Former World Bank Vice President of Global Themes Hartwig Schafer Speaking at the Conference
We know from hard-won experience that challenges during implementation can derail, complicate, and delay development projects. Yet while these occur time and time again, they often come—in the thick of the process—as an unwelcome surprise. So how can infrastructure professionals prepare for, adapt to, and overcome such delivery challenges?
To try to answer this question and share potential solutions, close to 100 seasoned professionals from over 30 organizations working in the development sphere gathered in Addis Ababa on March 20-21 for the Global Delivery Initiative (GDI) annual conference on How to Tackle Delivery Challenges and Manage Complexity in Infrastructure Development. The conference focused squarely on a unique, concrete niche: overcoming delivery challenges in infrastructure, with an emphasis on African experiences.
GDI is a collaborative effort to build an evidence base of delivery know-how to overcome stubborn delivery challenges. The conference was jointly organized by GDI co-chairs GIZ and the World Bank Group, and hosted by the Ministry of Finance and Cooperation of Ethiopia. Over the course of the conference, participants shared practical experiences, with interactive sessions called delivery labs allowing for a candid exchange of perspectives, ideas, and, crucially, solutions to problems in areas like transportation, water supply, and electricity access.
Attendees emphasized the importance of dealing with recurring delivery challenges, which can affect projects in every region and sector. Global Themes Vice President Hartwig Schafer drew on his operational experience in Africa to speak to the ubiquity of delivery challenges in operations.
"We plan for projects, only to find three months into it that we haven't recognized one of the challenges—be it stakeholder coordination, institutional capacity, staff turn-over, or something else," said Schafer. "We plan for projects to take five years, but in the face of these challenges, projects can take seven to eight. And these challenges are often under-estimated."
Infrastructure and delivery challenges
The conference focused on infrastructure because this is a critical priority for governments around the world. Demand for new and improved infrastructure is rapidly increasing, sometimes faster than funding can keep up. But closing this gap is about more than money—it's about solving delivery challenges.
Infrastructure can make an immediate and material difference in people's lives: electricity enables children to study at night, while roads help farmers and manufacturers get goods to market. And people are increasingly demanding these kinds of goods faster and better than ever before.
Conference participants shared some solutions to these vexing issues based on their own experiences. GIZ discussed its work on establishing water kiosks in Kenya—low-cost, scalable water access points for the poor. Participants took part in candid, interactive discussions on how the World Bank facilitated road construction in Ghana. And the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) presented the experience of mitigating risk and mobilizing finance to establish geothermal energy projects in Kenya's Menengai field.
"We set up the conference to enable peer-to-peer learning with a laser focus on delivery challenges," said Debra Ladner, program lead for GDI in Global Themes Knowledge Management. "We know that this kind of tacit delivery know-how is often fragmented and hard to surface, so connecting these professionals and creating the space for a candid exchange of ideas and experiences is one way that GDI can help project teams face delivery challenges more effectively," she said.
The conference raised challenging issues, and enabled a wide range of participants to share real experiences. "This is the kind of exchange that GDI hopes to catalyze to ensure that it meets its goals of enabling the sharing of delivery know-how and empowering practitioners on the front lines to better overcome stubborn delivery challenges," said Margot Brown, director of Global Themes Knowledge Management.
GDI aims to respond to these calls for connection. As it expands, this partnership will keep linking partners to share concrete delivery experiences and solutions. Ultimately, when development professionals encounter an obstacle in the midst of implementing a project, they won't face it alone. Instead, they will have practical know-how, drawn from peers' experiences, to help them overcome obstacles and successfully confront delivery challenges—in the infrastructure sector, or any other.