Opening remarks by Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, at the Knowledge Forum 2021, 29 September 2021

Esteemed guests, colleagues and friends, a very good morning to all of you:

Over the past two decades, knowledge management has grown to become one of ADB’s most prized assets. It has evolved from being transactional—like counting knowledge products and services―to being a core tenet of what we do. It is transformational, dynamic, and focuses on the benefits we can offer our clients.

ADB’s first Knowledge Forum was held in 2018, bringing our staff and many external partners together. There, we discussed how knowledge can be leveraged to enhance our status as a trusted partner in development finance. We also reviewed the progress we made in modernizing the transactional aspects of knowledge management―like centralizing access to ADB content, keeping our information technology infrastructure up-to-date, and finding new ways to disseminate knowledge. 

Now, 3 years later, we meet again but this time, in a world that has changed so much, a world amidst crises.  

We must effectively handle the COVID-19 pandemic―and critically, climate change. These crises helped us better understand how vital knowledge management is for balancing the trade-offs in policymaking. We must respond to the pandemic while always looking at our region’s long-term development needs. These crises also show how crucial it is to collaborate beyond borders to create solutions to local, national, regional, and global problems. This week’s second Knowledge Forum—we could say—is being held at a time when effective knowledge management has become more critical than ever.

Rising to this challenge, we launched in March 2021 ADB’s Knowledge Management Action Plan―or KMAP―for 2021 to 2025. Formulated around the three pillars of (i) people and culture, (ii) processes and systems, and (iii) relationships, the 25 strategic actions will help transform ADB from a knowledge bank to a full-fledged knowledge solutions provider. 

Forum highlights 

In this virtual setting, this year’s Knowledge Forum offers many exciting events over the coming 3 days. The plenary sessions, insight talks and other sessions will provide new ways to think about how knowledge management can succeed in making our organization more effective in development.

Our plenary sessions, in particular, will deepen our understanding of ADB’s Strategy 2030 and how its implementation will achieve positive impacts on climate change, gender equity, as well as a green, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery. 

Let me just mention a few of the exciting events in our Forum line-up. 

  • Dr. Maya Shankar, the Global Director of Behavioral Economics will talk to us about how behavioral economics allowed big outcomes to evolve from small changes in the Obama White House. 
  • We also have UNESCO’s Futures Studio to share with us how foresight and futures-thinking matter for development organizations. 
  • We have Dr. Ed Hoffman, NASA’s former Chief of Knowledge Management Office. Dr. Hoffman will explain how collaboration and partnerships, especially with the private sector, enabled NASA to send reconnaissance missions to the farthest reaches of outer space.
  • We are also looking forward to meeting the Prime Minister of Samoa, the World Health Organization’s Chief Scientist, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. They will―with President Masa―discuss the importance of international collaboration and how to spread knowledge across borders. 
  • We also have influential economists such as Dr. Marianna Mazzucato, who will speak about the need for new state capabilities. And CEOs will share their insights on the power of equality and diversity in business. 

All these conversations underscore the need for continuous learning, and the need to learn from past experiences, both positive and negative. They will highlight just how ADB is leading the way in knowledge management.

What learning through change means

Our theme is very clear― learning through change. As the COVID-19 crisis shook the world, it is also challenging ADB to become a knowledge solutions provider for Asia and the Pacific. 

Learning through change means, in broader terms, developing timely solutions that fit new situations or respond to persistent challenges. Such learning directly contributes to building greater resilience. Responding quickly to prevent further damage translates into greater agility, particularly for the most vulnerable.  As an organization, we want to be both resilient and agile to support our countries.

As this pandemic continues to play out, we have seen millions of people lose jobs. Many businesses have been forced to shut down. And more people―especially women and children―fell back into the poverty they only recently escaped. It was a rude awakening.  We learned the hard way that our systems and our development progress remain all too fragile. 

Knowledge management will play a critical role in ensuring the pandemic recovery will be resilient, as well as green, inclusive, and sustainable. Resilience is key when confronting uncertainty.

Greater collaboration 

Let me share my thoughts on the 5 essential points for learning through change.  

First, it requires greater collaboration. This means crossing physical boundaries and strengthening partnerships with stakeholders. The crisis calls on us to adopt a holistic, global approach to recovery.  The pandemic is teaching us―that despite physical barriers―we can learn better by sharing experiences, knowledge, and ideas among people, even in cyberspace.  

Our Southeast Asia Regional Department demonstrated this very well when they launched PACER—or the Policy Action for COVID-19 Recovery Dialogues. PACER has brought policy experts from around the region and the world to share cutting-edge knowledge and best practices. The focus is on how countries could better recover from the pandemic and accelerate knowledge cooperation, particularly when it come to the vulnerable and the poor. 

PACER’s compendium of policy briefs was published in June 2021, with highlights of discussions, recommendations, and actions that can be taken by Southeast Asian countries and the People’s Republic of China. The benefits, however, reach much greater than these countries because they offer valuable lessons for other regions to learn from . 

Investments in infrastructure

Second, learning through change means that investments in physical infrastructure should be digitally smart and climate resilient. We must assist countries get ready for greater regional and global convergence, data governance and cooperation on knowledge. Knowledge-sharing is also data-driven. So, we must strengthen our clients’ ability to swiftly, but safely, share information with their counterparts across the world, especially during and after disasters.

During the Forum, we will hear how the Republic of Korea responded to the pandemic based on what it learned from the SARS  and Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome (or MERS) disease outbreak. Transparency and communication are key.

There is a strong case for us to support building information technology, knowledge sharing and governance structures that help our developing members strengthen their knowledge management capabilities. This is what I call, building forward better. 

Anticipating future uncertainties

Third, learning through change requires anticipating future uncertainties. To this end, ADB has established a futures thinking and capacity development program for policy makers and staff. Futures thinking means combining current data and information, different worldviews, and narratives from all stakeholders to help transform our future. It also requires ‘humanizing’ knowledge to create better solutions. 

Evidence-based policy making does not stop at data or numbers. We need data that illustrate stories about people who face real problems. It could be Linlin, for example, from the People’s Republic of China, who lost her job as a toll booth collector because of automation, which the pandemic accelerated. Or there is Namitha, a third-year college student from India who had to stand on a slanted roof to attend her school online, just to get usable wifi. Or think of Swetal, a girl from the mountains in Nepal, who sleeps outside her house when she has menstruation. These individual stories give us better context to retrieve and use information, memory, and experience to confront new situations. Crucially, these bring people to the center of our recovery efforts. 

Focus on governance

Fourth, learning through change means a greater focus on governance. During the pandemic, we have seen cities at the frontline of every country’s pandemic response. At ADB, we want to help strengthen local government resilience to better handle shocks and vulnerabilities. 

When we published our Livable City Guidance Note, which includes ways to deal with the pandemic in crowded environments, many local governments used it as a framework to manage their COVID-19 relief operations. In the long run, cities will have to manage their accumulated knowledge in disaster response to navigate future risks and uncertainties. And to do this, they will need strong knowledge management capabilities.   

Greening economies

Fifth and the last is that learning through change means focusing on greening economies. When COVID-19 struck, the sharp reduction in global CO2 emissions―by 6.4%, or 2.3 billion tons in 2020―promised a cause for celebration. Sadly, however, it was just an eye-opener. As economies started to reopen, global emissions have picked up and are expected to rise by about 5% this year.

Another cause for alarm is that directing economic stimulus to green policies has so far been too low down on the priority list for many governments. In fact, according to the Vivid Economics’ Greenness of Stimulus Index, only 28% of the announced $17.2 trillion in global stimulus will go to sectors that mitigate climate change or are environmentally friendly.  

Just before the pandemic in 2019, ADB launched the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility to provide knowledge support through technical assistance and make more than $1 billion in loans available for green infrastructure investment. Technical assistance projects that go with green financing facilities like this must be built upon the new knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout this pandemic. Knowledge management is key to this important process.

Our recovery from the lasting effects of this pandemic will not be easy. But through knowledge sharing, collaboration, and partnerships, we can create a better future together.   

Knowledge management is at the heart of ‘learning through change’. But it must be supported by robust infrastructure, agile processes, sound governance, and a culture that breaks silos. 

With these thoughts, I welcome you to the 2021 Knowledge Forum and wish you will be enriched by the activities we have lined up during this 3-day conference. 

Thank you very much.


  • Susantono, Bambang
    Susantono, Bambang
    Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development