Taking on the challenge

IRF Geneva’s new chair is a man with global vision and a global mission

As the world’s foremost road experts and industry leaders began to gather in Lisbon for the 16th IRF World Meeting, the Federation’s Geneva Programme Centre proceeded with the election of a new chairman to guide the organisation into the next decade.
The overwhelming vote went to Mr. K. K. Kapila, the chairman and managing director of ICT Pvt. Ltd., a New Delhi based firm that has been ranked among the top hundred consultancy companies in the world, and which operates in over 30 countries. Already a member of the IRF Geneva Board of Directors, and vice-chairman since 2007, Mr. Kapila’s nomination earned him the distinction of becoming the first non-European to be elected to this key responsibility.

What lies ahead
We caught up with him the next day at a reception/dinner – hosted by Mr. Kapila, in his capacity as Chairman of IRF’s India Chapter, the Chairman of the National Highways Authority of India and the Secretary of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways of the Government of India – to present developments and opportunities in the country’s road sector.
When asked to present his vision for the future of IRF, and what he would like to achieve during his chairmanship, Mr. Kapila characteristically began by paying tribute to the firm foundations laid by his predecessor and friend, Jean Beauverd, whose quiet diplomacy has steered the organisation through a period of global economic turmoil and seen it emerge strengthened and more united:
“During Jean’s exemplary Presidency, IRF Geneva has been restored to a sound financial footing and has consolidated its position as the international voice for the road sector. He has done the hardest part, and I am grateful for this. It will make my work easier! Following in his footsteps, I will direct particular attention to further developing and strengthening IRF, notably by harmonising cooperation with the other Programme Centres, fostering partnerships and promoting ever stronger awareness of road issues.
“I would like to see IRF spread over a much larger global canvas. My first aim will be to at least double the collective membership over the next 18 to 24 months. IRF should be able to provide answers to all issues related to roads and road transport through the collective wisdom of its members worldwide. Our working groups will be strengthened to include experts from the member countries and beyond so as to bring to the table much wider experience for handling a comprehensive range of interconnected issues. This extensive expertise will ensure an authoritative knowledge bank in the form of an IRF portal uniquely qualified to provide appropriate answers to enquiries received from key stakeholders, including sovereign governments.”

Global importance of roads

Coming from a country that sits astride the mega-developed and developing worlds – and which in many ways symbolises shifting global dynamics – Kiran Kapila represents a particularly apt choice to ensure that IRF’s message remains universal, and that its work continues to resonate in harmony with differing needs and aspirations throughout the world.
“Perhaps my election is, indeed, a sign of the increased globalisation of the IRF. Today, the world has become a much smaller place. Many issues affect more than one country. The most obvious that come to mind are the growing environmental challenges we face today,” he commented.
Taking up this point, we asked Mr. Kapila whether roads – long acknowledged as drivers of economic development – could now be increasingly conceived as drivers of parallel social and environmental progress, and, if so, how IRF might be able to facilitate this process?
“Road development is the engine of economic development, and helps to achieve social development in an inclusive manner. It connects various regions and stimulates integrated development. All IRF activities promoting safer road development, for example, automatically enhance integrated social and economic development. The development of roads under various alternative modes, paying due attention to environmental concerns and incorporating the latest technological advances, will advance sustainable development and serve society at large across the globe.”
In his earlier acceptance speech, Mr. Kapila had similarly highlighted changing perceptions of the global importance of roads and the need to transcend their past, often unfairly negative, image. Indeed, it is being increasingly recognised that, without roads, and the access they bring to vital trade and services, the UN Millennium Goals simply cannot be attained. In many ways, such considerations directly reflected what the Lisbon World Meeting was all about:
“As the President of the Congress, Emanuel Maranha das Neves, said in his welcome, ‘sharing the roads means reconciling the needs of the industrial world with those of developing nations’. Over the next decade, our industry has a crucial role to play at the forefront of efforts to ensure that society responds responsibly and proactively to the new challenges of our times.“
In this context, we asked Mr. Kapila which cause in the field of transport – if he had to choose just one – would he particularly like to see fulfilled during the course of his mandate.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he chose what he has described as the veritable global “epidemic” of road fatalities. This is an issue particularly close to his heart and one that he has pursued with vigour in his home country.
“To my mind, the most important global cause in the field of transport and mobility is road safety. Every year we lose 1.3 million lives worldwide, while another 50 million people are injured. Quite apart from the suffering involved and the lifelong trauma caused to victims’ families, this in turn represents a massive economic cost – to the tune of some 518 billion dollars. This is a colossal loss, particularly for the developing countries, which bear 80-90 per cent of this burden. I will wholeheartedly work to reduce road crashes and related fatalities.”

Road safety awareness
Already, Mr. Kapila has organised four groundbreaking IRF regional conferences on road safety, and the 5th is already at an advanced stage of preparation.
The latest in the series was held in New Delhi in October of last year around the theme ‘Accident Prevention: Road Safety Measures’. Organised by IRF in collaboration with the national Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the National Highways Authority of India and ICT, the meeting attracted some 350 high-level international experts. A comprehensive set of practical recommendations ensued aimed at achieving the campaign’s stated target of a 50 per cent reduction in road fatalities by 2012. The recommendations may be viewed in full on the www.indiairf.com website, alongside a host of imaginative tools to promote road safety among all ages and categories of road users – from jigsaws, car stickers, poster slogans and games to a whole arsenal of modern awareness tools, including links to Facebook, Twitter and a comprehensive series of professional videos on You Tube.
With the guidance and support of a leading media partner, NDTV, the campaign has deployed a high-profile national advertising and awareness strategy. This has been translated into all major national languages, and notably includes daily insertions in some 130 leading newspapers.
Mr. Kapila is at pains to point out, however, that the campaign and advocacy of IRF India is for a total solution and is not limited to merely raising awareness.
The recommendations encompass the full range of key issues, including notably road safety audits at planning stage, speed control and management; steps against drunken and other forms of “impaired driving”; stricter driver and vehicle licensing provisions, more stringent roadworthiness criteria; rigorous enforcement of seatbelt and helmet provisions; highway code awareness and education within the national schools curriculum; mandatory training in approved driving schools; and improved road conception to incorporate the very latest best practice in “forgiving road” design.

Taking action
Given his solid reputation as both a man of his word and a man of action, Mr. Kapila’s vision for the future of IRF is unlikely to remain in the realms of rhetoric. Indeed, even before his election he was already active, alongside his predecessor Jean Beauverd, on the recently established core group of “wise men” drawn from across the industry, engaged in conducting a thorough and extensive analysis of IRF’s present status, together with a comprehensive review of future trends and opportunities aimed at evolving a common road map and strategic plan for the future. The group, whose remit focuses on practical and strategic issues, is exploring potential avenues for dynamic development of the sector and is generating a number of promising ideas and proposals, which will be more thoroughly analysed, compiled and presented shortly.
Mr. Kapila’s election represents the latest in a long line of business honours and responsibilities, including executive office over many years with several leading professional institutions, including notably his position as President of the Consulting Engineers Association of India. A fellow of the Indian Institution of Engineers and the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering, he is also a member of (inter alia) the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Indian Geotechnical Society, the Association of Airport Planners and Engineers, the Indian Building Congress and the Indian Institution for Urban Transport.
Among numerous distinctions, Mr. Kapila has been nominated a ‘Man of the Year 2001’ by the American Biographical Institute and was discerned the prestigious Bentley Award for design excellence in 2005. In 2007, he was honoured with the IRF Award for his outstanding contribution to road safety.
The IRF is in good hands as it gears up – both as an industry and as committed global corporate citizens - to face the many new challenges and priorities for the sector that were highlighted during what proved to be a landmark World Meeting in Lisbon.
We wish Mr. Kapila every success and fulfilment with his important new responsibilities.

IRF World Meeting
The 16th edition of the IRF World Meeting came to a close with converging assessments and innovative proposals aimed at ensuring that roads are truly shared by all. Over 275 technical papers presented at the World Meeting have provided ample empirical evidence that increased personal mobility can be decoupled from traffic accidents, congestion and environmental pollution, provided appropriate policies are adopted and innovation actively encouraged. Co-benefits should be exploited wherever possible: innovative road construction and maintenance technologies additionally help address the issue of safety and financing by reducing overall project costs and offering users a safer driving environment.

Please register to comment on this article