Speeches & Transcripts

Sarah Cliffe, Director of Strategy and Operations: WELCOME REMARKS - GDLN AP Annual General Meeting

June 29, 2009

Sarah Cliffe


It is my great pleasure to be with you here in Mongolia for the Annual General Meeting of the GDLN Asia Pacific Association.  I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to come to this meeting during what I know if a difficult time for many of your countries.  I would like to welcome in particular the colleagues from South Asia. It is good to see so many of you here.   Special thanks also to the Mongolia Distance Learning Center and the World Bank Office, Mongolia for kindly offering to host this year’s General meeting.

I would like to use the time allotted to me this morning to talk about the World Bank’s knowledge strategy and role for GDLN in this context. 

However, before I begin, I would like to congratulate the members of GDLN AP for your successes to date.  The GDLN program in East Asia and the Pacific is one of the most active worldwide.  This is in large measure a result of the hard work and initiative of the affiliates represented at this meeting.  We are particularly excited by the increasing number of programs that are initiated by GDLN AP affiliates, on your own.  I know that several of these will be highlighted in the GDLN showcase session this afternoon.  We are also looking forward to hearing about the activities and programs of the GDLN centers in South Asia.

Now let me turn to my main topic – the World Bank’s knowledge strategy.


The World Bank remains strongly committed to support for knowledge services as a key contribution to development.  Knowledge is one of the six pillars of President Zoellick’s strategy, and one of the key pillars of our strategy for the EAP Region.  

In delivering services to our clients, the World Bank is fortunate to be able to draw on an unparalleled pool of development data and expertise, a global network of country platforms, a strong balance sheet, broad convening power, and a highly motivated and entrepreneurial workforce. 

Individually, these strategic assets may be impressive, but it is only by combining and applying them to development challenges that their full potential emerges.  Cultivated through an active presence in 120 countries, deep and long-standing relationships with partners, and our understanding of global and national policy issues, these strategic assets create opportunities for promoting effective development solutions.   Knowledge is at the core of ability to harness these assets and transform them into dynamic solutions for our clients.  Without knowledge, the World Bank cannot lend, it cannot advise, and it cannot convene.   Hence knowledge is the key to development effectiveness and the driver for our success as a development institution.

The external environment and client demand for knowledge products and services have changed in fundamental ways compared to just a few years ago.  

  • Democratization in the production and consumption of knowledge is occurring on a global scale, thanks to rapid advances in information and communications technologies.  Faster processing speeds, powerful search tools and instant feedback through internet platforms are opening up entirely new modes of collaboration and are fundamentally transforming the delivery of knowledge;  
  • Our clients are increasingly diversified, and include graduated countries, middle income countries, IDA countries and fragile states. They demand customized, higher quality and more diversified knowledge products and services – with a premium on timeliness, cross-country evidence, and “how-to” lessons of implementation.   The entry of new actors has made the development arena increasingly contestable and highly dynamic.  Today, hundreds of development organizations have valuable expertise to offer;
  • The growing interdependence between countries and institutions requires collective responses to development challenges that need to be integrated into programs at community and national levels.  Global and local issues are deeply intertwined and are changing our understanding of the development process.  Examples include current responses to the global financial crisis and to epidemic diseases such as the H1N1 flu.
  • And finally, the emergence of global concerns such as climate change and the current financial crisis are likely to increase debates on development policies and to challenge existing paradigms, requiring sound analysis and openness to a plurality of views, rather than reliance on established models.

These changes are forcing a refinement of the Bank’s knowledge strategy and indeed some rethinking of our role as a development institution.

In the immediate-term, focus is on the global financial crisis.  While the biggest part of our response is focused on mobilizing emergency financing, particularly for those countries who cannot access credit markets, we are finding that there is also a strong knowledge dimension to our approach to the crisis.   As a result of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the downturn, fundamental changes in the role of government are taking place, with many governments taking on functions of lender, guarantor and investor in major parts of their economies. Governments are therefore seeking advice on core policy issues, such as how best to insulate their economy from the negative effects of globalization, the appropriate design of macroeconomic and regulatory policies, effective interventions to protect the most vulnerable, etc.  

Looking beyond the current crisis, we expect that demand for our knowledge services is likely to continue to grow and evolve.

Looking first at the poorest countries, it is likely that many will not achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those relating to human development.  These countries will seek insights from the successful experience of those who do meet the goals, prompting the World Bank to expand its analytical work and capacity building in those countries experiencing the greatest shortfall relative to the MDGs.

Knowledge and experience to help address the challenges that fragile and conflict-affected states face through weak governance, poor economic management, civil conflict, war, and geography will become even more important as development indicators lag behind, and these states become further disconnected from global society.

Middle Income countries will seek information on successful policies in wealthy countries and advice on whether similar initiatives can meet their needs.  Countries with rapidly expanding middle classes will look for options on urbanization, health, education and pension policy. 

Global and regional public goods will increase in importance as countries seek collective solutions to issues such as climate change, communicable diseases, water management, trade, and migration.  Our role will rely heavily on knowledge: using the World Bank’s convening power to publicize issues and seek collective agreements; piloting products or market approaches that could be scaled up by others; and developing sound country responses as part of national poverty reduction strategies. 

So the demands will include a range of dimensions, including North-South, South-South, and even South-North exchange of knowledge and experience.

So that is our vision of the demand for knowledge services in the future.  

In terms of our response, we are refining our strategy to address some of the changes noted above, and also to draw on lessons we have learned from some of our past knowledge initiatives.

Some of what we are doing is of an internal nature, focused on re-invigorating our internal communities of practice and adjusting our budgeting and HR practices to create the right incentives for a knowledge-based culture.

However, an equally important shift is in the nature of how we engage with partners to deliver knowledge to our clients.  In the past, the World Bank considered itself primarily as a knowledge generator.  However, now and even more so in the future, we recognize the need to become a more of a knowledge connector and knowledge broker.

There is a growing recognition that the largest and most important sources of development knowledge lie in countries’ own experiences. Accordingly, we recognize that the World Bank needs to become a more outwardly oriented and open institution that excels in client engagements, works closely with development partners, and continually scans outside our own institution for proven development solutions and promising innovations.

We also recognize that to be successful, the diagnosis of development challenges and the design of policy instruments needs to draw on a plurality of development approaches, and in particular from developing countries themselves.  Many of the best insights will come from successful emerging countries, rather than OECD models.   Hence, emphasis needs to be placed on facilitating peer-to-peer exchange and development of communities of practice that bring together policy makers and practitioners from different countries. 

Similarly, we recognize that the knowledge demanded by our clients is increasingly of a “how to” nature, and is demanded on a just-in-time basis, rather than through long reports.


So far I have talked about the evolving dimensions of the World Bank’s knowledge strategy.  Let me now tie this in with the role we see for GDLN, particularly within the Asia Pacific Region.

As I look at the directions and dimensions of our knowledge strategy, as just discussed, I see GDLN fitting centrally.  Whether it is in the area of capacity building for fragile states, sharing experiences on responding to the financial crisis, establishment of regional networks of experts and practitioners, or just-in-time knowledge exchange, GDLN is  ideally placed.  Also, the unique composition of GDLN members and affiliates within the Asia Pacific Region provides opportunity for a range of dimensions of knowledge exchange, including South-South, North-South, cross-regional, and within countries, given the growing number and reach of national networks.

I am pleased to note that programs and initiatives that address many of the areas of demand and opportunity that I spoke about earlier are already being delivered by GDLN AP members, either on your own or in collaboration with the World Bank.  I understand, for example, that the Shanghai DLC has already initiated a dialogue series to share experiences on coping with the financial crisis.  And that ANU has delivered an effective program of capacity building for the Pacific Islands, aimed at building a community of practice among policymakers from these countries.  And that TDLC has helped to link experts from Kobe and other Japanese cities with counterparts in China to share experience on disaster recovery and reconstruction, following last year’s earthquake. 

I know that these are but a few examples, but they point to the key role of GDLN, and how it fits with the World Bank’s knowledge strategy and vision.   As a result, I want to assure you that the World Bank remains committed to continued partnership with GDLN AP in implementing our Regional Strategy, and will continue to rely on GDLN for assistance in delivery of our own knowledge products, including cross country exchanges, policy dialogues, and dissemination of our analytical work. 

As discussed at the Jakarta meeting and again in Hanoi, we see our role moving from that of sustainer of the Network, to that of a client of the Network, and I think that you have similar opportunity to provide services to other donors and Regional organizations that are looking for an effective platform for knowledge exchange and capacity building. 

Some of you will recall the comment made by ASEAN Secretary General Surin, during your last General Meeting, in Jakarta, about the prospect of a GDLN ASEAN.  As you will hear later today, this is already becoming a reality, as the World Bank has worked with the ASEAN Secretariat, together with GDLN AP members, to organize several multi stakeholder dialogues and to facilitate just-in-time access to global expertise.

We have committed to assist the ASEAN Secretariat in making use of GDLN as a platform for knowledge sharing, policy dialogue and outreach, and I believe that this will create opportunities for GDLN affiliates in ASEAN member countries, both as delivery sites for ASEAN programs, but also to work with ASEAN focal ministries in your countries to help define ways in which GDLN can be used to engage with their counterparts.

Similarly, I see strong potential for GDLN centers to position themselves as an effective platform for South-South knowledge sharing, an agenda of growing importance to the World Bank and other development partners.   The prospective integration between GDLN AP and GDLN South Asia would help to enhance the attractiveness of the Network in this respect. 

You have the ability to provide a unique mix of delivery infrastructure, partnership networks, and understanding of how to design learning and knowledge exchange activities that make effective use of various technologies and modes of delivery.  To effectively fulfill this role, I encourage you to concentrate on providing high quality service to World Bank units and other clients.  The encouraging initiative by TDLC to provide technology hub services for the Region only serves to enhance the GDLN AP value proposition.  The training on marketing and proposal writing that we have organized for you on Friday is also intended to help you in better understanding how to position GDLN as a service provider to organizations like the World Bank.

Let me close by once again thanking Arshad, Sunji and the rest of the team from the Mongolia DLC for all of hospitality and all of their hard work in organizing this meeting.  I look forward to hearing from Phil and Kevin about what I am sure will be successful outcomes.