In late 2011, as part of our Institutions Taking Root (ITR) series, my colleagues and I visited some of the most remote villages in Timor-Leste to seek feedback from citizens on the performance of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS).
The responses of citizens we met on the trip – many of whom were living on less than $1.25 per day and scarcely had any interaction with government – were intriguing.
From August 2002, just months after Timor-Leste gained independence, to April 2006, I was the World Bank’s Country Manager for Timor-Leste and thus eyewitness to an unfolding state-building process. The experience affected me profoundly as a development professional. In the short time I lived in Timor-Leste, and notwithstanding daunting circumstances, I saw some agencies, in particular the Ministry of Health and the Central Bank, grow into institutions that delivered results and broadly gained the trust of the population. When community violence erupted in 2006, the Ministry of Health responded effectively, and the Ministry of Social Solidarity repurposed itself around the drawn out displacement process that followed.
My observation of this process is what inspired Institutions Taking Root, a new report that illustrates how institutions can become effective even in the most fragile of circumstances. The report looks at some public institutions that do manage to deliver results, earn legitimacy among citizens, and forge resilience. While the specific experiences of these agencies vary from country to country, learning more about the practices and policies that contribute to their success can reveal important clues about how institutions grow stronger and take root in fragile contexts.