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World Bank Announces Development Marketplace Winners

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn today announced 44 winners of a total of $5 million in seed money for projects that offer new ways of fighting poverty. The news came at the close of a two-day “Development Marketplace” competition sponsored by the Bank and partners to identify and award the most innovative ideas for reducing poverty.

“In the next 25 years, another two billion people will share the world. Most of them will live in poverty if we do not take action now,” said Wolfensohn. “We need ever more effective, innovative solutions to meet this challenge. The Development Marketplace can help bring our collective experience, knowledge and passion to bear in the search for solutions.”

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In announcing the winners, Wolfensohn said it was “remarkable to see so many people joined together to reach one objective: to do development better and reduce poverty.”

The event drew in nearly 1,200 proposals from around the globe. Of those, 339 finalists were chosen to display their ideas at the marketplace, held February 8 and 9 at Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. More than 700 international organizations and institutions from over 60 countries participated, including civil society, private sector, academia, government, foundations, multi- and bilateral development banks, and other public institutions.

Proposals offered ways to promote good government, combat corruption, develop legal and judicial systems, strengthen financial and regulatory systems, and insulate the poor from crises. Ideas ranged from creating centers to train Moldova’s disabled children in crafts and specialized enterprises to providing cultural sensitivity training for judges in indigenous areas affected by war in Guatemala. 

Forty-six jurors, representing the development community and private sector, judged the proposals on originality, partnerships created, cost-effectiveness, potential for ownership by those who benefit the most—and above all, expected impact on poverty.

Among the winners was Lloyd Connelly with the University of California at Berkeley. Connelly’s proposal, for $100,500, was for a low-cost way to disinfect household water. His team prepared a $25 prototype disinfection system that uses ultraviolet to kill pathogens in water.

“We’d like to see this widely disseminated and become a standard,” Connelly said.

Mercy Chigubu, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, won $100,000 in start-up funds for her project, “Orphans and Kinship Care-givers,” which will provide funds to feed and educate AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. The project will also work to empower and educate the caregiver, that is family members who often take in the orphaned children but who lack child-rearing skills.

“When the family institution is battered, we’ll never be able to reduce poverty,” said Chigubu, who attended the event with her daughter Crystal. “Social networks have dwindled. We want women to become involved [in taking care of the children and training caregivers]. We want every child to be educated, not to be a social isolate.”

The project “E-commerce Bridge: From Bosnia to the World” won a $45,000 award. Headed by James Chuck with Knitting Together Nations, a Sarajevo-based initiative, the project will use e-commerce to promote contract manufacturing of skills already possessed by many of Bosnia’s displaced women: knitting and crocheting.

“This would be the first e-commerce business in the Balkans,” said Chuck. “Because no one’s going there, we’re bringing the business to the West through the web. The World Bank’s dream is of a world free of poverty. My dream is to see this project work in a big way to help the 3,500 women in our network.”

Jessica Lewis and team also took home a prize, $129,500, for their project, “IT: Employment for People with Disabilities.” Lewis’s group, with the OAS Trust of the Americas, proposes to send volunteers to Central America to provide training in technology for people with disabilities. The idea is to closely target needs—for example, those needing help improving a graphic design business would receive training in that area—and then have those who receive training become trainers.

“The project is innovative, sustainable, and combats poverty,” said Lewis. “Five years down the line, we’ll see a cadre of high-tech volunteers who are employable. IT [information technology] has the ability to radically change people’s lives.”

Winners will now put together a work program, budget, and action plan take their ideas from the concept stage to prototype over the next year and a half, and see whether they can be mainstreamed.

In addition to the 44 monetary awards, which ranged in value from $27,350 to $380,000, some proposals were acknowledged by “ballot and balloon.” The People’s Choice awards—non-monetary  recognition given to nine groups—acknowledge those proposals that were the “most out of the box and implementable,” “most easily replicable,” and “tackled the most taboo issues.” Participants too were able to cast their votes, by placing a balloon at the display which they thought best embodied the spirit of the marketplace.

“I think it’s excellent that the Bank does this type of thing—networking, exchanging ideas,” said Susan Theiler, an agribusiness specialist on secondment to the Bank from the US Department of Agriculture, who visited the event. “The visual impact of the displays is really amazing.”

Juror Sjef Ijzermans from the Netherlands Embassy remarked that the most striking thing about the event was the community participation and innovation. “Sometimes there’s fatigue with aid,” he said. “But there are so many determined people here, and that’s encouraging for those who have been involved in development for a long time.”

Marketplace Co-Chair Lisa Jordan, executive director for the Bank Information Center, added that the event showed that the Bank is really looking for partners and new ideas to stimulate the development debate. “It reminds people that development isn’t something that’s created here in Washington.”

One of the aims of the marketplace is to “open the Bank up to the outside world and make sure we build on knowledge that’s already out there,” explained Dennis Whittle, one of the marketplace architects and Strategic Resource Management staff member. “The Bank doesn’t have a monopoly on solutions to development and this is one of the ways we’re trying to search for solutions, together with partners and clients.”

For those who weren’t selected for awards, there’s still a chance for funding. “We’re keeping all proposals on the web and encouraging donors, foundations, and multilaterals to have a look at them and see if they can fund them,” said Mari Kuraishi, another of the event’s key organizers.

In fact, Wolfensohn announced at the award ceremony that he was working with the United Nations Development Program to try to link up unfunded proposals with potential donors through NetAid, the recently launched website that acts as a clearinghouse for donors and organizations.

Helpful link: For a full list of award winners, click here.

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