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Mobilizing Technology for Development

Report to the Board from the Committee on Development Effectiveness

The Committee on Development Effectiveness met to consider the Independent Evaluation Group evaluation entitled Mobilizing Technology for Development: An Assessment of World Bank Group Preparedness and the draft management response.

The committee welcomed the timely report and commended the Independent Evaluation Group for the quality and focus of the evaluation. Members were appreciative of management’s broad agreement with the evaluation recommendations and its recognition that while it had begun implementing the recommendations, there was scope for enhancing an already substantial effort undertaken by the World Bank Group to improve staff skills and capacities, expand the use of procurement flexibilities, and establish incentive for risk taking and innovation with regard to disruptive and transformational technologies (DTT). They stressed the crucial role that digital technology has played in helping governments, businesses, and people cope with the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) as well as the role it can have in driving growth in the economic recovery from the pandemic. In this regard, members acknowledged the far-reaching and important implications DTT can have in (i) improving lives and fostering growth and development and (ii) accelerating progress toward reducing poverty, promoting shared prosperity, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that the Bank Group was a trusted partner and was well positioned to be effective in helping clients integrate innovative solutions to development challenges using transformative technologies, they underscored the importance of assisting client countries in assessing and mitigating risks associated with these technologies. Management reiterated its agreement with all three recommendations with the caveat that (i) the investment in requisite staff skills needed to be viewed while taking into consideration tradeoffs among competing staffing needs in the context of a flat real budget and (ii) the fact that, while procurement flexibility existed in the Bank Group, clients were often reluctant to use it given their internal control environments.

Members agreed with the Independent Evaluation Group’s assessment that the Bank Group needed to demonstrate organizational nimbleness to constantly anticipate, innovate, and adapt as part of its mission to achieve the twin goals and thus urged management to continue to build partnerships and develop knowledge and skills for staff to equip them to better support clients in harnessing DTT. They noted the link between discussions on knowledge management, learning, and outcome orientation and the need for stronger collaboration within the Bank Group, a strengthened incentive system, and the creation of a workplace culture of willingness to (i) adapt to an ever-changing working environment, (ii) learn from failure, and (iii) take informed risks to allow innovation. They stressed the need for the International Finance Corporation to play a larger role and for the Bank Group to enhance cross-institutional collaboration.

Members expressed concern about the lack of reliable data on DTT operations and the impact this may have on monitoring these operations or fostering innovation. In response, management highlighted a sharp increase in Bank Group financing of DTT from $69 million in FY19 to a projected $1.5 billion in FY21 and $2 billion in FY22. Members appreciated the proposed diagnostic work and pipeline of analytical activities and organizational changes to better reflect the role of technology in development. They encouraged management to speed up implementation where there was capacity to deliver technology deployment and bridge the digital gap within and across countries. Acknowledging the impact that technology can have in traditional firms, members encouraged the Bank Group to think about how to make technology inclusive, equitable, and an enabler of job creation.

  1. The most prominent example is the forthcoming World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives, which will highlight ways in which the Bank Group can both harness opportunities and mitigate risks in the area of data. Other forthcoming knowledge products cover topics such as disruptive technologies and sustainable development, the converging technology revolution and human capital: potential and implications for South Asia, clean energy, artificial intelligence, cloud and data storage, cybersecurity, digital gender gap, resilience, blue economy, remote monitoring, digital health, ed-tech, citizen engagement, digital government, financial technology, digital solutions to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and digital ID. The Bank Group will also continue to support cross-sectoral initiatives such as Identification for Development (ID4D), Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A), and the Digital Central Asia-South Asia program. Disruptive and transformative technology (DTT) is also an important element of the World Bank’s response strategy to the COVID-19 crisis, as DTT offers the opportunity for governments, individuals, and businesses to cope with the pandemic, ensure business continuity, prevent service interruptions, and ensure social distancing. The Bank Group is committed to building back better and working with clients and partners to exploit innovative approaches that can speed progress in fighting the pandemic and transform crisis into opportunity.
  2. ID4D was also a leader in ICT procurement. ID4D developed, in collaboration with World Bank procurement specialists, a Procurement Guide and Checklist for Digital Identification Systems. This helped countries (i) understand the risks of vendor and technology lock-in, and possible mitigation measures; (ii) develop a robust procurement strategy for ID systems based on key design decisions; and (iii) develop effective requests for proposals (RFPs) aligned with short and long term goals and sufficiently elaborate business and technical requirements for the ID system.
  3. The TMT investment is expected to further grow based on its quadrupled pipeline over the past 12 months and increased sector presence.
  4. A co-investment. $4.5 million committed in FY20.
  5. IFC/R2016-0247. $7.8 million committed in FY16.
  6. IFC/R2019-0174. $12.5 million committed in FY19.
  7. IFC/R2012-0346. $6 million committed in FY13.
  8. A facility through which IFC makes equity and quasi-equity investments in a number of commercially-oriented Incubators, Accelerators, Seed Funds, and similar vehicles and structures, across emerging markets.
  9. An incentive program to increase equity funding access for women entrepreneurs.
  10. A program seeking to pilot technology projects uniquely tailored to local needs, supported by a global network of industry advisors.
  11. Scaling Solar and Lighting Global are described in appendix K of the report.