Since then, Andre has been involved in several regional projects such as the Core Agriculture Support Programme (CASP), the Core Environment Program (CEP), all of which were implemented in the Greater Mekong Subregion from 2016 to 2018. He was also part of the team for a Bangladeshi land administration project that supported the Ministry of Land in improving the national land administration system to give access to and secure the land title of owners, especially disadvantaged groups.
NIRAS creates an environment that make us happy at work. It’s a great organisation with committed colleagues across the offices in Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. NIRAS has given my team flexibility and trust and provided opportunities to work beyond our roles and expertise to overcome challenges.
CEP was a big challenge for Andre as the initial Team Leader resigned and he was proposed as a replacement.
“I had never worked as a Team Leader, and I’m not an environment specialist. At first I was hesitant, but finally I took the challenge. In the end, it was quite successful and the client was very happy. The key to our success was coordination with the other team members as well the ability to combine information and take quick decisions.
“That is why I enjoy working at NIRAS. There is so much flexibility in the organisation to create your own work and freedom to move beyond roles to do new and interesting things and challenges.”
Having a direct impact
As Country Director of NIRAS Cambodia, a job he has held since July 2018, Andre manages a team of five in Phnom Penh and is responsible for growing the business in Cambodia and the region. He works mostly in the fields of agriculture, water resource management, water supply and sanitation, the environment, and land administration.
When asked what he likes most about the job, he thinks first of the impact it has on others. “I really enjoy my work because we are contributing directly or indirectly to creating a better life for people. For example, as a result of our projects, farmers produce more environmentally-friendly agri products and realise better incomes for their families. In the case of land projects, beneficiaries receive proper titles and their rights are recognised and protected,” Andre explains.
“Winning projects and bringing them to successful fruition also feels pretty good. Especially when this is recognised by the client and felt by beneficiaries.”