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There is only one thing the leather industry should be thinking about right now, and that is events on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in January of this year. Last week President Obama went on television to say that a US drone strike had killed two hostages, Dr. Warren Weinstein and an Italian aid worker.
I first learned that Warren had been kidnapped from the house he used as an office and home in Model Town, Lahore, Pakistan on August 13, 2011 when I got a telephone call from the US that day. I was on holiday in Iceland. His guards had been tricked and he was taken at gunpoint at 3am.
Warren and I first met after he called me in 2008 to see if I could help him with an economic development project on the Pakistan leather industry. I flew out and stayed with him in his house Lahore for around a month as we toured the tanning centres and leather industry in Pakistan.
I found him a quite remarkable man. He was the Pakistan country director for J.E. Austin Associates, a development contractor for the U.S government and had been in Pakistan for about five years when I arrived. He had done USAID projects in a number of areas such as gemstones, marble, furniture and a dairy industry and his approach and outcomes had created great confidence in government circles. As a result the leather industry contract was awarded directly to J.E. Austin with no USAID involvement.
Working with him was a tremendous experience. He had a distinct approach to the development agenda examining all parts of the supply network from raw to finished article. He covered education, waste management, fashion, customers and industry competence with an intense thoroughness. He travelled to Northampton to discuss all these with the University and see what could be put in place for the longer term.
In Pakistan we went to Sialkot, where he would have been so pleased to know that the tanners are now building a full central waste treatment plant and that the match balls for the soccer World Cup were made there again. We got excited about the potential for the Kasur tanning district to move to finished products and build on their fantastic history. We were impressed with the excellence of most of the tanneries in Karachi. Warren's extensive list of contacts in industry, government and among the aid community meant that every idea could be explored and developed. And all these contacts were good friends.
Those who follow the leather making chain all the way through know that a country like Pakistan has the raw material to create many jobs at the product making stage. Warren recognised this and was determined that the tanneries offered Pakistan an outstanding route out of poverty for many Pakistani families. He was determined to make it happen.
Warren was 73, was a Fulbright scholar who earned a master’s degree and a PhD in international law and economics from Columbia University. He was proficient in seven languages and had learned Urdu while in Pakistan. After teaching in the US he joined the aid community and had been involved in it throughout the world for 40 years. He was three days off retiring and returning home when he was taken. Long after our project was complete he remained involved and interested in the leather sector. I viewed him as a good friend, despite only knowing him for such a short period. He loved Pakistan and took great trouble to understand the people and the culture. It is quite heartbreaking to think he has been lost in this way. The world needed his energy, his intelligence, his skills and his humour.
I have never met his wife, Elaine, nor their daughters. They have the deepest condolences from the many friends he made in the leather industry on whom he made such a great impact.
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