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Have a strategy. Use good systems. That’s how you change the world

16 November, 2017

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Date of Publication: 16 November, 2017
An interview with Silvia Malgioglio - Household survey coordinator, Poverty & Equity Practice at World Bank Group - on managing complexity and keeping a strategic vision.

Hi Silvia, your job is complex and impactful. Can you tell us what you do?

I work for the World Bank's Poverty Unit that produces economic research on poverty and inequality globally. I manage a portfolio of household surveys that use an innovative statistical methodology to generate primary data on sector-specific indicators and investigate the relationship between poverty and behaviours in these areas. Our studies span a wide range of sectors such as natural disaster preparedness, agriculture, electrification and ICTs. We help stakeholders understand the impact of their projects and make better policy decisions. In my daily work, I advise teams on survey design, manage experts and survey implementation.

 

Can you tell us what are the main differences between working for the World Bank and being employed in a more traditional, revenue-based business?

The organization’s mission (ending extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity), the people, the timelines. At the World Bank, the sheer volume of people involved in a single project is impressive: I’m talking of multiple teams and individuals, often with different priorities and schedules. This is even before you start working with government counterparts, donors, etc.
Hence the timing issues. There are processes and procedures for all these actors, and that results in all activities taking longer than they typically would in a private-sector setting.
 

While work automation is taking over in many sectors, yours is a job that still needs humans.

Yes, you can’t really automate what I do in the foreseeable future! Studies in international relations and cooperation aside, what I bring with me every day is my cultural sensitivity. I know how to relate to people, I’m adaptive. Thanks to my fieldwork experience, I have learned to approach things in a way that will work locally by quickly adapting to a new context.

You can say I was born with an international profile: my family is multicultural, my mother comes from a developing country; so I’ve witnessed different perspectives from a very young age.  

Finally, we often have to deal with changes in the political climate such as elections or protests, weather disruptions, and those are often a severe test for your project management skills. A computer really couldn’t make it.

 

In case you were going to work for a traditional firm, what kind of skills and approaches would you bring with you?

I’ve surely developed a strong strategic vision to be able to think long term and not micromanage. I also believe you need strong systems to preserve the institutional memory, through clear processes and documentation: working for a giant, with all those external stakeholders and also a frequent internal turnover, you can’t survive without systems.

But even if I worked for a small firm I’d still insist on process documentation. The day one key figure leaves the job, having their work documented saves lots of time and money - and reduces headaches for whoever comes after.

 

That being said, would you ever switch to a traditional business?

Maybe one day I would! Working in such a big organisation I’ve learned humility: what I do is important, but it’s just a tiny fraction of the work. I’m not changing the world all by myself.

What I would find very challenging though, is working in a single-culture environment. There’s people from all over the world here, we have no “home team”. I will always look for this.

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