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Learning Where You Least Expect It

Aleem Walji's picture

I was recently re-reading the December 2009 Issue of the Harvard Business Review. The issue featured a Spotlight on Innovation and I was struck by a credo used by Ken Bowen, the founding scientist of CPS Technologies (maker of an innovative ceramic composite). It reads

“The Insights required to solve many of our most challenging problems come from outside our industry and scientific field. We must aggressively and proudly incorporate into our work findings and advances which were not invented here.”

As counter-intuitive as it may seem for a chemist to learn from a poet or an economist to learn from a biologist, there’s also something incredibly simple about this insight. If it were obvious, people would have seen it already.  And yet what is most elegant is often what is most simple (but not necessarily obvious). It’s why lateral thinking is so powerful and why children, precisely because they are playful, see connections between things, that just don’t occur to us wiser folks.

It’s in the spirit of non-obvious connections, continuous learning, and seeking insight from wherever it can be found that I approach the development space. Who would have thought that the introduction of the mobile phone would do more for increasing access to financial services, reducing travel times, and arguably lifting people out of poverty than perhaps any technology in the previous three decades? What’s the role of the mobile phone going forward, beyond voice, as a platform to link people to new knowledge, increase social accountability, and reduce the impact of man-made and natural disasters? It may require a little imagination to think of how a simple phone could help answer those questions but we’re seeing examples all over the world of each. From Ushahidi to M-Pesa to Datadyne, we might look beyond the usual suspects and think of groups like MobileActive as a source of game-changers in the development space.  

A Global Capacity Map -- What If?

Tom Grubisich's picture

Countries are rated how effective they are in human development, governance, and doing business.  What if they were rated by their capacity to achieve success in all key areas of their national mission?

Ratings would measure progress in such mission "how-to's" as knowledge sharing, stakeholder participation (especially at the local level), and program results vs. objectives.

The U.N. Development Programme has singled out what it calls major successes in capacity development in 19 nations that included the Least Developed Countries of Laos, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, and Afghanistan.  But there's no comprehensive capacity rating of all 49 LDCs, much less all 145 countries classified as developing.  Even the UNDP ratings of 19 countries are based only on selected initiatives in those countries.

Mapping capacity -- horizontally across countries all the way from the national to local levels -- would, no question, be a major undertaking.  But if public, private, and nonprofit development actors collaborated, especially by mobilizing advances in networking technology, the job would not seem to be insurmountable.  Perhaps it could begin with the LDCs and go forward from there.

Multi-layered, continually updated capacity maps could be an important new tool especially for the poorest countries and their development donors in closing stubborn gaps toward achievement of 2015 Millennium Development Goals.  The maps could also be a big help to all developing countries and donors in responding to locally diverse impacts of climate change.  And that's just for starters.

Knowledge in the era of decentralization

Aleem Walji's picture

Working in the innovation space actually means thinking a lot about how we source and organize knowledge. That's definitely an area that is changing fast. Here's how I am thinking about what this means for the World Bank.

We're moving away from a world in which knowledge is centralized and resides primarily in any one organization, even an organization as complex as the World Bank or even a university. Web 2.0, particularly interactive platforms such as blogs and other social media tools, now makes it possible for a wide range of actors to co-create, critique, and share knowledge in a variety of ways. What that means for institutions that aim to be knowledge centers is that they will have to source knowledge from wherever it lies (infrequently in one place), interact with it (critique it, interpret it, build upon it), and connect increasing numbers of people to it.

Graeme Wheeler on the Crucial Role of Development Marketplace

Tom Grubisich's picture

Graeme Wheeler, who is spearheading the World Bank's mission to develop and share knowledge and innovation, gave a big boost to Development Marketplace at the opening session of DM2009 this morning (Nov. 10).

Addressing the 100 finalists in the global competition (photo at left), Wheeler, who is the Bank's Managing Director, Operations, linked DM with the Bank's recent Global Innovation Days. Graeme Wheeler, Managing Director, World Bank

"These two events -- Global Innovation Days and Development Marketplace -- will be the two cornerstones of our partnering in knowledge and learning....It's extremely valuable that the thematic focus of this year's Development Markeplace is climate change adaptation.....Climate change is the largest externality challenge of our time.  It is the most difficult public policy problem faced by the current generation of policy makers and policy advisers."

Wheeler also said, "In the World Bank Group, we see knowledge as the key element of our corporate DNA....Loans alone cannot solve the the development challenge.  What makes value is our ability to create, find, and deliver innovative solutions to our clients."

Almost needless to say, innovation is key to DM 2009.