How to incentivize innovation and collaboration: Lessons from ADB and World Bank

Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao talks about how the bank is innovating at a recent innovation and learning event at ADB's Manila headquarters, Also pictured: ADB independent evaluator Thomas Vinod (left), World Bank Vice President for Change, Knowledge and Learning Sanjay Pradhan and U.S. Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Development Policy and Debt Alexia Latortue. Photo by: ADB

Organizational culture change is essential to turn a traditional development organization into an innovation and collaboration powerhouse. And a firm commitment from the institution’s leaders helps to drive that change.

But there’s more to that equation, Alexia Latortue suggested during a panel discussion at an innovation and learning event held recently at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Manila.

Employees “need to have a firm sense that management will have their backs if something goes wrong,” said the deputy assistant secretary for development policy and debt at the U.S. Treasury. “And then management needs to have a real sense that shareholders will have their back if something goes wrong.”

That’s easier said than done. Some shareholders are resistant to change themselves, subscribing to the notion that mere compliance will reap more rewards than exploring new and better ways to perform, Latortue suggested.

ADB President Takehiko Nakao agreed that encouraging people to become more innovative is challenging. During the panel discussion, he reiterated plans by ADB to provide staff incentives for innovating and risk-taking. He did not provide details on how the agency may do so.

“It is easy to say that we should be more innovative, we should be more transparent, accountable and so on … but how to incentivize people?” Nakao said, later adding: “Either we need guidance from shareholders, board members, but also we need guidance from independent evaluation departments and we also need guidance from citizens and civil society organizations.”

The World Bank, for its part, already has a system in place to encourage staff to be more collaborative through budget top-ups and salary increases, according to Sanjay Pradhan, the bank’s vice president for change, knowledge and learning.

The incentives form part of the bank’s efforts to “break the silos” that in the past prevented broader knowledge sharing among employees; they’re among the reforms which also include the recent creation of the bank’s much-talked about global practices.

Another component of the World Bank’s strategy: leading by example. Pradhan recalled that prior to him boarding the plane to attend the ADB learning event, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and his senior management team carried out what Pradhan said was a first in the bank’s history: a joint action planning for collaborative leadership.

“We were trying to work out for each member of Jim Kim's senior management team what help he or she needs from another person and what actions are needed to put down in place to help each other,” he said.

Such efforts can be as important a driver of innovation and collaboration as the intrinsic motivation to serve the poor.

What do you think are some best ways to motivate staff to innovate? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

You can help shape our coverage on global development innovations. If you’d like to contribute an idea, please email or tweet me @DevexElizaJV using #innov8aid.

About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.