Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

The linked article is an interview of Aleem Walji, the Director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs done by Skoll World Forum’s Rahim Kanani. Walji previously worked for google (a company well known for innovation), and was brought in by the World Bank to “help expand the space for experimentation, learning, and prototyping with an emphasis on emerging technologies.”

The feeling that I get after reading this interview, is that the World Bank recognizes that there are a vast number of shortcomings with the current approach to development, and that they are making positive steps towards finding a better way of going about it. The first success of the Innovation labs was the Open Data Initiative. The WB realized that by making these data/knowledge/analytical resources available for researchers, NGO’s, policymakers, etc. they would create value in ways that they didn’t need to have control over.

Probably the most interesting part of the article is when Walji discussed generally what their plans were to overcome challenges in development. He talks about how the world’s hardest problems to solve are “moving targets” and how initiatives and organizations shouldn’t over-analyze before we act. He believes that innovation is about risk management and traversing uncertainty wisely; “fail fast and fail forward. You learn fast and iterate. You document what you learn, share it with the world and look for insights wherever you find them.

Walji also goes on to discuss knowledge management and how it can help us to form solutions. Large amounts of data, information, and knowledge are created daily, “If we only knew what we knew collectively, and could find it when we need it, we would be so much smarter… It’s not about getting the answer right the first time or developing “cookie-cutter solutions but about using a process that gets us close to better solutions better adapted to end-users” By assessing everything we know about a particular issue we can move towards creating a solution.

I would highly recommend reading the full article as I could not include everything in this blog post. After hearing a lot recently about the shortcomings of ICT projects, it was nice to read an interview where someone has full knowledge of the problems, and an intelligent direction that we should go in for putting a stop to them.


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