When I thought I had finally settled on an internship in Ecuador, an opportunity opened up for me to stay in Washington DC and work at the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) headquarters. Since this was a great networking opportunity and a better option for my family, I chose to go back to the Bank where I had grown over the last five years. Hopeful to put into practice some of my new GHD skills and knowledge, I signed up for a role in which I will provide support to the Citizen Security sector in the design of impact evaluations, country strategies and an approach to reduce violent urban crime.
Whereas before I was stationed at the Brazil Country Office, now I am in the Bank’s organizational heart on 1300 New York Avenue. In Brazil, I routinely heard about the contrasts between the two places from colleagues who had spent time in DC. “At headquarters,” they would say, “people are cold, teams work in silos, bosses are unapproachable, the workspaces are confined,” and so on. In the Brasilia office, on the other hand, everyone knows each other, the building is surrounded by open green space, the workspaces are also open and they foster socialization.
In Brasilia, people are closer to the projects the Bank finances, to its implementors, to its beneficiaries. Here, in DC, we are far removed from the projects and focused on strategy-making and knowledge production instead. But aside from that, I am finding many of the supposed contrasts are overstated. My colleagues here are quite approachable, as are the bosses. In a few weeks’ time I’ve seen a good deal of intersectoral work, and there are large-scale efforts going on towards institutional rejuvenation which seem out of place (and time) in this undeniably outdated architecture and workspace layout.
Over the past decade, the Bank has consciously tried to break free of its bureaucratic chains and image by reducing the age of its incoming staff, rebranding its logo and slogan (see Figure 2), and creating incentives for innovation and creative thinking. I see how this is materializing as I go around the Bank and talk to its people. Even in small ways. For example, one relatively young department manager had a cup of coffee with me in his office and spent our entire chat rolling a soccer ball under his foot. In another example, one year ago, an equally young education specialist announced his departure from the Bank. He had told me this was partially motivated by frustration with bureaucracy. Last week I ran into him, still at the Bank, and I learned he was convinced to stay and take a leading role in a new department dedicated to incentivizing institutional and operational innovation.
Ironically, the first assignment I’ve tackled in my return to the IDB has involved revisiting the citizen security projects I left behind in Brazil. The team leader on the Bank’s side (and my former supervisor) is passing the role onto someone else. And to close this chapter in our lives we invited the government teams to Washington to present the projects to the IDB Citizen Security staff (see Figures 3 and 4). We put together a two-day dialogue which ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at the Bank. After spending some time away from these projects, I have been surprised to find that so many of the ideas we had put into motion are already being implemented and improving lives. I remember co-writing a statement of work to hire local NGOs to provide services in youth centers for vulnerable teenagers. I remember thinking, “Is this going to work at all? Are kids even going to want to go to frequent this place?” Now, in the seminar, we heard in-numerous stories of youth getting employed, communities becoming involved, and other positive outcomes. In one instance, a teenager who was arrested for robbing public buses became a beneficiary of one of the programs we designed. Now, he works as a bus toll-collector.
With this seminar over, I have said a final farewell to my old projects, and now I am more than ready to say hello to a brand-new set of tasks and to a brand-new setting. I feel like I have more to contribute than I did just one year ago, and I am motivated to do so.