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John Kirke scholarship fund

WEDC - Learn with us: John Kirke scholarship for distance learning

Scholarship Fund

GHK Consulting Limited (which has now been absorbed into ICF International) has set up the John Kirke Scholarship Fund in memory of one of its founders, John Kirke, a role model to all.

John was a municipal and transportation engineer who, from a background in local government in the UK, spent much of the latter part of his professional life working at improving urban infrastructure and services in developing countries worldwide.

John's particular interest was in creating the conditions that would ensure that the benefits of urban infrastructure investment would be enjoyed across all socio-economic groups in a city. At the end of his career he was an internationally recognised urban development, institution, and infrastructure specialist; and Chairman of the multi-discipline consulting firm GHK, of which he was a founding partner.


The objective of the Fund is to provide support to students from developing countries who share John's interest in the provision of urban infrastructure and services. The hope is that they will continue to support developments which seek to deliver the benefits of good quality and reliable urban services to all within their communities and countries.

John Kirke and his career

John was educated at the Royal Masonic School in Bushey, Hertfordshire, and on completion of his National Service obligations and following time with local government he specialised in traffic engineering and management and qualified as a Chartered Municipal Engineer.

John showed early leadership potential. In the course of his National Service he attended the Royal Engineers Officer Cadet School at Chatham where he was recognised as the outstanding cadet of his intake. He subsequently took a Short Service Commission and became a senior instructor in photographic interpretation.

On demobilisation with the rank of Captain, John recognised the slowness and limitations of advancement in local government with respect to urban and infrastructure development. He joined Shankland Cox, a leading UK firm of architects, planners, and valuers, and proved his worth whilst working as the only engineer in the firm both in the UK and internationally, in Jamaica, Malaysia and Croatia.

John's early international work concerned the requirement for physical infrastructure to stabilise and control unplanned coastal development and open new areas for development in support of tourism. Yet despite enjoying such engineering challenges, John felt that tourism projects on their own, despite the economic benefits, appeared to be far removed from meeting the overall development needs of emerging nations. John could see the effects of rapid population growth and in particular, its effect on rural to urban migration, as towns and cities expanded in an unplanned and haphazard manner.

John's background reading and further research supported his own observations. Slums and unserviced settlements were proliferating throughout the developing world; they were the centres of poverty and social exclusion. Vast numbers of urban households were living with little or no title to the land and in temporary structures. All this was happening in the countries least able to cope.

Urban migrants were constructing settlements in an informal way and clearly needed assistance that would enable them to help themselves. National governments and support agencies were clearly struggling to cope with the problems, but John could see that the situation presented great opportunities to give support. There was an urgent need for urban infrastructure development and technical assistance but the number of qualified people with experience in the international urban sector was limited. John wanted to get involved, his background and training were appropriate, and he concluded that the way forward was to work for himself and seek kindred spirits who were qualified in a variety of appropriate disciplines.

He sought associates, capable of obtaining their own commissions and who could work either as individuals or as members of a multi-discipline team. Together with David Gilmore (urban planner) and Donald Hankey (architect), the firm of Gilmore Hankey Kirke, known as GHK, was founded in 1973. Over the next 35 years the firm expanded and prospered. Economists, sociologists, and municipal finance professionals were recruited and chosen for their outlook and philosophy as well as their technical competence. John was closely involved, hand picking lateral-thinking engineers who were sensitive to the needs of the developing country clients and capable of working in multi-disciplinary teams.

John had the unique ability to guide and delegate work to his engineering protégés and as a result, at least a half a dozen of them have become internationally recognised in their own right.

As GHK expanded to embrace UK and mainland European-based economic development, John remained in charge of GHK's international work, co-ordinating and supervising GHK's bids for major international consulting assignments while simultaneously shouldering responsibility for other global assignments.

In association with his founding partners, John Kirke was responsible for the corporate culture of the firm which is much admired by peers and clients. Without exception, everyone who has worked with him either as a client, overseas counterpart, retained consultant, colleague, or employed staff acknowledges the value of his technical contribution, holistic approach, professionalism, and concern for others. His presentations to would-be clients inspired confidence and trust and as a consequence, GHK was frequently included on a short list of firms to be invited to make proposals for assignments requiring international competition.

In 2006 John and David Cook, (former GHK consultant and municipal engineering specialist in the World Bank), were jointly awarded the George Stephenson Medal by the Institute of Civil Engineers for a paper they wrote entitled 'Urban Poverty: Addressing the Scale of the Problem.' The paper distils their experiences and findings after a professional lifetime of involvement. A copy of the paper can be obtained from WEDC's library and is essential reading.

The John Kirke Scholar

It is hoped that through study and dedication, the John Kirke Scholar will endeavour to follow in John's footsteps. Some of John's many skills included:

GHK would like the scholar to consider and embrace these skills in their studies and future career.

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