Collaborative Knowledge, Learning and Innovation as Key Accelerators
It is an honor to be here, and to follow the steps of Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President, who spoke at this Forum last year.
I want to talk to you about ending poverty -- more specifically, since this is the World Knowledge Forum, I want to talk about how a collaborative approach to Knowledge, Learning and Innovation can become a powerful accelerator in our collective drive to end poverty.
The Ganga Problem
But first, I want to start with a story from my home country, India. The story is about the river Ganges.
The Ganges is a sacred river, worshipped by Hindus as the Mother Ganga. The Ganga’s waters are considered to be so pure and sacred that, when you bathe in them, it cleanses you of all your sins. The Ganga River provides 25% of India’s water resources. More than 2500 kilometers long, it is the most heavily populated river basin in the world. For 400 million people, mostly very poor people, life and survival depend on Mother Ganga every day.
But sadly, today, the Ganges is dying. Poorly planned rapid urbanization and industrialization have turned the Ganga into the most polluted river in the world. Every day, more than 250 million liters of untreated sewage goes right into the Ganga. The reality is that today, bathing in the Ganga, does not cleanse you. It makes you sick. Health costs in the Ganga basin alone are about $4 billion per year.
The Ganga problem is not just a problem of immense magnitude. It is also a problem of immense complexity. It is not simply about cleaning a river. It is about how governments regulate, how companies make their profits, how people live their lives. The Ganga problem cuts across many different sectors – agriculture, urban management, environment, to name just a few. It also cuts across many stakeholders in society and most importantly, millions of poor people depend on the river for their lives and livelihoods.
Other countries too increasingly face challenges that are complex, multi-dimensional, and crucial to improving the lives of the poor: for instance, creating jobs in the townships of South-Africa; or, providing access to water in Yemen. Those are problems that have no specific technical fixes – building roads and bridges alone won’t do. They require humility, the ability to collaborate and learn from the experiences of others, and the ability to innovate and take innovations to scale.
The challenge before us is how we can join forces and solve transformational problems of the magnitude, complexity and impact of the polluted Ganga? That question is at the very heart of the new World Bank Group (WBG) strategy.
The WBG Goals and New Strategy – The Imperative for a Solutions Partnership
Last April, the shareholders of the World Bank Group, its 188 member countries, endorsed two goals: to end, by 2030, extreme poverty – as measured by those living under $1.25 per day -- and to promote shared prosperity – as measured by income gains of the bottom 40% of the population. Four days ago, at our Annual Meetings, they took the next step by endorsing a new WBG Strategy to focus relentlessly on achieving those goals in a sustainable manner. Achieving the goals requires that we achieve a deeper and faster impact in the lives of 1.2 billion people worldwide who live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, and another 2.7 billion who remain poor and vulnerable, living on $1.25 - $4 a day.
The challenge is massive. Achieving the goals means that it cannot be business as usual. We need to accelerate. We need to unite our efforts to support countries in solving their problems. And this is why we need a Solutions Partnership to end poverty and boost shared prosperity.
The Ganga will become clean when the country’s stakeholders from different sectors, disciplines and social groups work, learn and innovate together to implement and iterate solutions to that complex challenge, drawing on global evidence of “what works” and the practical experience of other countries. This will require repeated iteration and collaborative problem solving, with the support of a range of partners with different strengths and comparative advantage. This collaboration to tackle such difficult challenges through a solutions cycle, underpinned by global and local knowledge, mutual learning and innovative solutions constitutes the accelerator in the fight to end poverty and build shared prosperity.
This is the essence of the Solutions WBG that President Kim talked about at this Forum last year. In the spirit of global solidarity which President Kim spoke about, we invite you to join us in a global partnership for solutions to end poverty and boost shared prosperity.
An Approach to Development Solutions
Development solutions have a cycle, which starts by understanding the true nature of the problem – the diagnosis. How often have development organizations, including my own, approached countries with technical fixes without truly understanding the problem? As part of our new strategy, we will invest systematically in shared diagnosis. Using all available evidence and analysis, we want to invest in a systematic country diagnostic to help countries identify, within the context of their national plans, what their biggest challenges are, and what the greatest opportunities are to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity. While being analytically rigorous, this will also be a tool for collaborative learning among the full range of stakeholders -- governments, the private sector and civil society – to agree on the key problems and understand the political, social and cultural realities that drive the incentives and behaviors that helped create these problems in the first place.
Only when there is a shared understanding of the key problems with clear indicators of success, can we mobilize an enhanced bundle of financing, knowledge and convening services from across the WBG and with other partners to help country stakeholders solve these problems. The resulting Solutions Partnership operating at the country and global levels underpins our collective drive to end poverty.
In this bundle of solutions, obviously finance remains crucially important. The estimated sums needed for infrastructure alone in developing countries are staggering: up to $1.5 trillion per year. But the WBG needs to approach finance differently, especially when official development assistance is less than one percent of total capital flows to developing countries and our own financial footprint is a fraction of that. The private sector today accounts for the bulk of capital investment and job creation. We need to develop innovative ways to use official development assistance to leverage much larger amounts of finance from the private sector. We need collaborative public-private approaches for tackling transformational challenges. Under the new WBG strategy, we will marshal the combined resources of the World Bankwhich supports government, with the IFC and MIGA that support the private sector.
But money alone is not the answer. How to use the money – that is the question. The Ganga will not become clean with just more money. That money already exists. The Ganga will become clean when the country’s stakeholders work and learn collaboratively, and persist through to sustainable results.
There is no better place than Korea to demonstrate the power of relentlessly and iteratively tackling the most difficult challenges to successfully traverse the journey from a country stricken by abject poverty only 60 years ago to the status of a developed nation. Take the Saemul Movement of Korea in the seventies, which had unprecedented success in tackling the very complex problem of rural poverty. The Saemul Movement built on a deep understanding of the prevailing socio-economic context of rural poverty in Korea, and then turned that into a method, which was refined and successfully scaled up over time, to support traditional community norms of diligence, self-help and collaboration. Today, the Saemul Movement solution itself might not be replicable “as is.” However, the approach to understanding, and methodically tackling, the problem of rural poverty in all its cultural, political and economic complexity, provides the international community invaluable lessons.
The WBG Knowledge, Learning and Innovation Agenda
What then can the WBG do to support a Solutions Partnership? In addition to mobilizing enhanced public-private financing, we are making five fundamental shifts to help country stakeholders collaborate and iteratively tackle key developmental challenges through development solutions:
First, we seek to make a radical departure from a lending projects approval mentality to a development solutions culture, so that we are more focused on results; more programmatic in mobilizing the bundle of finance, knowledge and convening services to achieve results; more flexible, adaptive and learning-oriented, including through real-time feedback from citizen-beneficiaries; more deliberate in creating safe spaces to incubate innovative solutions; and more focused on implementation and delivery of results. The continuous interplay of designing interventions using evidence; implementing them in an iterative way; and, learning deliberately throughout the process – that is a key aspect of what President Kim referred to in his speech last year as the Science of Delivery. To operationalize this, we will support teams, from within our organization and beyond, to develop the tools and the methods to embark on a solution cycle rather than a project cycle. We will help them to collect the evidence to frame the problems; help them bring together the stakeholders to develop consensus; help them course correct during implementation; and help them to effectively measure results.
Second, throughout this solutions cycle, we need to more systematically mobilize global knowledge and innovation of “what works”, informed by local context. This requires the best evidence-based solutions for our country clients from our global leadership in development research, combined with systematic partnerships – including with think tanks, academia, CSOs and the private sector -- both globally and nationally. Beyond research, our world today is also enriched with multiple but dispersed sources of practitioner knowledge. As a unique global development organization, the WBG has a key role in mobilizing these multiple sources of development knowledge to help clients solve their challenges. For instance, South-South knowledge sharing among developing country practitioners offers unprecedented opportunities to share lessons from success and failure, as well as deep implementation knowledge. Today developing country practitioners want to learn from each other, for instance how China lifted 500 million people out of poverty in three decades, or how Mexico’s Opportunidades program improved schooling and nutrition for millions of children. There is an enormous interest to learn from Korea’s success – a tremendous opportunity for Korea to serve as a knowledge hub for the delivery of development solutions. We have an important role in mobilizing and scaling such knowledge sharing through our operations. And we need to deploy new platforms, such as competitions and challenges, o crowd-source global and local solutions to complex challenges that can then be incubated and scaled up. Transformational platforms -- such as Alibaba in China that markets local products at scale from the base of the pyramid, or mobile phone apps that help the poor provide feedback on service delivery -- boost our fight to end poverty. We need to infuse and scale up such innovative approaches to entrepreneurs and citizens worldwide using our operations, convening power and partnerships.
Third, alongside mobilizing global knowledge and innovation, we need to more systematically capture, mobilize and deploy our internal operational knowledge and innovation across the institution and our client base. On any given day, the World Bank Group is engaged in thousands of operational interactions in well over 100 countries. But sharing this operational knowledge is hampered by weak incentives, including our institutional fragmentation into regional silos with very limited flow of expertise and knowledge among them. To this end, we are launching far-reaching organizational reforms, by creating unified pools of technical experts under global practices to flow talent and knowledge across the Bank Group. We will provide incentives and supporting systems to systematically codify what we learn through our operational engagements and external partners on a global platform of what works under different circumstances, and make it widely available. We will also continue to make our data accessible. And we will redouble our efforts to create a culture of innovation and smart risk-taking, to create safe spaces for staff to co-create innovative solutions with partners through disciplined, data-driven experimentation.
Fourth, we need to systematically translate this global-local knowledge into effective learning programs for country clients and our staff to enhance their capacity to achieve results. We will bring our clients and our staff together in an Open Learning Campus, so that they can learn from each other and jointly develop the skills that are needed to solve the complex challenges of our time. We will seize opportunities to dramatically scale up learning, for example through massive open online courses or MOOCs.
Fifth, to achieve accelerated results, we need to not only strengthen technical skills but importantly leadership and coalition building skills to manage political economy obstacles and make change happen. Through our learning programs, we need to strengthen the collaborative leadership skills of change agents from government, the private sector and civil society so they can forge a shared vision and coalition for action, prioritize and monitor delivery, persist through inevitable obstacles, and achieve visible results. Helping to build a new cadre of leadership, in developing countries and inside our organization, will be a top priority for us to power the change agents as engines to end poverty. We have already started by building a Network of Delivery Leaders (Heads of States from six new governments), and we intend to cascade this within and across countries.
To help implement this agenda, for the first time in the history of the World Bank Group, a Vice Presidency dedicated to Knowledge, Learning and Innovation has been created by President Kim. This complements our Senior Vice Presidency that leads our development research and intellectual leadership on development issues. Our goal is to enable the entire World Bank Group to mainstream and scale up global knowledge, learning and innovation in every country, through every engagement. We seek to build a physical and virtual platform for joint client-staff leadership and learning, knowledge sharing and innovation to enhance our collective capacity to accelerate the end of poverty. We seek to accomplish this in open partnership with others – governments, international organizations, the private sector, donor partners, academia, and civil society.
A Global Solutions Partnership
Going forward, the challenge I want to leave you with today is how we, as partners, can accelerate the end of poverty and build a world of shared prosperity by collaborating to tackle the most important challenges as partners. Let us come together, as individuals, as organizations, and as countries, from all disciplines and all corners of society, each with our strengths and skills, to form such a “Solutions Partnership” by working together to support multi-stakeholder collective action on the ground, and make systematic use of knowledge, learning and innovation to help solve the biggest development challenges.
That is my invitation to you today.
A Tale of the Second River
I started with a story from my home country India - the story of the ailing river Ganga. To end, let me come full circle with the tale of another river – a story from this country, in fact from this very city, Seoul. A story of the once ailing, yet now very healthy, Cheonggyecheon.
Cheonggyecheon is a six kilometer stream that starts in the heart of downtown Seoul and courses through neighborhoods before emptying into the Hangang river. In the 1950s, Seoul was growing at a rapid pace. Migration generated slums along the stream in shabby makeshift houses. The lack of proper sewage systems and pollution from light industry generated trash and waste, which ended up in the stream, and which became a dirty and polluted eyesore. In 1958, the stream was covered up with concrete which was seen to be a solution then - a 5.6 kilometer long and 16 meter wide elevated highway. But upon construction, this became a dark, noisy and seedy corridor.
Ten years ago, a visionary Mayor exercised bold leadership to adopt an unlikely idea to demolish the highway and restore the stream. It was expensive, controversial and unpopular. He forged unlikely coalitions among very diverse stakeholders to foster a common vision and push through bold action. And look at Cheonggyecheon today – today, this beautiful landmark unites this city. Ten years ago, it divided the city.
Cheonggyecheon once was Seoul’s intractable problem, like Mother Ganga in my country. Today, it stands as a proud, international symbol of sustainable urban renewal.
How can we help practitioners worldwide get inspired and learn from this and the myriad other examples of transformational action to change the world for the better, to lift 4 billion people out of poverty and vulnerability? This is our challenge, our imperative and our moral responsibility going forward.