What is your role within the World Bank?
In 2016, I moved from the Netherlands to work as a consultant with the Information & Technology Solutions (ITS) Department, which delivers transformative information technologies to World Bank Group staff. I am a core team member of the newly launched Technology & Innovation Lab that experiments with innovative technologies that have the potential to improve the World Bank Group’s internal operations and operational work in client countries. We are developing use cases and proof of concepts for the use of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in areas like health, cross-border payments, agriculture, and land administration, among others. I support the Innovation Leads by meeting with clients and performing business analysis for each use case, but I also lead some external partnerships with experienced leaders in this area, like the Dutch Blockchain Coalition. It has been an exciting journey and incredible experience to work with a close and diverse team in exploring these new technologies together with different units across the World Bank Group.
How does your division contribute to reducing poverty in the world?
Our Lab does not work with client countries directly. However, we work closely with the World Bank Global Practices and IFC to identify the applicability of innovative technologies for international development areas and perform small, in-house experiments in our Lab. Examples of use cases we are exploring are cross-border payments and remittances to fragile and conflicted-affected locations, tracing agricultural products or pharmaceuticals in the supply chain, and registering land parcels using blockchain technology. We report the findings of our research and experiments on the fit of blockchain for a specific use case and it is then up to the client to consider next steps. Blockchain is still an emerging technology but I am optimistic about it being adopted on a large scale in the years to come. It has great potential to improve speed, accuracy, traceability, and trust, and it is great to see that the World Bank is looking into the value of these disruptive technologies.
What challenges do you run into?
The value of blockchain technology is still being explored and identified. Governments, universities, NGOs, and private sector parties are doing a lot of research on this technology and some are setting up actual pilot projects for real-life implementation. The Netherlands is an excellent example of a country that is looking into this through public-private collaboration. Our Lab wants to build on the know-how that is already out there by bringing in experts for knowledge-sharing sessions and collaborating on proof of concepts. Educating our colleagues on innovative technologies in ITS and across the WBG is a key priority for us and takes time; however, it is critical to fully explore and learn about the value of blockchain. Although we have built a big network with public and private sector parties, it still remains a challenge to find the ones that have the right capabilities and willingness to partner in exploring specific World Bank Group use cases.
How do your colleagues look at the Netherlands and Dutch organizations?
Since the launch of our Lab last year, we were quick to find out that the Netherlands is a leader in researching and experimenting with blockchain technology. The Dutch government has been conducting more than 30 blockchain pilot projects (www.blockchainpilots.nl) and there is a Dutch Blockchain Coalition, which is a joint venture between industry, government, and knowledge institutions to foster collaboration in this area. One of the major differentiators for the Netherlands is their open knowledge-sharing model and their interest in moving quickly to establish the viability of a use case. Additionally, the Netherlands has been able to create a multidisciplinary environment for blockchain exploration. They are not just looking at this technology from an IT perspective, but they are involving lawyers, policy makers, sector specialists, and entrepreneurs. This ecosystem takes time to develop, and the World Bank Group is lucky to tap into it.
How can Dutch companies make themselves visible to the World Bank?
It is key to understand how the institutions that make up the World Bank Group are structured and to identify what unit matches best with your offerings. When you meet with someone from the World Bank Group, he or she will try to understand your capabilities and see if your product or service is a good fit with their work. I would advise to reach out to your counterparts and connections, understand what the need is in a specific unit, be clear in what you are looking for or have to offer, and ask to be connected to others. Additionally, the liaisons between the Embassy and World Bank are very helpful in providing guidance and establishing relations.
With regards to our Technology & Innovation Lab—please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the team (email@example.com) if your company or organization is interested in exploring one of our blockchain use cases.