When it comes to improving portfolio performance, the Maghreb Country Management Unit (CMU) has found a solution that worked well: Partnering with the Government counterparts to form a strong Implementation Support Team (IST).
In early March 2019, the World Bank hosted eight Government representatives from various ministries and institutions (including the Central Bank) from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. These representatives form what the Maghreb CMU has called "the ISTs". They had a busy week of training on World Bank operations from Strategy to results on the ground and the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) evaluations. They even participated in the Quarterly MNA-Global Practices portfolio review to see first-hand how the region and the Global Practices partner together for better portfolio performance and were determined to replicate the approach with their sector ministries. These ISTs played a major role in improving the Maghreb portfolio performance and boosting its disbursement ratios and therefore are playing a major role in expediting results on the ground to the beneficiaries.
"The success of the IST rests on the relentless engagement of our counterparts throughout the year and during three formal gatherings: planning session at the beginning, mid-year review, and review of outcomes at the end of each Fiscal Year," said Mrs. Marie Françoise Marie-Nelly, Country Director of the Maghreb and Malta.
So what is the IST and how was it formed?
It all started in FY 2016 when the CMU was faced with several problem projects and slow disbursements. A new approach to portfolio performance reviews, called "Deep Dive", was implemented. The aim was to better understand the low performance of the Maghreb portfolio from all its angles and from design to Monitoring and Evaluation. It also aimed to determine the systemic issues, and address them in a sustainable manner, beyond what regular Country Portfolio Performance reviews (CPPRs) focus on. One recommendation of the "Deep Dive" was to form a team from the World Bank side and another one from the Government side to work together as Implementation Support Team and meet frequently to assess portfolio performance and find solutions together. The ISTs were then formed, and they served as the main counterparts to the World Bank’s IST that is composed of portfolio and fiduciary staff. This arrangement proved to be very effective in ensuring client ownership and commitment to portfolio performance. The first year of the "Deep Dive" and IST involvement resulted in a reduction of the Maghreb’s problem projects from 14 to 5 and an increase of the disbursement ratio from 12 percent to 21 percent.
"This is an excellent initiative that we are trying to replicate across the Middle East and North Africa (MNA) and that should also be replicated across the World Bank. This partnership between the World Bank and the Government Implementation Support Teams will not only help us deliver our portfolio with a better quality, but will also help us implement the new MNA strategy more effectively," said Mrs. Anna Bjerde, Director, Strategy and Operations in MENA.
It is worth noting that the Government IST is composed of government representatives that also attend negotiations of Bank projects and therefore are well versed with all projects’ aspects from the design stage to implementation and closing. Therefore, a week-long training of the IST at the World Bank Headquarters to learn more about all Development Effectiveness aspects as well as portfolio performance at every stage of the projects’ cycle and new procedures proved to be beneficial.
"The concept of IST is a good example of how the World Bank can work hand in hand with clients to achieve greater development effectiveness. IEG welcomes the Maghreb IST’s strong interest in tightening the feedback loop between evaluation and project management," said Mr. Auguste Tano Kouamé, Director at the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) of the World Bank.
Learning together for faster results for the people of the Maghreb
The ISTs had a fruitful week of learning and knowledge exchange and shared their respective experiences in addressing their portfolio challenges at the World Bank Headquarters. The training program included in-depth sessions on the project cycle, World Bank instruments, Quality at entry and supervision including Quality of Investment Projects Financing Analysis, Development Effectiveness (including portfolio monitoring and reviews); Monitoring and Evaluation; and Quality of projects at exit (including a showcase of results on the ground), as well as a closer look at IEG’s evaluation criteria and what makes a project/program highly satisfactory.
The IST benefited from a better understanding of why the "Human Capital Project" and the "Africa Moonshot" are key World Bank Group priority themes and were able to better appreciate the focus of the new Maghreb pipeline on these themes. The IST had also participated in a hands-on training on a new communication platform called "Tawassol", meaning linkages, which allows Project Implementation entities to share their experiences, ask operational questions, and address challenges through peer-to-peer learning. The CMU is looking into possibly expanding "Tawassol" from a country-level to a Maghreb regional level to maximize the learning and knowledge sharing. In addition to the operational learning, the IST visited the World Bank’s Innovation Lab in the I building and the representative from the Central Bank of Tunisia was inspired to propose the creation of a FinTech Lab in her institution.
What was the key to the IST’s success?
IST should also stand for: Invest, Sustain, and Trust. These were key in improving the Maghreb’s portfolio performance. Both the World Bank and the Government invested time and efforts in working collaboratively to find solutions, to sustain these solutions through a strong government ownership of the portfolio monitoring process, and to build trust between the World Bank and government counterparts to form ONE strong and efficient team working towards ONE objective: Delivering faster and long-lasting results for the people who needed them the most.