Ideas for Action at the 2018 IMF-WBG Annual Meetings Blog

 by Théo Maret


The Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group took place from October 8 to 15, 2018 in Bali. Heads of state, government, international organizations and NGOs gathered together with researchers and civil society observers to discuss the most burning challenges of the world economy and the planet itself, with a range of conferences and discussions. The main takeaway from this week was that rising trade tensions and global threats to multilateralism are hampering the efforts to achieve the SDGs: we cannot afford to lose time, hence the need for initiatives fostering new ways to finance the SDGs, like Ideas for Action.

Ideas for Action (I4A), a joint initiative between the World Bank and the Zicklin Center at Wharton, hosted a session at the meetings on Tuesday, October 9, with the aim to bring to light the winners of this year’s I4A competition and launch the World Bank’s Financing Sustainable Development I4A book for 2018.  For the fourth year in a row, youth from all around the world proposed entrepreneurial projects to I4A aimed at advancing the 2030 agenda, and the jury was given the extremely difficult task of choosing the regional winners.  The top three worldwide winners then got the chance to travel to Bali for the meetings.

The I4A event took place in the Medan press room, where the World Economic Outlook had just been revealed few hours before, and there was still electricity buzzing in the air. With a packed room and high-level panelists, one could feel the pressure on the shoulders of the young entrepreneurs: who are this year’s winners?


Growing up in a little village in the center of Java, Fajar Sidik Abdullah Kelana became aware of challenges faced by farmers in their daily lives. Luckily, this gave him the will to study hard and enter Gadjah Mada University. Right after earning his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering he launched a social venture together with three associates and fish farmers from Yogyakarta: MINO implements advanced water treatment technologies, aiming to advance food security which cannot be taken for granted in the area. Fajar’s Microbubble technology has already won him several awards, including first at the YSEALI Word for Food Innovation Challenge 2016, held by USAID and YSEALI.

Second came Ariane Umuringa, from Rwanda. Born after the genocide, raised by a disabled father and an overly hard-working mother, she could not take anything for granted. As she puts it, Rwanda encourages women to have an impact so she chose to tackle a crucial problem in a country where 7 out of 12 million do not have access to electricity or light. The only option is often to use old, expensive, polluting kerosene lamps, especially in remote villages or refugee camps. Without a light, it is impossible accomplish basic tasks or even do homework: this seemingly simple problem is actually a root for far more serious inequalities. Ariane took the matter into her own hands and created her social venture, Starlight, together with two associates. Starlight provides locals with affordable solar lanterns, relying on an innovative business model initially designed for Rwanda but already having plans to scale up.

The third team, Negah Nafisi and Soha Eshraghi, met when they were both at UC Berkeley. Now working in tech and at the World Bank, their idea comes from a simple observation: in the MENA region, gender equality is definitely not a reality, and even when women do have rights they are far from being aware and knowledgeable on how to actually use those rights. This was the origin of Amal – “hope” in Arabic – a digital platform empowering women by helping them to navigate administrative hassles and benefit from their rights. Getting a driver’s license, for example, can prove to be impossible if one has never been through paperwork. To take a big step forward, Negah and Soha organized a design hackathon at UC Berkeley a few weeks ago, attended by Google engineers, which enabled them to have a concrete vision of the platform. The next step is to develop the actual platform and choose the first countries where it will be deployed.

Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President at the World Bank, opened the panel discussion by going back to the roots of Ideas for Action. After beginning as simply an idea, the competition has grown impressively and the statistics prove it: over 2,100 applications from 120 countries and an outreach of a million people over the last year. Mr. Mohieldin insisted on the importance of social media in the process to help spread the word and reach out to young entrepreneurs and potential changemakers.

The fact that he was accompanied by two senior officials from the IFC was no accident, he said. The Ideas for Action competition is actually the perfect embodiment of the goals of the IFC: trusting and helping young entrepreneurs to achieve the SDGs. Nena Stoiljkovic, Vice President for Asia and Pacific stressed that $4 trillion was needed from the private sector every year to meet the SDGs, and that the growing influence of tech in solving problems related to development, education or even resilience to disaster made it necessary to rely on startups on all scales.

Karin Finkelston, Vice President for Partnerships, linked the I4A initiative to the focus of the World Bank Group at the meetings: Human Capital. Human Capital nowadays, she said, is exactly about young people trying to solve problems in a different way. Hence the need to grow a new generation of tech leaders who are keen on working with the public sector, especially in emerging economies.


The conclusion came from Djordjija Petkoski, Co-Chair of the Ideas for Action initiative and Lecturer and Senior Fellow at Wharton. Looking back to the birth of the project that he grew from scratch with Mahmoud Mohieldin, he emphasize that the initiative had been driven by all of the inspiring young people they met along the way. The next step, according to him, was to further strengthen local partnerships  For example, thanks to the Ministry of Planning involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country got the most applications worldwide. Similarly, most of the proposals from Brazil came through the German-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. And while most applications come from individuals, companies are starting to move with the example of Hemofarm, a pharmaceutical firm in Eastern Europe. The Ideas for Action competition could prove to be a great tool for fostering intrapreneurship.

Dr. Petkoski’s final observation was that the winners had something interesting in common: they faced problems growing up but kept them in mind along the way and finally came up with solutions that no one else could have better designed or even implemented. This simple observation should shape the way we design projects related to sustainable development. As the mantra goes: think global, act local.

Immediately following the I4A session, the three winners received the terrific opportunity to attend an event organized by the Tanoto Foundation.  Representatives of the UNDP joined Bappenas Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro who spoke on the importance of involving the private sector in building multi-stakeholder collaborations.  He focused on examples on successful public/private partnerships (PPPs) leveraging innovative financing mechanisms toward achieving the SDGs.

Professor Petkoski was then joined by APRIL Chairman Bey Soo Khiang to bring the private sector perspective into the discussion.  Together they developed a rich discussion with concrete examples of sustainable collaboration toward positive impact  in Indonesia. Mr. Mohieldin closed the session by praising the event and the inspiring show of commitment to the SDGs. He also highlighted the World Bank’s annual Ideas for Action contest as a means for driving youth involvement in promoting the SDGs acknowledging the top three winners of the contest.


Further media coverage from the events: