“Development work is more about listening than telling,” says Marie Sheppard (MBA 1990), a veteran of more than two decades with the World Bank Group. As she winds up an assignment as manager of the Bank’s Innovation Labs in Washington, DC, she reflects, “The more you understand a country—people’s priorities and the challenges to achieving them—the better your chances of having a positive impact.”
Based in Zambia from 2005-11, Sheppard spearheaded a joint venture that brought together government, business, and civic leaders to identify and address constraints to job creation and business development. “We catalyzed demand for change, crowd-sourced solutions, and implemented them in transparent ways,” she notes. Her perspective was broadened when her HBS classmate and husband, Scott Rockafellow (MBA 1990), launched a furniture manufacturing business there. “Scott’s experience gave me a clear window into how things worked, as opposed to how they were supposed to work,” she says.
Sheppard has often leveraged the success of other countries to build trust for new initiatives. In 1996, for example, when Uganda’s privatization program stalled due to widespread concerns about corruption, she brought in a former government minister who had guided a similar transition in his South American country.
“Hearing directly from someone who had been through it helped convince the president and parliament that they could make the reform process work,” she recalls. “They made sweeping changes and focused on some big-ticket items, such as telecoms. The net effect was dramatically improved telecommunications service in rural areas.” Sheppard calls this kind of knowledge sharing and relationship building “the World Bank at its best.”
(Published October 2015)
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