- In June, government officials and World Bank staffers came together for a week at Georgetown University to learn how to build better coalitions to get the results they seek.
- A coalition is a coming together of diverse groups to achieve a common purpose, and by drawing together their resources, knowledge, & people, coalitions are able to maximize impact towards their goal.
- A large part of the week-long training was learning what made coalitions successful, using role-playing and institutional change simulations to internalize the messages.
July 24, 2014―What does trying to electrify slums in Kenya or improve the delivery of water in Vietnam or helping civil servants in Liberia get paid, have to do with Georgetown University? At first glance it would seem like they have nothing in common.
However, in June, government officials and World Bank staffers working on these issues came together for a week at Georgetown University to learn how to build better coalitions to get the results they seek. Many of the complex problems facing today’s leaders are tough problems that can only be solved peacefully if the people causing the problem work together to develop a shared understanding of the situation and act together to improve it.
I think that coalition building is highly relevant both for our clients and for us. It is important for our client because complex development challenges require effective collaboration and for us because we cannot effectively perform our convening role without understanding the stakeholder dynamics.Mitsunori Motohashi, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist
Essentially, a coalition is a coming together of diverse groups to achieve a common purpose. By drawing together their resources, their knowledge and their people, coalitions are able to maximize impact towards their goal. It sounds simple, but the reality is more complicated. Project teams may not even realize that building a coalition could be the beginning of their solution - and even when they have that realization, they may not know how to establish a coalition and make it effective.
“Drawing on Georgetown University’s teaching and research, and World Bank expertise, how can we prepare change agents for greater success in building coalitions and mobilizing and sustaining collective action, within just a week?” was the question the team designing the program asked themselves.
One of the teams that attended the course was a joint World Bank and Kenya Power Utility team. The team was trying to bring affordable, efficient electricity to the slums, but they were met with resistance from the residents. This was surprising to the government officials and utility providers as they were offering a cheaper, safer alternative to the electricity provided informally. Upon closer investigation they realized that this was a situation where each party needed to develop an understanding of the incentives they had to want this change to happen. It also required culture change around the new ways of providing and receiving electricity by slum-dwellers and a much deeper engagement with a broad range of stakeholders.
“Coming to this course with my World Bank counterpart and away from Kenya, helped give us perspective and come up with strategies together that we plan on taking back to help us come up with an effective solution for everyone,” said Harun Mwangi manager and program coordinator for the Rural Electrification Projects in Kenya.
Collective Action for Building Coalitions
Participants at the joint World Bank- Georgetown University Coalition Building Program attended the course along with the teams across organizations they were working with. This was a useful way to learn new theories and skills from the business world that could be applied in their context from world class business school faculty. Teams were also able to step away from the situation they were trying to solve and immerse themselves in this new intellectual framework blending academic knowledge, World Bank operational experiences, and sector and political insights from the countries they were working in.
“I think that coalition building is highly relevant both for our clients and for us,” said Mitsunori Motohashi, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist working on the electrification project in Kenya. “It is important for our client because complex development challenges require effective collaboration and for us because we cannot effectively perform our convening role without understanding the stakeholder dynamics.”
The participants dove into a range of topics such as design thinking, which is a staple of the innovation sphere, trans-organizational leadership (which emphasizes competencies needed to mobilize a range of organizations and stakeholders when the leader does not have formal authority over them), stakeholder mapping and trust-building,and strategic communications skills. They built strong bonds with each other as peers and worked in smaller teams to advance their action learning plans during the course of the week, applying learning from their own coalition challenges upon return to their home countries. They also spent time engaging in cases presented by World Bank staff who had been through similar experiences such as the open contracting for extractive industries.
“To address the 'How?' —of mobilizing ideas, people, and resources towards attaining complex shared goals— to me is one of the most critical development questions. These sort of challenges often are the most significant stumbling blocks, not technical aspects” said Ceren Ozer, World Bank Economist and the team lead who co-designed the Program. “To me this was an uplifting experience to be part of a Program addressing the “how” question with such exceptional World Bank staff and client counterparts. It was even more encouraging to experience the collaborative environment here where our participants learn from each other and support each other in generating actionable ideas and solutions.”
A large part of the week-long training was learning what made coalitions successful using role-playing and institutional change simulations to internalize the messages. Not only was the focus around building coalitions, but strengthening them and sustaining them through the course of the project. The Liberia team made of nine Deputy Ministers and a World Bank team lead designing and implementing acomprehensive civil service reform in the country participated to strengthen and broaden their coalition, and found this process extremely useful. “It is not just the money riding on it – we have now had 10 years of peace in Liberia and we want to sustain that,” said George Werner, Director General of Liberia’s Civil Service Agency. “We need to put in place systems and process that can stand the test of political dissent.”
The course lasted a week, but its effects and the follow-on engagement with participants will last the better part of a year and is anticipated to strengthen the teams’ abilities to achieve better results. The World Bank Group Leadership Practice offering the course is providing continued engagement to help the teams sustain this momentum and forge successful coalitions.
Stay tuned for the next offering of this engagement.