At the beginning of this year, I had the privilege of becoming the General Manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund, and I recently returned from my first IDB Annual Meeting in the Bahamas. As I just passed the 100 day mark, it seems like a good time to take stock of what we have achieved together in that time, and to look ahead to the next steps.
Having worked in international development throughout my career, I had of course heard about the MIF and had long admired its work. The MIF has a well-deserved reputation as an effective and innovative organization, and I was immediately impressed by the high quality and dedication of the staff. However, it was clear that there was much to do to ensure the MIF’s sustainability and relevance going forward.
Even before moving to Washington, I carried out a series of questionnaires among staff, Donor Committee members, and IDB Group colleagues late last year to start gathering feedback about urgent issues to address and ideas about the MIF’s future. I was therefore able to hit the ground running in January. At the same time I arrived, the newly consolidated Inter-American Investment Corporation was also being launched, following a reorganization that took place last year of the IDB’s operations with the private sector. In January and February I consulted 17 senior managers throughout the IDB and IIC and 12 country representatives to discuss how the MIF’s work can be more effectively aligned with our IDB Group brethren, since they can and should be our most powerful partners for scaling up our successful interventions in the region.
Meanwhile, within the MIF there was a lot to tackle. We are currently operating under an extension of our MIF II agreement with our donors and the IDB, so we have to stretch the resources we have on hand as far as we can. Last year the MIF management team worked hard to trim our administrative budget, and we will have to do the same this year. We have already identified around $3 million in additional administrative cost savings.
Our entire staff has also been working together to co-create a new vision for the MIF’s work in Latin America and the Caribbean. Until recently, we were organized around three “access areas” covering some twenty different topics, ranging from rural microfinance to public-private partnerships. We were spread too thin, diluting our effectiveness. Our country office colleagues came to Washington in January for an all-hands retreat during which we held lively and creative sessions developing “pitches” for ways to address some of the top regional challenges that we had identified in consultation with IDB Group colleagues. We developed “heat maps” to connect the MIF’s work directly into IDB Group strategies in all 26 countries in the region.
Since then we have been fine-tuning a new results-driven organizational structure that pulls us together around three major topics, and engages our headquarters and regional staff more effectively. We reduced the number of staff working on non-operational tasks by one-third. Having worked “in the field” myself over the years, most recently in Mozambique, I feel strongly that the “center of gravity” of project sourcing and design needs to shift closer to the places where project execution actually happens. Going forward we will rely more on our country office staff for this, and we are carrying out strategic staffing exercises to maximize the placement and balance of our colleagues.
We are also doing what we can to simplify and shorten processes, both so we can do more with less and also to enhance our responsiveness and flexibility. As of last year, it took about one year for a new project to go through design and approval. We now have a proposal to slash that down to just a few months. In January, a diverse team of staffers started the process of brainstorming how to do this during an offsite “hackathon,” and we continue to work with donors and IDB Group partners to develop solutions. We’re also holding “pitch sessions” for staffers to give brief presentations about new project ideas so that management can make faster, on-the-spot decisions about which projects should move forward.
We’re doing a better job of telling everyone about what we’re up to—we’ve increased the frequency of our e-newsletter to weekly, and have sent out 12 issues this year so far to update readers about our projects and activities. We are publishing more often on our blog, are sharing more on our social networks, and have cross-posted 13 pieces this year on the Huffington Post. We’re also improving our internal transparency and communications, holding weekly all-staff meetings that include the participation of our colleagues in the region via videoconference, and distributing the minutes of our senior staff meetings.
I also want to be sure to mention that in the midst of all this hard work, we’re also having some fun. In Washington we’re holding regular happy hours and staff lunches so people can connect on a more informal basis, and I’m especially proud of the “Culture Champions” contest we’ve introduced—every month people are encouraged to nominate one or more colleagues who have done something to promote the kind of culture and values we all want to live by, and then we hold a drawing to give one nominee and one nominator each a pair of movie passes. (It turns out, everyone really likes going to the movies.)
During the annual meeting in the Bahamas, I held dozens of meetings with Governors and donors and current and potential partners, and was heartened by the strong support I heard for the MIF. During the meeting, the Governors approved a resolution that laid out a road map between now and the 2017 annual meeting in Asunción, Paraguay. The road map entails a series of important discussions about the MIF’s business model and financing in the short, medium, and longer term. We have a lot of work ahead of us! But knowing what I do already about our staff and partners, I am confident we will rise to the challenge, as the MIF always has. On to the next hundred days, and beyond!