Tony Zola

Tony Zola

'76 MA (Econ)

Freelance Consultant
International Development

Tony Zola is a freelance consultant working on international development in the Greater Mekong Subregion of Southeast Asia. Currently Zola is helping to ensure the continued economic survival of thousands of farm families displaced through dam construction in Laos. Working as a lenders’ technical advisor for consortia of international investment banks, Zola certifies that project-impacted persons in Laos, displaced by hydroelectric dam construction, are fairly treated and their incomes restored if not significantly improved.

Zola’s international development work began in 1970, as a Peace Corps volunteer, serving for two years in Nongkhai, Thailand, across the Mekong River from Vientiane, the embattled capital of Laos.  Following his tour with the Peace Corps he was recruited by the United State Agency for International Development to work in economic development in Laos. As the Vietnam War came to end, Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam became too politically dangerous for western development agencies, and Zola was evacuated on the last flight out of Vientiane in May of 1975.

After graduating from Maxwell, he headed to Burkina Faso with the Catholic Relief Services where he administered a maternal and child nutrition and health program. Not long after, contacts from Peace Corps Thailand tapped Zola to return to Southeast Asia to advise the World Bank on projects in Thailand. He settled landless farmers on marginal lands along Thailand’s southeastern border with Cambodia, which was under the control of the Khmer Rouge at that time. The Khmer Rouge attacked the Thai government’s land settlement offices along the border in April 1978, killing seven of Zola’s Thai colleagues. Sheer luck saved Zola from the same fate. He had taken off work for a long weekend and travelled away from the project site. Following the attack, Zola opted to evacuate himself.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, he was a consultant on development projects in Thailand involving agriculture, irrigation, forest management, conservation, and coastal resources. In 1990, the United Nations Development Programme sent him back to Laos to resume development work, this time in irrigation projects in the Northern provinces. With assistance from the World Bank and the ADB, he expanded his work in Laos into areas such as environmental monitoring of plantation forestry, biodiversity conservation, and smallholder farming.

Between 1991 and 2008, Zola founded and ran a consulting company, MIDAS Agronomics Co., Ltd., headquartered in Thailand. Implementing projects supported by the World Bank and the ADB, Zola worked alongside policymakers on issues of agriculture, rural economics, and environmental management. During this period, he also worked on agricultural trade and environment issues within the framework of the World Trade Organization and the Asian Development Bank to restructure the Thai agricultural sector following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Zola credits Maxwell professors Jesse Burkhead, Roy Bahl, and Stephen Strand for allowing him to rise from a development practitioner to a development policy advisor. Zola thanks Irving Swerdlow especially, for stoking his passionate interest in working for a global community. Looking back, Zola remembers his education at Maxwell as a challenging experience that prepared him for an accomplished career in international development.