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Organizational Culture

Breaking Down Barriers to Sharing Knowledge

Nena Stoiljkovic's picture

In international development, knowledge is our most valuable commodity. The right knowledge applied at the right time could change the lives of roughly a billion people who now live on less than $1.25 per day. In response to their plight, the World Bank Group has set two ambitious goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030, and to boost shared prosperity for the poorest 40% of people in developing nations.
 
To achieve these goals, we need to use all of the World Bank Group’s assets: our finances; our global presence and convening power; and especially our vast store of development knowledge and experience. If we assemble the best global knowledge, share it quickly, and help countries apply it to local problems, we can empower the poor to shape their countries’ future.
 
Not all of our knowledge is on a shelf, or in digital and multimedia products. Much is in the minds of our thousands of experts who work in over 120 countries around the world.
 
But we know that our knowledge does not always move fast enough, or get to the right people at the right time. A recent working paper, written by two World Bank Group colleagues, highlighted this problem (and also got some media attention — not all of it accurate).  It’s not just technical problems that stop our digital knowledge from flowing (such as PDFs that are not easily searchable) — our knowledge is also often stuck in organizational silos. Our staff in East Asia don’t talk enough to their counterparts in Africa, for example, and our water experts don’t always connect enough with our health staff. These impediments are a legacy of our organizational culture, structure, and incentives. We can do better.
 
On July 1, we’re going to break down the walls of those organizational silos, in one of the most significant reforms in the World Bank’s history. We’re reorganizing our knowledge services to create Global Practices and Cross Cutting Solution Areas, to assemble the world’s best experts and knowledge, and make it more accessible to our clients. Wherever our experts are sitting, whatever issue they work on, they will be linked in a much more active way with their colleagues, in areas like education, trade and competiveness, transportation and information technology, environment and natural resources, and energy.

Best Advice: Give It a Shot

Jim Yong Kim's picture

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received sounds pretty simple: Give it a shot.

Dr. Ted Alyea, a senior resident at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gave me this advice in 1991 when I was the most junior of physicians, an intern.

We were standing outside a patient’s room in the Intensive Care Unit. Our team was discussing the plan for treating a very sick patient when Ted said to me, “Tell us what you think we should do next. Give it a shot.”

During patient rounds, interns take turns outside a hospital room presenting the patient’s background; reciting what is known about the patient and the disease or condition including careful recounting of symptoms, laboratory data, diagnostic studies and current treatment. Then the intern and senior resident go into the room to examine the patient and afterward the team decides on a plan for treatment.