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The Development Marketplace goes to Alaska

This team stands in front of their display which helps them present their idea for a Bird Watching Tour in Chevak, AK.

Now a days I’m keeping rather busy preparing for the Alaska Marketplace (www.alaskamarketplace.org), an ideas competition, which will be held in Fairbanks on Oct. 24. It is based on an initiative called the Development Marketplace, which was launched in 1998 by a team of us at the World Bank Group under Wolfensohn (NOT Wolfowitz). The original intent was two fold: 1) for staff to think innovatively about international development by looking for break through ideas in the countries they worked in—to bring them back to HQ where the ideas can be spread to other regions and 2) to give the World Bank staff impetus to form partnerships directly with grass root groups in various countries and help them vie for a portion of pool of money, which I’ve seen go up to $5Million--- divide that by 20-30 teams and the money goes a long way! One of my favorite unintended but surprisingly important outcomes, is the signal that the Bank gave to their clients in the government ministries: to be seen actively supporting these grass-root groups and social entrepreneurs without the consent or involvement of government was a break through in itself and super empowering to our new found partners. One of the most memorable ideas that is still a darling of the media is the Play Pump Roundabout, a merry go-round that children play on which pumps water from a well into a water tower that has two sides for ads: one is a public service announcement about HIV/AIDS prevention and the other side is sold to commercial advertising generating revenue that supports the building and maintenance of the aforementioned components.

Fast forward 9 years: the Development Marketplace has become a success for both staff and partners; it has been mainstreamed in headquarters and is held in various countries. Since 2004, by invitation from the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), I’ve been working with them to adapt the model to their local context and development goals. Since each Marketplace calls for ideas to meet a local challenge, AFN determined that in order to maintain their Alaska native ways and customs, their rural economies had to thrive—isolation from the global economy was making many of these villages history. The theme for the two Alaska Marketplace’s (2005 and 2007) has been “Culture and Development.” I’ll write more about the importance of culture as a crucial element of a society’s development in a later blog. For now to learn more about the 60 ideas that are vying for $700,000 go to www.alaskamarketplace.org.

Bird's eye view of the competition taking place with the finalists at their booths pitching their ideas to judges.
Picture from the PBS Frontline website of the Play Pump, winner of the DM in 2000.
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