World Bank: Behind the I.T. Transformation

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-08-05

Amidst the World Bank's recent management brouhaha, a more significant event has gone overlooked—the bank's dramatic transformation from a hierarchical source of low-interest loans to a decentralized organization that uses knowledge-sharing technologies to fight poverty and disease in developing nations. The enabler of this transformation: the bank's overhaul of its antiquated I.T. infrastructure and construction of a truly global network.

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Next Page: Using I.T. to Fight Poverty

Using I.T. to Fight Poverty

Last month, Robert B. Zoellick became the 11th president of the World Bank. A few days before he walked into the bank's Washington, D.C., headquarters, he issued a short statement: "The Bank's Board, staff, and many stakeholders know we face large challenges," he said. "The world has changed enormously since the creation of the Bank some 60 years ago. This accomplished institution of development, reconstruction, and finance not only needs to adapt: It must lead the way to achieving sustainable globalization, founded upon inclusive growth, opportunity, and respect for personal dignity."

It's clear Zoellick knows what he's getting into.

The World Bank has had more than its share of turmoil, particularly in its senior management ranks. In addition to the June 30 resignation of Zoellick's predecessor, the controversial Paul D. Wolfowitz, the bank's former vice president and CIO Mohamed Muhsin, who retired in November 2005, has come under a cloud of suspicion.

But amidst all the recent management brouhaha, a more significant event at the World Bank has been largely overlooked. This is the dramatic transformation from what was a top-down, hierarchical Washington, D.C.-based source of low-interest developmental loans and grants to emerging countries, to a decentralized, front-line, matrix organization that's using information and communications technologies to fight poverty, AIDS/HIV and other diseases, and environmental degradation. At the core of the bank's strategy has been its hugely ambitious effort to empower its clients—many of then technically disenfranchised—with the tools and knowledge-sharing capabilities they need to improve their lives and bring them into the mainstream of the world economy.

It hasn't been easy. In order to create a working knowledge management system, the bank's information infrastructure and communications network had to be completely overhauled.

Muhsin, the World Bank's first CIO, led the revamping of the bank's antiquated I.T. infrastructure into what is now the foundation of the bank's knowledge-sharing network, which has been highly praised by noted I.T. management luminaries such as Tom Davenport and F. Warren McFarlan.

After 17 years, Muhsin retired from the bank in November 2005. But then two months later, Wolfowitz, who had just become World Bank president, told The Washington Post that while most bank staffers were honest, "I'm aware of a particularly serious set of allegations involving a senior bank official."

At the time Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and one of the principal proponents of the war in Iraq, charged that "staffers had become too comfortable" with the anti-corruption unit, which he claimed had been run with "very puzzling negligence" in the past. That was when he dropped a bombshell, noting that one of the bank's senior officials was in the Department of Institutional Integrity's crosshairs.

Wolfowitz wouldn't name the individual, as the investigation was ongoing. Soon after, however, the Post said it obtained internal bank documents that indicated the official in question was none other than Muhsin, the head of the bank's Information Solutions Group (ISG) and CIO.

According to The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report, Muhsin was being investigated for having been given stock in one of the bank's key I.T. contractors, which U.S. News named as outsourcer Satyam Computers. Satyam didn't respond to e-mails and calls regarding the matter.

While Muhsin wouldn't comment on the matter, his lawyer, Joshua Hochberg, told Baseline that the retirement had been planned. "I think it's unfair and highly distasteful that unfounded rumors have circulated at the end of [Muhsin's] 17 years of dedicated service during which his integrity was never questioned," Hochberg said. He added that Muhsin expects "full exoneration."

Ironically, Wolfowitz resigned his post, effective June 30, after an internal panel tasked with investigating the lucrative pay and promotion package Wolfowitz arranged in 2005 for his partner, Shaha Riza, found him guilty of breaking bank rules. Wolfowitz was replaced by Zoellick, former deputy U.S. secretary of state, while Muhsin was succeeded as CIO by Guy-Pierre De Poerck, previously CIO of corporate business informatics at the International Finance Corp. (IFC), a bank affiliate.

Next page: Sharing Knowledge

Sharing Knowledge

The World Bank is a major source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. It isn't a bank in the conventional sense, but is made up of two unique development institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which aims to reduce poverty in middle-income and creditworthy poorer countries by promoting sustainable development through loans; and the International Development Association (IDA), the part of the bank that helps the world's poorest countries.

Owned by 185 member countries, the World Bank has about 10,000 employees—7,000 of them in the organization's headquarters, the remainder in field offices in 80 member countries. It also retains thousands of consultants, many of them retired bank officials. The Bank Group, which includes the IBRD and IDA as well as other affiliated entities such as the IFC, loans out about $20 billion annually, making it one of the world's largest sources of development assistance.

Founded shortly after World War II, the bank was established initially to focus on European reconstruction projects. Beginning in the 1950s, it began financing mega-projects like dams and roads. Its focus changed dramatically, however, in 1996 when James Wolfensohn (not to be confused with his predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz) was named president of the bank.

An Australian-born investment banker, Wolfensohn, who didn't respond to requests for an interview, is characterized as "brilliant and a highly persuasive speaker" by several former bank officials. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen, made a fortune on Wall Street and agreed to head up the World Bank in July 1995 after being nominated by President Clinton.

Almost immediately he set about changing the behemoth of global developmental economics from a centralized, "headquarters-driven" organization to a decentralized, matrix-networked operation that relied on member countries to carry out and supervise their own project development and make their own decisions. To facilitate this, Wolfensohn told the World Bank Board of Governors in an October 1996 speech: "The revolution in information technology increases the potential value of [the bank's development] efforts by vastly extending their reach. We need to invest in systems that will enhance our ability to gather information, and experience and share it with our clients."

One of the pillars of Wolfensohn's vision was knowledge management, or knowledge sharing. " … [W]e will build a world-class knowledge management system throughout the bank to capture and organize our knowledge, make it more readily accessible to the staff, clients and partners, and strengthen the knowledge dissemination and capacity building efforts," he said in an internal bank document. " … It will connect with universities, foundations and other world class sources of knowledge so that the bank becomes a clearinghouse in knowledge about development."

In order to support a global decentralized organization that was close to the bank's constituency, and deliver, as a Harvard case study (Enabling Business Strategy With I.T. at the World Bank, Dec. 22, 2003) noted, "more comprehensive and integrated (and therefore more effective) development solutions by increasing collaboration, consultation and knowledge sharing both within the organization and with partners and shareholders at all points in the process," the bank had to completely rebuild an out-of-date I.T. structure and construct a far-flung global network from the ground up.

To carry out this mission, Wolfensohn, in 1997, appointed the bank's first-ever chief information officer, Sri Lankan native Mohamed Muhsin, who had worked as the director of the bank's information-technology services but came from a largely business background. Before joining the bank, he had worked in Zambia, where he served as finance director for the state-owned mining and industrial corporation and eventually became an adviser to president Kenneth Kaunda. In 1988, he joined the World Bank as a country officer for the Eastern Africa region. Wolfensohn made Muhsin vice president of the Information Solutions Group and told him to revamp the bank's I.T. infrastructure.

Though Muhsin, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed for this story, in a September 1997 bank newsletter, he described ISG as "the newly consolidated information management organization headed by the CIO [himself]." The information systems units of six different bank groups, Muhsin said, "have been brought together to support the [bank's] business strategies… We are integrating our work around four Strategic Partnership Programs." These were:

• Support for decentralization and field office operations

• Support for knowledge sharing and knowledgemanagement

• Comprehensive renewal of bank information systems

• Implementation of cost effectiveness review recommendations

In a subsequent interview with Asia Pacific Development Technology, he described his mission as follows: "We position ourselves at a major intersection of the network economy where we help to connect global learning opportunities with investment assistance to governments. Put another way, it's about having two currencies: the currency of money and the currency of knowledge. We believe our work in bringing knowledge and information to developing countries is as important as the capital and investments that we provide as an engine for development."

The bank appointed a program director for knowledge management, Stephen Denning, who reported to Muhsin; created a $55 million budget for knowledge management for fiscal 1998, 3% of the bank's entire administrative budget; brought in Arthur Andersen to prepare a report as to how this initiative should be managed; and by March 1997 had a sign-off on the project from Wolfensohn and the bank's board of directors. All systems were "go," on paper at least.

"My goal is to make the World Bank the first port of call when people need knowledge about development," Wolfensohn said at the 1997 annual meeting. "By the year 2000, we will have in place a global communications link, videoconferencing and interactive classrooms, affording our clients all around the world full access to our information bases—the end of geography as we at the bank have known it."

Next Page: Disconnected Systems

Disconnected Systems

When Muhsin took over as the bank's CIO, he discovered a bewildering patchwork of disparate and disconnected I.T. systems throughout the organization. An inventory showed 65 different legacy systems, 100 databases and almost 90 business processes. Each field office seemed to have its own individual approach to I.T.

Scattered all over the world, these offices had no way of communicating or collaborating with each other, or for that matter with headquarters in Washington electronically. Mission reports from the field offices had to be couriered to Washington, approved at the home office and mailed back—a process that often took weeks.

In a report dated April 10, 2001, on the bank's information technology and knowledge management, Yale M. Braunstein, a professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the bank had a multitude of different databases and disconnected repositories, and multiple I.T. systems; had poor documentation and control; and produced inconsistent information that created delays in preparing reports, auditing activities and managing at all levels.

Costs were out of control and were in the hands of chief administrative officers. Moreover, as Muhsin told researchers from the Harvard Business School (Information at the World Bank: In Search of a Technology Solution, Sept. 17, 1997), there was a lack of a "common goal, lack of a common strategy, lack of a common vision as to how all this can come together to make the Bank in its totality work together."

Just how serious the disconnect Muhsin was inheriting between I.T. and the bank's business became evident in 1995, when according to the Harvard Business School case history, the staff in the president's office extracted data from the financial database (FDB) in preparing the bank's annual report. Problem was, the FDB wasn't the master data source. The staff was unaware that the FDB was refreshed from the cost accounting system, which drew its numbers from various sectors within the organization. At the time the annual report was produced, the final numbers from the cost accounting system had not been transferred to the FDB. As a result, the numbers in the report were incorrect.

The knowledge-sharing initiative wasn't exactly taking off with a bang, either. "They had 10 action items for establishing a knowledge-management program," Braunstein told Baseline. "They didn't prioritize and determine what were the most important drivers of change."

The major focus of knowledge management, or knowledge sharing, of course, is to identify and gather content from documents, reports and other sources, and to be able to access that knowledge to establish best practices, address a specific problem and grasp how others have dealt with particular issues. In the late 1990s, it was a buzzword technology that was still seeking traction. Users often weren't quite sure what it meant or how to make use of it, especially since some of the key content search and relationship tools such as data mining and business intelligence software were still in their formative stages.

As the knowledge-management program director, Denning's job was to educate bank officials as to the value of knowledge management. His message, he says, was an extension of Wolfensohn's vision. "Why don't we share our knowledge?" he would ask. "We need to at least make that as important as lending."

To support this argument, Denning says he drew on proposals that had come in from Zambia, where in June 1995 a health worker in a remote area logged on to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control, which works with the bank, and got an answer on how to treat malaria. "If a remote worker can do that, think of what we can do if we made all our resources available," Denning says he told his colleagues.

Denning and his group often got favorable responses when they talked to country directors. In one instance, a country director in Africa wanted information on the feasibility of using solar power in low-income countries. The bank had an abundance of information on this topic but lacked the means of sharing it electronically. Many in the organization, though, weren't interested in what Denning had to say. "They didn't know what I was talking about," he says. "There were a lot of obstacles because this was a very conservative, change-resistant organization."

Next Page: An Extreme Makeover

An Extreme Makeover

Before Muhsin and the ISG group, which numbered more than 400 by 1998, could provide the necessary support for the four Strategic Partnership Programs (decentralization, knowledge sharing, renewal of bank I.T. and implementation of cost effectiveness) that he had spelled out in the September 1997 bank newsletter, he and his team had to rebuild the bank's infrastructure from the ground up. "Obviously, we had to clean this mess up," Denning says. "If we cleaned it up, we'd be more efficient as a lending organization. But we really needed to get our knowledge in the hands of our partners [government, non-government and private-sector organizations, etc.]. Only then could we solve the world's problems with poverty."

In 1997, the bank selected SAP R/3 4.0B (it later migrated to the 4.6C version) as its primary engine for I.T. improvement. With the SAP ERP system, the bank replaced disparate administrative systems and created a unified I.T. environment so that the same business processes could be used in Washington and in the 100 or so field offices. Eight SAP components—SAP Financials, SAP Fund Management, SAP Controlling, SAP Materials Management, SAP Project Management, SAP Project System, SAP Human Resources-Travel Management and SAP Enterprise Buyer—were brought in to streamline procurement, materials management, project systems and financial reporting.

The bank originally budgeted $43 million for the SAP ERP suite, according to internal bank documents, but the project soon was $10 million over budget. In a story that appeared in a number of publications, including the Harvard Business Review and CIO magazine, Wolfensohn was upset by the overrun and summoned Muhsin to his office to explain. Muhsin, in turn, brought in Ken Thornton, then general manager of IBM's global public sector practice, to address Wolfensohn's concerns. The bank president had a long-standing friendship with IBM's then-CEO, Lou Gerstner, and IBM had been brought in as a strategic partner on the ERP implementation.

After Thornton explained to Wolfensohn that 80% of all ERP implementations ran over budget, Wolfensohn made it clear he wanted the bank to be part of that 20% minority. Thornton pleaded with Wolfensohn not to lose faith and urged him "not to blink." Later, when Muhsin ran into the bank president in the elevator, Wolfensohn assured him he wasn't going to blink. He was as good as his word. According to internal bank documents, he got the bank's board to approve the additional $10 million, and ultimately project costs came to $54.3 million.

In the end, Wolfensohn clearly made the right decision. With the SAP ERP system, which was completed in 18 months, the bank consolidated its legacy systems and databases, while reducing cycle time with electronic approval of projects. "For us at the World Bank, the SAP implementation was a very big deal," Muhsin said in a SAP news release.

The SAP ERP project only represented part of the bank's I.T., process and communications overhaul. "We used SAP for all business transactions and brought in Oracle for databases," says Ronald Kim, information officer for the World Bank Institute (WBI). The WBI serves as the bank's capacity development arm, helping countries share and apply global and local knowledge to meet development challenges.

Specifically, Oracle is being used as the foundation for the bank's Record Integrated Information System. This is the repository for all of the bank's official records, reports, e-mails, and audio and video. With Oracle, the bank was seeking database scalability—a key factor in dealing with a large population of users around the world—as well as availability, performance and security. With Oracle's InterMedia database feature, it can also store and manage multimedia data.

In 2002, the bank began soliciting RFPs for a solution that would enable it to better organize and retrieve the millions of documents, many of them going back almost 60 years and written in dozens of languages, stored within its global repository. In effect, this would serve as the business intelligence solution for the bank's global knowledge sharing system. The vendor chosen—Teragram, a multi-lingual, natural-language technology company based in Cambridge, Mass.—makes categorization software that is used in high-demand environments such as large Internet search engines (Yahoo), major news companies (The New York Times), and numerous Fortune 500 companies and financial organizations. The bank chose Teragram's TK240 Version 5, the company's flagship taxonomy management software (software that automatically analyzes document contents and classifies and categorizes them). Typically, bank employees transmit documents to a document management system that uses the Oracle database. Each of these documents is read by the TK240 software, which applies linguistic-based identification to each document and then assigns meta-data tags based on predetermined indicators.

"Teragram was able to create a system that worked across multiple languages for better categorization, storage and quick retrieval," says Yves Schabes, who co-founded Teragram. "The biggest challenge in a large organization is to be able to find information stored in many environments and many offices and many languages. The larger the organization, the more of an issue this is."

The bank also built its own management dashboard, which enables management to access SAP and Oracle data on the Web and update key business metrics. It brought in Lotus Notes as its e-mail and collaboration tool, and a repository of documents in Lotus Notes databases, according to the WBI's Kim. IBM's Domino.doc, a commercial IBM Lotus product, was acquired primarily for content storage.

Web technology, which the bank characterizes as "the interface of choice for knowledge sharing," was also critical. Beginning in 2003, the bank began what it called the Internet Services Program (ISP), a multi-year project to upgrade its Internet capacities. To support this, it acquired IBM WebSphere Servers and WebSphere Portal Servers; Netegrity Web security software; iPlanet Directory Server; and Vignette content management software.

For online collaboration, it uses Lotus Sametime, a commercial product that provides collaborative tools and workspaces. Google is used to retrieve information from the bank's internal and external Web sites, while Epublish, a home-built Web publishing tool based on the Vignette content management software, is used for content caching.

Next Page: The Ouagadougou Factor

The Ouagadougou Factor

Of course, the essential component necessary to align I.T. with Wolfensohn's decentralized business strategy was a global network. In 1997, the bank began evaluating vendors with an eye to possibly outsourcing its global network needs. One of the questions bank officials asked competing vendors was: Could they supply network connectivity to Ouagadougou? This usually drew a blank stare as the vendors typically had never heard of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in West Africa. The population ranks among the poorest and most illiterate in the world. The bank has had a presence there for years.

With its need to provide service to Bukina Faso and other remote regions of the globe, the bank decided in 1997 to build its own global network infrastructure, a high-speed, reliable network of regional satellites and fiber optics. According to a presentation made by Vidoje P. Brajovic, manager of the Information Solutions Group's Global Connectivity Solutions division, the network consists of three satellites that serve the bank's offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. The bank's headquarters connects by a fiber-optic line to a German teleport, which in turn relays information to two Intelsat satellites. One of the satellites serves Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East; the other serves Asia. Bank headquarters also has connectivity with a third Orion 3 satellite that serves Europe.

With the satellite network going up, the bank in June 2000 began the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN), a partnership of what is now more than 120 learning centers. The GDLN offers the use of advanced information and communications technologies, such as interactive videoconferencing, to enable individual bank employees, teams, clients and affiliated organizations working in development around the world to communicate, share knowledge and learn from each others' experiences in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Despite having built a robust satellite network, the bank was constrained by infrastructure limits, especially in developing countries without high-speed networking infrastructures on the ground. As a result, there was a need to provide automated bandwidth among the multiple services (voice, video and data) being offered. Initially, the bank relied on frame relay—a high-speed packet-switching protocol—for this, but that quickly proved unsatisfactory.

"Frame relay is a very expensive solution to implement, which also brings a significant overhead," Brajovic said in a 2003 Cisco case study about the network. Indeed, in running upward of 20,000 videoconferences a year in five to 10 locations concurrently, the overhead was prohibitive, he said. The bank required more than 50 simultaneous connections in place for data, telephony and video applications.

Meanwhile, any attempt to run integrated services over the satellite wide-area networks (WANs) using quality of service (QoS) features would have to overcome satellite connectivity limitations such as an efficient solution for multimedia service. These were not common in local-area networks (the bank had its own LAN in Washington). As a result, existing QoS solutions had to be modified to support the different classes of traffic.

After attending a Cisco executive briefing, bank officials began weighing the potential benefits of moving to converged network services over Internet Protocol (IP). Among them: far lower cost of ownership and administration, improved and more consistent service, and decreased management complexity. After running various pilot tests, the multi-service IP network infrastructure for field offices and distance-learning centers went live in 2003. According to Brajovic, the results have been largely positive. The bank began training its entire staff in IP.

"It's a much simpler approach," Brajovic says. Network management costs have been reduced, while network administrators are utilizing Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which enables the bank to monitor and control network devices and to manage everything from configurations to security. "In the past, we did not have the capacity to monitor many voice and satellite devices. Now using SNMP-enabled devices, we can control the whole network automatically," he adds.

As of 2003, the annual operating costs for the bank's global communications network came to $12.3 million, according to the Harvard Business School case history. Unit costs per gigabyte of data transmission were lower than those of comparable organizations, one assessment of similar networks by industry analysts found, while cost efficiency normalized per workload was about twice as high as the peer average. "I continue to consider the work done on the World Bank's global network to be of very high quality," I.T. expert McFarlan, who's a professor at the Harvard Business School, told Baseline.

More recently, in May 2005 during the spring meetings of the Internet2 community, GDLN connected with the second-generation Internet, which was developed by a consortium of universities, private companies and the U.S. government to be primarily a research network. Soon after, CIO Muhsin announced that the bank had joined Internet2 as an affiliate member. "The World Bank remains focused on providing countries with the training and resources they need to facilitate economic growth," Muhsin told newsletter Grid Today. "Through our partnership with Internet2, the World Bank can now effectively work with remote countries and provide a richer, more comprehensive learning experience for its global community."

Next Page: On the Front Lines

On the Front Lines

Since Muhsin's departure, three fundamental changes have occurred regarding how the bank deals with knowledge sharing. Today, notes Kim of the WBI, knowledge sharing "has been mainstreamed into the organization, into regions and networks. There are today still more than 400 staff with the words 'knowledge management' in their titles. Also, certain key aspects of knowledge sharing such as Web, video databases and portals have been accepted by nearly everyone."

Second, knowledge sharing today is driven not so much by I.T., but by what the bank calls Thematic Groups (almost 100 communities of practice that individually focus on specific areas such as poverty, agriculture and HIV/AIDS). "It has become decentralized within the various regions and networks," Kim says. "What central coordination remains is with the Knowledge and Learning Board, located in our human-resources unit."

Finally, the focus today has shifted from capturing and organizing knowledge to adopting, adapting and applying knowledge in a way that helps bank staff, clients and partners work more effectively to reduce global poverty. Put another way, the bank—through the WBI, which is responsible for the organization's distance-learning and knowledge-sharing initiatives—has been able to help countries share and apply global and local knowledge to meet development challenges, and have a more immediate impact on the regions in which it deals, Kim says.

For instance, in Brazil, where the WBI has its largest program in Latin America, the bank is working with the government on a number of social and environmental issues with a focus on the Amazon region. The bank has stationed a member of the WBI's environmental and natural resources management team there, while creating a lending program as an incentive to curb environmental abuses in the Amazon. Key to this effort is a 180-hour distance-learning course in environmental law that is being provided in partnership with the GDLN Center in the bank's offices in Brazil, the Ministry of the Environment, Banco de Amazon and the bank's Rainforest Unit. The course is being delivered over a three-month period via network connections to learning sites in all nine states encompassing the Amazon. The more than 500 participants are officials from state and municipal environmental agencies.

One of several bank activities in Brazil focused on dealing with enforcement of environmental policies, this kind of program would likely never have been carried out or even attempted as part of traditional World Bank business strategy, according to Kim.

To facilitate its efforts on the front lines, WBI has its own ICT group, Global ICT (GICT), says Philippe Dongier, manager of GICT's Public Sector Policy and Operations Division. According to Dongier, the group differs entirely from the ISG group now headed by Guy-Pierre De Poerck, Muhsin's successor. "That group functions like the I.T. and communications entities in a large, multinational corporation," Dongier says. GICT functions outside the ISG unit and is concerned with providing technological solutions to client countries. "Our biggest challenge [at GICT] is to bring affordable Internet access and communications infrastructure to the regions of the world that are without them," Dongier explains.

Specifically, GICT's mission is "to unleash the power of human capital and give opportunities to the poor through easy access to information," says GICT external affairs officer Henny Rahardja. GICT was founded officially on Jan. 1, 2000, but was one of the first entities to invest in mobile technology in Zaire in 1989. "That was when no one believed in the potential of mobile phones, least of all in Africa," Rahardja recalls.

According to Dongier, the GICT group is relatively small—about 100 people—about one-fourth the size of the ISG staff. It capitalizes on the bank's networking and I.T. capabilities to Webcast training events and workshops, maintain several internal data repositories and its own Intranet site, and share knowledge in regard to things like best practices.

Despite its relatively small size, GICT takes on ambitious private and public sector projects, working in more than 80 countries. Before his retirement, Muhsin viewed the then-fledgling unit and its parent group, WBI, as likely facilitators of major e-government initiatives around the globe.

Currently, GICT is focusing on Africa's "Missing Link"—25 East and Southern African (E&SA) countries where making an international phone call or connecting to high-speed Internet is cost prohibitive.

This is true because the region is not connected to the global fiber-optic broadband infrastructure, and the population is forced to rely on expensive satellite connectivity to link up with each other and the rest of the world. As the only part of Africa that is not connected to the global broadband infrastructure, E&SA accounts for only 0.07% of the world's international bandwidth capacity.

In late March, the World Bank approved $164 million of what will ultimately be a $424 million financial package to the so-called Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (RCIP) for high-speed connectivity in E&SA. The initial funding will go to building a regional and national backbone terrestrial network, and an undersea fiber-optic network to provide high-speed bandwidth to Kenya, Burundi and Madagascar. The undersea network will be financed by private financing, the terrestrial network by the World Bank. "This is clearly going to make Africa more open to business and help create jobs, and be good for development for a large number of people in Africa," Dongier says.

Typically, GICT will come into a project like RCIP after the bank has established the groundwork with the country's minister of finance. "We'll subsequently begin working with the country's minister of ICT," Dongier says. On these projects, GICT will offer technical expertise and support, help the country issue licensing to Internet service providers and help establish an independent regulatory body. "It doesn't have to be the equivalent of the FCC," Dongier notes. "There are different models. Countries select which one is best suited to them."

GICT provides any number of statistics showing the benefits of bringing information and communications technologies to developing countries As an example, sales growth is 3.24% higher and value-added per employee $3,400 more among developing-country firms that use e-mail to communicate with customers and suppliers. Internet access in schools in countries such as Chile and Thailand has increased tenfold since 1999.

"The World Bank stands ready to work with countries and the international community to determine how best to use ICT for poverty reduction and economic growth," Mohsin Khalil, GICT's director, said in the bank's 2006 Global Trends and Policies report.

Key to this effort is a number of networks and communities of practice that rely on knowledge sharing. Among them are the Development Gateway, a portal Web site that can be used to share information, ideas, knowledge, resources and tools on poverty reduction and development topics; the World Bank Knowledge Sharing Portal, which provides information about the bank's knowledge-sharing strategy and links to many of the initiatives in the bank that generate and share knowledge; and the Global Development Network, which encourages the exchange of developmental know-how through workshops, networking, research grants and training.

Of course, pure altruism isn't in play here. The geo-political stakes are high in developing emerging countries through loans and technology, but the real benefits of Wolfensohn's vision and Muhsin's realization of same, Dongier says, can be seen in a remote region where a village nurse can use a cell phone to get a diagnosis from a doctor 500 miles away, or at a school in the hinterlands of an impoverished country like Burkina Faso where kids can access the Internet for the first time.

Meanwhile, the architect of the knowledge bank and the CIO who facilitated it have long since moved on. Wolfensohn is running his own investment firm in New York and divides his time between residences in Washington, D.C., New York and Jackson, Wyo.

Muhsin has returned to Sri Lanka, where he sits on several corporate boards and is working as a management consultant. There has been no further word from the bank or Muhsin's lawyer on the allegations that followed his retirement.

Next Page: At a Glance: World Bank

: World Bank">

At a Glance: World Bank

1818 H St. N.W., Washington, DC 20043
Phone Number:
(202) 473-1000
Chief Executive:
Robert B. Zoellick, President
Chief Technology Officer:
Guy-Pierre De Poerck, CIO and Vice President
Total administrative budget, net of reimbursement, for fiscal 2007 is $2.12 billion. Challenge:
Reduce global poverty and improve living standards.

Baseline Goals:

  • Deliver the most sophisticated voice, video and data services over the Global Developmental Learning Network (GDLN) to 120 learning centers in 80 countries.
  • Create a global archive for more than 60 years of documents and reports that is readily accessible and dramatically increases bank employees' ability to process electronic documents, from fewer than five per hour to more than 50,000 an hour today.
  • Create an I.T. infrastructure to support a global network and a decentralized business strategy.

Next Page: Movers and Shakers

Movers and Shakers


Robert B. Zoellick
World Bank President

In June, Zoellick was chosen to succeed Paul Wolfowitz as the 11th president of the World Bank for a five-year term. Like Wolfowitz, he served in the Bush administration; from 2001 to 2005, Zoellick was deputy secretary of state. At the time of his appointment to the bank, Zoellick was vice chairman, international of Goldman Sachs Group, and a managing director and chairman of Goldman Sachs' Board of International Advisors.

Guy-Pierre De Poerck
CIO and Vice President

Formerly the bank's senior manager, development and informatics, De Poerck replaced Mohamed Muhsin as CIO and vice president. Since taking over as CIO, De Poerck has maintained a lower profile than his highly visible predecessor.

Philippe Dongier
Manager, Global ICT Department, Public Sector Policy and Operations Division

A McKinsey & Co. alumnus, Dongier joined the bank in 1998. He has played a range of leadership roles in the infrastructure and sustainable development sectors, and worked on operations and analytical work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Dongier managed the bank's support of Afghanistan's reconstruction, and led an initiative on strengthening the bank's organizational effectiveness. He recently authored a World Bank report, "Infrastructure: Lessons from the Last Two Decades of World Bank Engagement." At present, he is leading the bank's $424 million Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program on East and Southern Africa.


Paul Wolfowitz
World Bank President (2005-2007)

A major architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policy and former deputy secretary of defense, Wolfowitz was named the World Bank's president in June 2005. He identified sub-Saharan Africa as the region most challenged to improve living standards, while making clear his intention to fight corruption within the bank. Ironically, he resigned his post, effective June 30, after an internal panel tasked with investigating the lucrative pay and promotion package Wolfowitz arranged in 2005 for his partner, Shaha Riza, found him guilty of breaking bank rules.

James Wolfensohn
World Bank President (1995-2005)

Wolfensohn orchestrated the decentralization of the bank; he realized the value of using I.T. and a global network to extend the bank's reach and transform it into a "knowledge bank." He is generally viewed as one of the bank's most effective presidents. He now runs his own investment company in New York.

Mohamed Muhsin
Former World Bank CIO and Vice President

Muhsin was the bank's first-ever CIO; his mandate was to revamp the bank's outdated and disorganized I.T. structure, and build its global network. After Muhsin retired in November 2005, The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report ran stories claiming that he had taken stock from one of the bank's vendors—charges Muhsin's lawyer vehemently denies. Currently, he is a management consultant and serves on several corporate boards.

Stephen Denning
Former Program Director, Knowledge Management

Denning was the original head of the bank's knowledge management program and worked under Muhsin. "We needed to make knowledge at least as important as lending," he says. Denning, however, encountered stiff resistance from the bank's old guard and left a year after the knowledge management group was moved from I.T.'s oversight to operations. Denning now works as a Washington, D.C.-based knowledge management consultant.

Next Page: By the Numbers: the World Bank's Key Resources

: the World Bank's Key Resources">

By the Numbers: the World Bank's Key Resources

185 Number of member countries/shareholders.
5 Number of the large shareholders: France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
3,000 Number of World Bank employees who work in offices in the developing world.
$14.1 billion Lending commitments to member countries in fiscal year 2006.
$13.5 billion Amount to which countries are generally restricted in terms of total borrowings from the bank.
1,800 The number of development projects around the world in which the bank is currently involved.
2 Number of organizations that make up the World Bank:
the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)
and the International Development Association (IDA).
2 Number of groups responsible for the bank's information and communications technology (ICT):
the Information Solutions Group (ISG), which deals with internal bank ICT; and the Global ICT group, which deals with ICT outside the bank.

Number of World Bank employees.