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How a Coconut Becomes a Shield Against Climate Change

Tom Grubisich's picture

Indigenous Peoples have been contending with destructive weather like cyclones, flooding, and drought for centuries -- as the development community has sometimes belatedly discovered.  Nine of DM2009's winners are projects that tap into that special know-how to help indigenous communities survive the increasingly destructive weather that climate change brings.

Indigenous know-how is invariably practical and low-cost -- like the winner from Samoa.  That project would build three traditional Samoan houses -- called fale, for "open house" -- as models of "safer, accessible, resilient, and sustainable housing."

Here's how a fale is built, as described in a fascinating story on the East Asia & Pacific website of the World Bank: The structure is "lashed and tied together with afa -- an organic sennit rope. Afa is made by twisting together the fibers of dry coconut husks. The lashing work is traditionally done by elderly men while women make the thatch for the domed roof of the fale – either from coconut palm leaves or sugar cane."  (Photo after recent rain shows 80-year-old Pousea, ceremonial house in Samoa that was restored by DM winner Afeafe o Vaetoefaga Pacific Academy of Cultural Restoration, Research, and Development two years ago.)

A Talking Book for Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

a school in rural Ghana (courtesy World Bank photo archive)How do you provide vital information and literacy training to people with limited access to either -- especially if they are located in rural parts of Africa?  Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, recently stopped by the World Bank to discuss his work in northern Ghana to help investigate answers to this question.  Most groups seeking to harness the power of information and communication technologies in developing countries in support of such objectives pilot test their 'solutions' where it is easiest to do so -- often in (reasonably) well-off urban or suburban settings (often buidling off prior experience using such technologies in OECD countries).  Literacy Bridge is notable in that it prioritizes helping people with the greatest challenges, rather than focusing on the easiest to reach. 

The 'Talking Book' is a low-cost audio device device with recording capabilities -- imagine a rubbery MP3 player about the size of a grapefuit -- rather ingeniously engineered (and re-engineered) to meet specific needs and usage scenarios in very poor communities in Africa.  It is designed for use in local languages, using locally produced content, as tool to promote literacy among primary school children (to cite just one goal and target group). One way to think of the device, Cliff said, is as a  'small portable computer without a display'.  While the project is still in its pilot stages, it is notable for its express interest in investigating solutions that are low cost and scalable from the beginning, and in rigorously monitoring and evaluating the impact of its interventions.

World Bank and Adaptation: The Need to Think Small

Tom Grubisich's picture

A  revealing interview at DM2009 was the one of Ian Noble, a top World Bank expert on climate change, and member of the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change team who was also a DM2009 juror.  Noble was questioned by Habiba Gitay, Senior Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Institute, about the big development projects that the World Bank has traditionally fostered and financed and the micro-sized, early-stage or seed projects (up to $200,000 in value) that are part of the Development Marketplace competitions. Noble's answers underscored how the Bank, in responding to the destructive impacts of climate change on the people and natural resources of developing countries, is increasingly thinking small about adaptation projects.

"Ultimately, adaptation is going to be carried out by individual people, households, small communities," Noble answered.  "So one of the challenges of the World Bank is to shift out-sourcing to that level.  This is a huge, rich body of information flowing into the World Bank from Development Marketplace, especially in the case of this [competition].  With the tension between community-based adaptation and adaptation funding at the national level, a bridge has to be built [between the two]."


What Can Sri Lanka and Africa Learn from Each Other?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

The title of this post may seem a bit odd. What can an island of 20 million people and a diverse continent of 47 countries have in common? The answer: Both were thought to have initial advantages that would generate rapid economic growth; instead, they have fallen painfully short of expectations. 

In the African case, the advantage was its rich natural resources such as oil and minerals. But instead of exploiting this potential ticket to poverty reduction, Africa’s natural resource producers have seen their per capita income grow more slowly than that of non-mineral countries. Nigeria is a case in point. Its per capita income in 1970 (before the oil boom) was $913; today it is $454.

Sri Lanka’s asset is its human resources—reflected in the high levels of literacy and low levels of child and maternal mortality that have stood out since the 1960s. Like Africa, Sri Lanka has been an exercise in disappointment. In fact, there is no other country with a lower infant mortality rate and a lower per capita income than Sri Lanka.

The question for Africa and Sri Lanka is therefore how to manage the enormous assets they posses in a way that translates into sustainable wellbeing for their populations?

Innovation Needs More Than Money to Succeed

Tom Grubisich's picture

Innovative adaptation projects, like those featured at DM2009, hold enormous potential for blunting the adverse impact of climate change in developing countries, while also helping to reduce poverty and build social value.  But to achieve their potential, these projects have to be scaled.  Money is important for projects to get beyond their early or seed stage.  But money alone isn't enough -- as already succcessful project leaders emphasized at the Nov. 12 DM2009 panel "Taking an Idea to Scale" (photo at right: panelist and competition juror Anne Marie Moeller of Humana People to People India).  To succeed, panelists emphasized, innovative projects also have to be firmly planted within their communities, understand local needs, find partners with whom they develop solid cooperation, and be supported with staff who are both dedicated and skilled.


To help put all the pieces together and effectively link adaptation to development on a scale of broad replication, the World Bank Institute is, among other things, reshaping itself as a "knowledge broker" that connects projects with the right people and institutions within the development community as well as with governments.  Aleem Walji, the WBI's new Innovation Practice Manager, talks about this in his mini-interview below, as well as in his introduction to the "Taking an Idea to Scale" panel (video link above).  There are more details in this WBI statement about the the new strategy under Institute Vice President Sanjay Pradhan.


An international digital library for children

Michael Trucano's picture

reading times, they are a-changing ... (image courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv)What will reading be like for children around the world in the digital age? 

Ben Bederson thinks this is a question we should be asking children themselves.

Bederson, a professor at the University of Maryland (USA) and the co-founder (with Allison Druin) of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), was the keynote presenter at an event in Hangzhou, China earlier this week sponsored by UNESCO, the World Bank, the Korean Education & Research Information Service and a number of other partners.  The ICDL (not to be confused with the International Computer Driving Licence, which shares the same acronym) is dedicated to building a collection of "outstanding children's books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children". The ICDL, which is part of the World Bank-funded READ project in Mongolia, currently features children's books in over 50 languages and receives over 100,000 visitors a month to its web site.

At the heart of Bederson's wide-ranging talk (and indeed at the heart of the ICDL itself) is a belief in the value and importance of child-centered design. Notably (and rather famously, in some quarters) the ICDL utilizes children as design partners in the development of the digital library, and how it is used.  Adopting this approach sometimes yields approaches that, at least for many in the audience in Hangzhou, were rather surprising.

Aleem Walji on Development Marketplace

Tom Grubisich's picture

Aleem Walji is the new Innovation Practice Manager at the World Bank Institute, which includes the secretariat for the Development Marketplace consortium and other innovation platforms.  He is former Head of Global Development Initiatives at Google.  The peripatetic Walji sat down for this mini-interview as DM2009 was winding up:

Q. Development Marketplace stresses innovation, both in projects it seeks and how they're evaluated.  Why is innovation so important?

A. The need for solutions, and fast, is urgent.  Business as usual is simply not sufficient.  We’ve got to look at new ways of doing things -- things that have worked in one part of the world that may work in another part of the world, or are entirely new.  We put out a call to the world, particularly the developing world, to say what are your ideas, what are you doing, what can you do? How can we support you, adapting to a rapidly changing climate? This competition was to shine a light on those ideas.

Q.  We hear a lot about scale.  What does it really mean?

A. Scale is a term often used and misused.  When I think about scale I think about a pathway to reach the maximum number of people possible.  It doesn’t necessarily mean an organization has to become extremely large for an idea to scale.  It could mean that an idea is adopted by a small organization but relevant and replicated by other groups in other parts of the world. When I think of the Development Marketplace, we want to get to the point where we can connect early-stage ideas to the people, money, and partners who can help see ideas through to execution and grow them to their optimal levels. 

Q. What factors are important for success? 

A. In many ways we’re really betting on leadership, we’re betting on people who we think are going to deliver an outcome, and are going to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.  The projects will change, they will adapt, they will grow.  What we’re really talking about is how do we position our winners to be able to benefit from our support, then really leverage it, along with partners.  We want to be connectors in an ecosystem.  We want to be connectors in a cycle of growth and scale.

Q.  Most of the DM2009 projects came from NGOs and academic institutions.  There weren’t very many from entrepreneurs...

A.  This is a little bit of concern to me.  When you look at the viability of any project it has to have a pathway to sustainability, and commercialization is one pathway. When there are ideas that can be commercialized and have revenue models that can be sustained, that is a very positive sign.  For those that don’t, there have to be other paths to viability like public-private partnerships for example.  For those that don’t have one or the other, I worry how they will sustain themselves.  That's where partnerships becomes key and our role in creating an "enabling ecosystem" of seed funders, debt financiers, equity players, and capacity builders is very important.

Blogs, Other Sites Follow the DM2009 Story

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 has been drawing attention from climate-change-related and other blogs and websites around the world.  In "The Dirt," published by the American Society of Landscape Architects, web content and strategy manager Jared Green -- who was also a juror for the DM2009 competition --  published this post about some of the winning finalists. Green's post was picked up by the Sustainable Cities Collective blog.

Some of the attention came from abroad -- the site the Austrian Network for Information and Communication Technologies for Development and -- in France -- Actualités News environnement.

Climate-L, which is produced by an international team of climate change experts with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, published this article.

Words That Echoed Across DM2009 Competition

Tom Grubisich's picture

“I came here thinking of my people.  I leave here thinking of our planet.”

That's how finalist winner Carlos Daniel Vecco Giove of Peru summed up what DM2009 meant for him.  (Vecco was honored for his proposal to aid the Amazonian indigenous populations in his country in adapting to rapid climate change.)

Vecco's stirring words echoed around the floor of the competition, on up to the podium during the Friday, Nov. 13, awards ceremony, where a rapt audience heard Warren Evans, Environment Director of the World Bank, say: "Let me share with you what I heard that one of our finalists who traveled here from far away said this week."

One way or another, the other finalists expressed the same thought -- if not in so many words, then in the potential for their projects to bring innovative but practical climate adaptation not only to their target community but to people and places across regions and the whole planet.

DM2009 Winners Face More Funding Hurdles

Tom Grubisich's picture

Development Marketplace awards to winners range up to $200,000 -- to cover what is called "early-stage" or seed development of projects.  But after that period -- usually one or two years -- any project, no matter how promising it looks, has to find new funding.

DM2009 juror Tran Triet of Vietnam, a DM2003 winner, talked about projects that seek to transform a community both environmentally and economically -- the ambitious aim of many of the DM proposals, winners and non-winners alike.  At the panel on "Taking an Idea to Scale," Dr. Tran said: "A long-term commitment is needed.  The social agenda takes time to happen.  The normal [Development Marketplace] funding cycle of one or two years would be too short to bring about changes."

Juror Fred Onduri, who is chair of the Least Developed Countries Expert Group with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as head of the Policy and Planning Department of the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says two years "is not enough."  He thinks the national governments of the countries where the winning projects would be developed should fund them in the out years.

Ideas, anyone?