Opening remarks by Ashok Lavasa, Vice President for Private Sector Operations and Public-Private Partnerships, at the ADB Knowledge Forum 2021 Session with Ed Hoffman, former Chief Knowledge Officer of NASA, 30 September 2021

Friends and colleagues, I greet you with warm wishes of good health and safety in this time of pandemic. It is an immense pleasure to be here with you today.

First of all, I thank the organizers for inviting me to this Knowledge Forum to talk about the heightened need for collaboration, especially with the private sector, so that together we could pursue green, resilient and inclusive development.
This event is a perfect opportunity to revisit and highlight ADB’s role as a knowledge provider and financing partner to our developing member countries. This twin role finds greater meaning today when the needs of our clients have become more complex and financing them from public sector budgets is especially difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on state finances and increasing pressure on government spending. 

The question is “Why is greater collaboration and partnership needed now more than ever”? 

The one compelling reason is that recovery efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic will be massive. It has been estimated that this pandemic has pushed about 78 million people across Asia and the Pacific back to extreme poverty. That is to a threshold of $1.90/day alone. At $3.20 a day threshold, the figure would rise to 182 million.

At the heart of this massive recovery efforts will be increasing opportunities for women and children, addressing stunting and malnutrition, access to clean water and energy, tackling Industry 4.0, job creation, agriculture and rural development, and sustainable infrastructure and urban growth. All this and, at the same time, containing its adverse impact on environment and slowing and reversing the growing threat of climate change.

The public sector cannot do these all by itself. Investing in infrastructure alone would require developing Asia $1.7 trillion annually until 2030 to continue growing, reduce poverty, increase resilience, and confront climate change. That was before the pandemic. Because of COVID-19, we expect Asia’s infrastructure financing gap to have grown even more. And with bigger and more complex problems, governments with the help of ADB and other multilateral development banks need more financial resources and better knowledge solutions. Both require expanded capacity for collaboration and partnerships.

Solution 1: Ramping up financial resources would be a key challenge and the scale and complexity of achieving ADB DMCs’ development goals will require contributions from everyone across the board. National and local governments, the private sector, academia, and civil society organizations should be part of this massive collaborative effort.

It is particularly important to enlist the support of the private sector for several reasons. One, because the private sector must embrace clean energy to make their businesses and their countries’ economies sustainable. And two, because the private sector can contribute considerable resources to make the shift to clean energy possible.

ADB has demonstrated reasonable progress in the area of increasing collaboration between the private and public sectors.  In 2020, ADB committed nearly $2.9 billion for private sector operations to help companies, employees and poor communities across the region manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department has accomplished a lot in terms of involving the private sector in development financing. Some landmark projects among many others include the first blue loan that aimed to boost plastics recycling in Asia, investing in large vehicle charging network in Thailand, a major private sector energy project in Uzbekistan, and support for women-led micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (or MSMEs) in Armenia. 
Solution 2: Clearly, collaboration and partnership is what can help our effort. We need knowledge solutions that can be delivered through an appropriate mix of public and private sector operations that are best suited to the specific needs on the ground in our developing member countries. 

It requires us to combine expertise across a range of sectors and themes and through a mix of public and private sector operations. To do so, we have to enhance how our teams across departments and divisions work together. We need to create a “network effect” of teams and develop best possible capacities for team work, which is probably the most important soft skill of the century. The development challenges we face are too complex and the times too demanding for us to rely on the expertise of one individual, or a solitary institution. 

Fostering effective collaboration and partnership should start at home. Before we create or augment our vast networks of external experts from public and private sectors, as well as civil society to address the complexity of our DMCs’ challenges, we need to create synergy amongst ourselves.     

From my long working experience managing large teams and organizations, let me say that knowledge resides within individuals and within institutions but a lot of it resides outside. In this world of interdependence, we need to not simply connect the two but marry them, especially as we attempt to use that knowledge for improving the lot of humankind.  Knowledge when applied for human development needs to be fortified by a multi-dimensional understanding of global realities. The pandemic has provided the much-needed pause to all of us to introspect, to see beyond the boundaries that we might have set for ourselves, to seek better ways to achieve our goals and to find our own renaissance moment, individually and collectively.
Let me place before you my 5 key take-aways for developing internal collaborative synergy:

  1. Shared goals: We need to be clear about the purpose of collaboration and teamwork at ADB. That is to bring the best possible knowledge and finance solutions to our member countries. As senior leaders at ADB, we need to convey our goals and objectives with utmost transparency. While a spirit of competition can improve efficiency, we cannot allow competing targets between public and private sector operations to guide our approach in dealing with development needs of our clients. We need to measure the quality of the solutions we bring to the table. Such quality will be determined by how vastly diverse the perspectives of our internal and external partners are and whether they have been adequately considered in planning and implementing our financing and knowledge projects.
  2. Communicate priorities: If we expect our cross-functional teams to work cohesively, we need to regularly communicate what the priorities are. One clear priority is to increase private sector participation in development finance.
  3. Integrate short-term plans with long-term goals: While it is important to have people with the right sector, thematic and finance skills set, it is equally important for them to develop the right soft skills. We need people who understand how to build trust and how to integrate planning and review with learning. When we have long-term ambitions to enable private sector, we must combine stable short-term plans like investing in companies with flexible long-term goals that require policy actions and capacity development.
  4. Knowledge is a river system: Let us understand that we are all like little tributaries of a major river that travels far and wide because of the water and minerals that every stream brings. Knowledge is that mighty river and through our collaboration we can generate the flow that will take us far.
  5. Marathon, not sprint: Interdepartmental collaboration is undoubtedly an integral part of a successful work culture today. In fact, according to global research approximately 75% of the employees regard collaboration and teamwork as an important part of the workplace. However, amid the pressure of meeting deadlines, we sometimes treat our projects as a race and compete to reach the finish line. Remember, you are part of an institution that is running a marathon, not a sprint and I daresay it is a marathon that will be won by the maximum number of finishers and not by a few early achievers.  

We are fortunate to have in our midst today a man who knows what it is to run a long-distance race. Ed Hoffman, the ex-Chief Knowledge Officer of Nasa, is here with us today to share how NASA has achieved cross departmental team work to bring shuttles to space and how NASA invested in knowledge management to advance collaboration, learning and results. He has seen it all; celebrating collective success as much as drawing lessons from failure. I would say the joy of success would be short-lived if we fail to learn from an honest admission of failure and distil from our experience the right teachings.

I am sure you are as excited as I am to hear from him stories about NASA’s experience, which provides a compelling case for expanding collaboration and private sector involvement in achieving ambitious goals, such as flying reconnaissance missions to the farthest place we can reach in space. Knowledge knows no barriers, its pursuit should be a common goal and a collective endeavor.
So, without standing between you and the font of knowledge, let me thank you for your patience and welcome Ed to the session.  I wish everyone can duplicate NASA’s experience in our development work, exploring the vast universe of possibilities to create knowledge that benefits everyone, especially those severely affected by the pandemic. I now invite you on board Ed Hoffman’s knowledge shuttle. Over to you, Ed.


  • Lavasa, Ashok
    Lavasa, Ashok
    Vice-President (Private Sector Operations and Public-Private Partnerships)