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Reforming the Bank’s Procurement Framework - Interview with Chief Procurement Officer Chris Browne

May 13, 2015


In 2012, the World Bank started a review of the procurement rules and procedures that regulate how borrowing governments can use Bank money for buying goods, services, works, and for hiring consultants. The goal - to reform procurement in Bank operations to better support clients to achieve value for money and to produce sustainable development, while upholding the highest fiduciary and integrity standards. The review process included two global multi-stakeholder consultations. The Bank engaged with more than 4,000 stakeholders from governments, the private sector and civil society to develop a procurement framework that is fit for purpose for development.

As the review is moving toward the approval of the Bank’s new procurement framework, Chief Procurement Officer Chris Browne sat down with Angela Walker from the World Bank’s Staff Engagement and Internal Communications department to discuss progress made to date and the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

Q: How does efficient procurement achieve better development results?

A: To build the bridge, to buy the medicine, to construct the school, to hire the nurse or the doctor requires some form of procurement by our clients. In the same way we have a challenge attracting the best and brightest people to work for us, we have exactly the same challenge in attracting the best and brightest from our suppliers and business community to bid for Bank-financed contracts, particularly in some of the difficult places that we work. If we get the procurement approach right, we can make sure that our clients get the right people and the best value.

Inside the Bank, I think we should remember that procurement doesn't work on its own. It's wider than just the procurement function. It's also all the project management, the project design, the implementation and everything else. Procurement is one aspect of a bigger picture—toward achieving results—but it's a very important one.

Q: What are some of the challenges we face in the procurement arena?

A: The World Bank is supporting every type of project, from helping women access justice, to environmental cleanup, to supporting some of world's biggest metro systems, to roads in fragile and conflict states. The Bank is working in 168 different countries. Sometimes procurement isn't high on the government agenda. Or companies aren't used to working in the place that we're encouraging them to work in. I can't think of another organization that has to deal with this level of complexity and diversity in terms of its procurement approach.

Q: Has the global financial crisis had an impact on procurement?

A: The Bank commits about $26 billion per year. A huge chunk of that, $14-15 billion, is spent by clients according to the Bank Group's procurement guidelines. We know we have funding pressures going forward. That's why we had the Expenditure Review. Money's getting tighter and tighter for the Bank Group. When we look at our donors and our borrowers, money is getting tighter for them too. The questions we have to ask ourselves are, “Are we getting the most efficient, effective deal for our clients and our borrowers on every project? Can we be 100 percent assured there is no waste? Are we helping our clients to get the best out of their systems?” If we can't answer positively, then we're not supporting development outcomes. The reform addresses these issues. At the same time we’re developing electronic systems to store, track and publicize procurement data that show bottlenecks and inefficiency. We launched the Procurement App at the end of last year and are now working on launching a procurement tracking system, called STEP

STEP is an online system to help the World Bank and borrowers plan and track procurement activities under Bank-financed projects. It transforms data into knowledge, speeds up the procurement process, and improves accountability and transparency – driving results for development.

World Bank Group

" Are we getting the most efficient, effective deal for our clients and our borrowers on every project? Can we be 100 percent assured there is no waste? Are we helping our clients to get the best out of their systems? "

Chris Browne

Chief Procurement Officer, World Bank

Q: How has the Bank Group dealt with procurement in the past?

A: The Bank Group has had a very successful and influential history when it comes to the procurement approach we use to work with our clients. We should be proud. There has been a largely common approach that we apply across the whole planet and across all projects. We’ve managed diversity through consistency be it in Afghanistan, Fiji, China or Brazil—this consistency and certainty encouraged businesses to engage on projects. That approach has been in place for 50-60 years. But as you know, we've had this little thing called globalization, the Internet. The information flow today is far different to what it was even ten years ago. Our clients access the latest thinking and practice in real time, through multi media. In today's diverse, globalized world, our clients want more tailored approaches specific to their particular environments and contexts. They want things that are modern and cutting edge—they want to procure the best in medical imaging technology and not an old x-ray machine, and they're pushing and challenging the Bank Group on how best to do this. And we’re responding.

Q: Can you tell us the feedback you’re hearing from the global procurement consultations?

A: Overall, there’s been broad support for the Banks proposals to modernize its Procurement Framework. In particular, clients like the changes that allow greater consideration of quality in determining who wins a procurement contract and the much more hands-on support. For the private sector, they are also keen on the greater emphasis on quality, more choice of different procurement methods and the ability to work with us to develop solutions.

For more details on the consultation and stakeholder feedback: https://consultations.worldbank.org/consultation/procurement-policy-review-consultations

Q: How has the reform been met internally?

A: Most people buy the logic that if we can get a better deal and stronger government institutions, then we'll get better development results for clients, and we'll help to achieve shared prosperity. I think the nervousness is around changing a 50-plus-year-old system that we're all used to, and that is tried and tested. There's a lot of recognition the system needs to change, but there's a lot of anxiety around what that change means. We've been through a policy procedures review to see what should be absolutely hardwired as policy, because it's so critical and key to us as an organization. But things like whether there should be six consultants to bid for a project, seven, or five, is not something that we will hardwire into a policy statement. We've put the focus on the absolutely critical things to deliver the vision of the Bank Group, and then we’ve put the nitty-gritty detail into management’s regulations for borrowers so there's more flexibility.

Q: Tell us about your work before joining the Bank Group?

A: I led the procurement reforms in New Zealand, including the emergency response following the Christchurch earthquake. A $4 billion contract was put in place and work started within seven days. Price wasn't a factor in the decision. It was actually the ability to manage cost repairing and rebuilding properties. We put in place cost benchmarking, cost measurement and real performance measures to make sure they're doing it fast and efficiently. People actually started to see repairs happening to their houses and municipal buildings within days. This is now a published best practice case study.

Q: Why is procurement your passion?

A: I actually started in procurement at the tender age of 18. I like it, because you get involved with everything an organization is doing—everything from health to energy to water projects. If we develop the right procurement approach and the right strategy, you start to get people interested and excited in the project. You then start to get the business community excited. You can see how it makes a huge difference on the ground. Recently, the Chinese government asked for the Bank Group's help to reform their entire procurement system. I kind of have to pinch myself a little bit working with EAP and what's now the second largest economy in the world to reform how they're spending and buying trillions of dollars' worth of goods and services. It can have a huge impact, not just for the Bank Group’s development, but for everybody. I thought that was pretty cool.


Chris Browne joined the Bank Group in November 2012 to lead procurement reform to better address client needs while ensuring development outcomes with transparency and integrity.

Last Updated: May 13, 2015