Learning for Change at the Asian Development Bank

In January I visited the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila where I worked with Olivier Serrat, ADB’s knowledge management specialist. I’m more used to working with NGOs so it was an enlightening challenge for me to experience first-hand the internal workings of a very large donor organisation.

Olivier has done some great work in ADB including the production of a series of short ‘Knowledge Solutions‘ leaflets that introduce a range of tools and methods for knowledge management and learning.

Before I arrived in Manila, Olivier and I had been in regular contact concerning a strategic document that he was writing on ‘Learning for Change in ADB’. My remit was to get up to speed on organisational learning and knowledge management in ADB  so that I could contribute to and help finalise the document and also help develop potential ‘learning and development’ programs for knowledge management and learning in ADB.

As is often the case when working with an organisation for the first time, it was a pretty steep learning curve developing my understanding of how ADB encourages individual and collective learning and makes use of the knowledge they create. In-depth discussions with a range of staff members helped me move up the curve and gave me valuable insights into the organisation’s challenges and achievements.

During my week at ADB, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation given by the renowned economist Dr Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia University on ‘Achieving Global Cooperation on Economic Recovery and Long-Term Sustainable Development‘ and for the first time felt I had gained an (albeit short-lived!) understanding of the causes of the current economic recession.

On the second last day of my busy five-day schedule I made a presentation of my findings and suggestions in the ADB atrium – an enclosed space of light, flowers, trees, books, magazines, an enormous Google Earth touch display, cyber cafe and a Starbucks – that combines relaxation with stimulation in a way that is familiar in a Borders bookstore but unusual in a Bank! The atrium is part of ADB’s Knowledge Solutions area and provides a great place for informal presentations. I particularly enjoyed using the inspiring space bounded by four pillars which represent information, data, knowledge and wisdom – the classic hierarchy of value-add in knowledge management. The atrium is a valuable reminder that the getting of wisdom relies as much on social interaction as it does on intellectual effort.

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