Science international: Tako Koning

    “War ended here just 12 years ago. Universities were in total shambles— classrooms with no desks, libraries with no books, professors who had fled.” For two decades, Koning has lived, worked, and volunteered in Angola, playing his part in the slow, steady rebuild following 27 years of civil war.

    By Alan Shapiro on June 23, 2014

    From the window of his apartment, Tako Koning ('71 BSc) looks out at the high-rises that have sprung up in what was once a slum in downtown Luanda, Angola. Relics of the shantytown, or musseque, as they are locally known, provide a stark contrast to the new residential and commercial developments.

    “War ended here just 12 years ago. Universities were in total shambles— classrooms with no desks, libraries with no books, professors who had fled.” For two decades, Koning has lived, worked, and volunteered in Angola, playing his part in the slow, steady rebuild following 27 years of civil war.

    Born in the Netherlands and raised in Edmonton, Koning holds degrees in geology and economics from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary respectively. As a new grad, he quickly established himself as an accomplished manager, research author, and university presenter. But his record of community service, from Calgary to Nigeria to Angola, is no less extensive—having earned an Alumni Honor Award from the U of A in 2008 and a Public Service Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2010 for his volunteer work in Africa.

    Most recently, he has also established himself in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and was involved in a major CSR project in the interior of Angola between 2006 and 2010 to rebuild civil war damaged schools.

    Koning points to his volunteer work with the Yme Foundation, a Norwegian NGO working on providing clean water to communities in the Angolan province of Cabinda, as a point of particular pride. In a landscape where surface water supplies are often contaminated with garbage and human or animal waste, locals are in constant threat of water-borne illnesses that can lead to serious problems like chronic diarrhea.

    “Drilling for water is no different than drilling for oil,” he says. “In both cases, you are looking for reservoirs in the subsurface that are very productive. When you are with an oil company, you are looking for reservoirs which will flow a lot of oil into oil-gathering facilities. When you drill for water, you want to find reservoirs which will provide a lot of clean water for the local population.” Koning describes the incredibly rewarding moment when a successful water well has been completed and a fountain of water comes pouring out of the ground.

    Koning lives his motto—never retire—every day, as evidenced by how busy he’s been since his retirement from Texaco in 2002. “It doesn’t make sense that a person reaches the age of 60-ish and then they feel it is time to bail out of their profession. “ he says. “People have so much technical or management experience and knowledge and in my view, then there is a certain moral obligation to share it with others.” Koning has plans to wrap up his work in Angola within the next few years and expects to return to Calgary while continuing to give lectures at universities and conferences in Canada and abroad. “In a way,” he says, “I’ve come full circle, from the receiving end to the giving end.”

    A long-time donor to the University of Alberta, Koning reflects fondly on his time at the U of A. “I’ve worked in the oil industry for 43 years in four different countries, and I feel I’ve received an education as good if not better than most of the people I have worked with. The U of A had the right balance between academia and its application for the development of natural resources.”

    As a student, he recalls attending lectures by visiting geologists from Canada and abroad. “That was always a big thrill for me, to see how geology could be applied for economic development in oil and gas and minerals or water resources in Canada and overseas.” Koning takes a moment to show off his impressive fossil collection, a passion of his that traces back to his second-year paleontology course with Charlie Stelck.

    Koning’s journey has been anything but easy. He recalls a period in the late 1990s when his family lived in Calgary and his work would take him from Calgary to Angola to international conferences, flying across the Atlantic more than 60 times in four years. Today, he and his wife Henrietta live in Angola year round, returning to Alberta for about three weeks a year. Most of his holidays are spent travelling within Angola, experiencing the natural and cultural richness of the country which has become his second home.

    As a leader in industry and a dedicated humanitarian, Koning also continues to lead and inspire through his support of the C. R. Stelck Chair in Petroleum Geology. He supports this research program in recognition of Charlie Stelck’s profound influence on him and for the way this research continues to build Alberta’s key energy sector.


    How to support the ongoing impact of the Stelck legacy

    Supporting the C. R. Stelck Petroleum Geology Chair Endowment Fund will ensure the Faculty of Science coninues to lead in the field of petroleum geology by attracting world class researchers and students to build and innovate Alberta’s key industrial sector as part of the vast legacy of Charlie Stelck.

    For more information, please contact Kim Taylor, Assistant Dean, Development, (780) 492-7411 kjt@ualberta.ca