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FEATURE STORY

Online Course Helps City Leaders Become Financially Savvy

March 30, 2015

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Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

Story Highlights
  • Cities around the world struggle to secure revenue sources and to manage funds efficiently, with serious consequences on everyday urban service delivery as well as long-term investment
  • To help city governments improve their financial management practices, the World Bank is offering a comprehensive online municipal finances course geared specifically toward local practitioners
  • Thanks to its practical, problem-solving approach, the e-course has so far yielded tangible results on the ground. It also led to the creation of a global online forum where alumni can learn from each other and share best practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A finance official from Mutare, Zimbabwe plans to make municipal finances more transparent and accountable to citizens.

A government official responsible for district development in Dominica will be able to give better advice to local authorities regarding revenue projection and managing expenditures.

An IT specialist from Kampala, Uganda organized a working group to increase revenue sources, including from user charges on water and electricity.

These are some of the early actions that participants of the World Bank’s e-course “Municipal Finances – A Learning Program for Local Governments” are taking to improve financial management in their home cities. The course was conducted over eight weeks between October and December 2014, the fourth delivery since the pilot launch in May 2013.

This time, more than 507 applied, bringing together hundreds of finance professionals from municipalities and ministries, international organizations, consulting firms and academia. Institutions such as the Caribbean Development Bank encouraged senior finance executives, senior finance and development officers, accountants, and tax auditors to participate.

Reconciling two imperatives: transparency and efficiency

The e-course’s popularity underscores just how urgent the issue is for practitioners around the world: with bulging urban populations, city leaders are working to deliver services and make investments under tight fiscal constraints, and they need to develop technical capacity on the ground to improve financial management practices. “Local governments are under pressure to do more with less, so they have to be creative about finding sources of revenue and judicious in rationalizing their expenditures,” said  World Bank lead urban specialist Catherine D. Farvacque-Vitkovic, co-author of the book “Municipal Finances: A Handbook for Local Governments”— a companion to the e-course.



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Structured around 8 modules, the e-course is unique in how it focuses on helping local governments solve municipal problems, connecting urban planning, investment programming and financing so they can move forward on reforms. It also brings together many different agendas: on one side — governance, accountability, social inclusion and citizen engagement, all concerned with the transparency in the use of public funds and, on the other side — public finances, infrastructure, land, PPPs all concerned with efficiency of public expenditures. 

“Local governments stand in the middle of these two large agendas, and need to make tough choices. What we try to do in this e-course is to unbundle these challenges and present a menu of solutions in a compelling and palatable way,” said Farvacque-Vitkovic.

According to a survey of participants of the Fall 2014 course, 95% considered it highly relevant to their daily work. Some found the opportunity to familiarize themselves with management tools particularly useful, such as multi-year budgeting and capital improvement planning, design of revenue enhancement programs, borrowing strategies, and cost recovery schemes that focus on financial and equity concerns. A Municipal Finances Self-Assessment Tool (MFSA) included in module 7 enabled participants to work through their own situation and identify pathways for reforms.

Creating a global community of practitioners

Participants also favored the course’s ability to connect a global community of practitioners facing similar local challenges through a discussion forum led by core participants.  In the Fall 2014 session, successful participants represented 43 countries covering all regions of the world.

“I particularly liked the discussion forums where each one of us could share our experiences and exchange ideas related to Municipal Finance,” said a participant, explaining how the forum helped them learn from each other.

A participant from India said, “Frequent discussions have been extremely helpful in understanding the intricacies of existing systems, methodologies and approaches in municipal corporations in other nations.”

Participants are already beginning to apply their knowledge to their daily work, to boost revenue collection, improve on reporting systems for greater transparency and accountability, make effective use of external resources, manage and utilize assets more efficiently, as well as conduct training of local authorities.

The e-course is being conducted twice yearly, with the latest delivery beginning today, March 30, 2015. The 858 participants in this latest edition amount to an enrollment increase of almost 70% over the Fall offering that shows the growing interest in training on this area. The next course will be offered in Fall 2015.


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