By SASHA HARRINANAN
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) wants people to have more of a say in the development of their countries.
So, it is using a campaign to get people to share their views on what are the needs of their communities and the ways to achieve them. The concept is to move away from conventional policies driven by governments, to unfollow them, even disrupt systems to create a new citizen-driven agenda.
This is the essence of The Unfollow: Same Never Made a Difference campaign which the IDB launched in November 2017.
"We are trying to be more disruptive in a constructive way," IDB Country Representative to TT, Rocío Medina Bolívar shared with Business Day in an interview on March 22.
This is the innovative approach being taken for the 2016-2020 country strategy for TT, Medina Bolívar explained.
"It's unique, even for us, because normally the country strategy is the product of dialogue between the IDB and government but it's important to ensure we also listen to non-traditional stakeholders such as NGOs (non-governmental organisations), the private sector, entrepreneurs, young people."
The Unfollow campaign has five main components: Start-up Weekend; Unfollow Box; NextGen Board; Pillar Events and Microsite and Social media. (See below)
In a statement to Business Day, the IDB said, "The campaign is meant to not only disseminate the country strategy and engage citizens in a nation-wide discussion on the development of TT but to also incorporate input from citizens in the work that we do, whether it’s in the generation of new knowledge products or the projects that we have with our partners."
Seated at a round conference table in her office at the IDB's TT head office in St Clair, Medina Bolívar elaborated on this approach.
"The question we are trying to answer with this campaign is, how can we work in a more integrated, innovative, way to provide solutions to the public and private sectors alike? The Unfollow campaign is very unique and could be a model for other countries (in which the IDB has a presence), in how to engage non-traditional stakeholders.
The campaign's success here will be the model for the Caribbean and Latin America.
As stated on the IDB website, the country strategy for TT will assist government "in removing constraints that hinder economic diversification and macro-economic policy adjustment to the new reality of lower commodity prices."
It will focus on three strategic areas: strengthening public sector institutions and governance; promoting private sector development; and fostering human development.
Medina Bolívar noted that all projects being considered under these pillars will also be "analysed for their potential impact on the cross-cutting themes of climate change and gender."
"We are making ourselves more reachable. So, under the Unfollow campaign, we created the Next Gen Board, which is comprised of (people) who are champions in their specific areas, who can give us some input. We held our first pillar event on the private sector on March 8. Prior to that, we held a start-up event," she said.
"These are very interesting ways to source solutions from the citizens, who can then be a part of tackling national problems like cyber-bullying, counselling, education, traffic. The Unfollow campaign is already showing how the private and public sectors can integrate solutions and how citizens themselves can come up with solutions.
"We will get more input on how best to handle these development challenges. Our next pillar event will likely be about how we tackle and foster human capital development. So, we'll be working on areas such as water and sanitation, education and health."
Medina Bolívar has a personal investment is seeing the Unfollow campaign succeed in TT.
"For me, it's very important that we identify specific actions that will allow government and private sector, NGOs, et cetera to all work together to achieve whatever projects are approved under the CS. While the Unfollow campaign was launched last year, 2018 is about its implementation. So as the new country representative – I officially assumed office on February 16 – I have the opportunity to move this action plan forward under the three pillars."
Referencing the new normal of lower commodity prices and their impact on government revenues, Medina Bolívar told Business Day she's using information coming out of the Unfollow campaign to "try to identify projects we can scale up and specific pilot projects because the drop in TT's oil and gas revenue in particular means it's even more important to improve non-energy revenues while diversifying the economy."
Although she praised the Dr Keith Rowley administration for "having done an excellent job in trying to work towards fiscal consolidation by reducing capital expenditure," Medina Bolívar cautioned that capital expenditure is still "very important."
"For example, infrastructure projects under the three pillars; we hope that we can move that agenda ahead because this will also benefit the whole economy. It's not a silver bullet but we're trying to determine which sectors and projects would have the most impact."
Medina Bolívar smiled when asked if she feels any pressure to execute Unfollow, since her colleagues and bosses are paying close attention.
"I'm very enthusiastic about the campaign. I think it provides very good, new, ideas to the bank. I've been working in the Andean region. We don't have anything like that there and everyone is curious. What is Unfollow? How do we implement this? So, the bank is taking note of how (our) team implements Unfollow. We are learning by doing, as we try to move this agenda ahead in the best way. The team is great, I'm very motivated by results and I like the challenges. So, I'm looking forward to what comes next. I'm very happy to be here and to be a part of this."
From Lima to the IDB
Born and raised in Peru, Rocio Medina Bolivar credits her parents for influencing her management style and approach to challenges.
"I'm a very pragmatic, direct person. I like to facilitate and look for coordination and consensus, as (the team) works towards a goal. I grew up in a family where both parents were professionals (who) always looked toward the next step in their careers. My dad was an auditor, an accountant, and my mom was an English teacher. I always saw them progressing. I grew up in Lima, so whatever challenges I experience growing up in a developing country, I'm very glad that now I can give back through my work at the IDB."
Medina Bolívar has been with the bank for almost 18 years. She joined through "the very competitive Junior Professional Programme, with the expectation to be with the IDB for just two years. I've ended up having a very good career at the bank."
She manages IDB’s sovereign and non-sovereign portfolio in the country as well as IDB’s technical assistance initiatives. Prior to this, she was the bank's senior adviser for the Andean Group Country Department in Washington DC.
Medina Bolívar has extensive experience in public and private sector operations, particularly related to the financing of infrastructure projects, as well as capital market transactions. She has led the structuring of various non-sovereign guarantee financings and public-private partnerships – two of these projects were awarded Deal of the Year by Project Finance Magazine for innovative financial terms and relevance in the region.
Prior to joining the IDB, Medina Bolívar was an associate attorney for one of the leading law firms in Peru – Estudio Muñiz, Forsyth, Ramirez, Pérez-Taiman and Luna-Victoria.
While there, she was primarily involved in advising various financial institutions and companies on corporate and project finance issues, as well as in capital markets matters.
The IDB’s Unfollow campaign
Using the Demand Solutions model, The IDB partnered with Launch RockIt and hosted a Start-up Weekend event titled “National Solutions: Driven by Citizen’s Ideas” which had over 100 participants, 40+ ideas pitched to solve public service delivery challenges, and six winners who we’re now working with to implement pilot solutions with partner public agencies who have already demonstrated their interest in the proposed solutions.
This is a state of the art mobile video recording both that invites persons to share their thoughts, ideas and solutions around questions related to the development and future of Trinidad and Tobago.
The IDB recruited seventeen persons identified as local change-makers, who demonstrate what it means to unfollow, to work closely with us on the campaign, playing the role of ambassadors, influencers and actively exploring ways to propose or partner on projects under the umbrella of the campaign or in our operational portfolio.
The Pillar Events are a critical part of the campaign as they focus on the three main areas or pillars of the Country Strategy. Our approach will be to provide interactive, engaging opportunities for dialogue aimed at inspiring and generating ideas from participants. CTT recently held its first pillar event on the Promotion of Private Sector Development on March 8th and it was met with very positive participation and feedback.
Microsite and Social Media
CTT is also looking to engage a broader cross-section of citizens using a microsite hosted on the Bank’s corporate website and a Facebook group hosted on the official English IDB Facebook page.
The Facebook group was just made public: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2001934126749821/
The Microsite is currently being revamped: