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WASHINGTON, July 3, 2014I have been fortunate to watch and interact with TTLs who have been brave to start knowledge work as Reimbursable Advisory Services (RASs) in the fledgling RAS environment at the Bank over the last three years. With the current expansion of these programs to most regions, the lack of clarity in operational policies over the past few years has not been helpful to anyone. Initially I was privy to these processes in ECA (especially in Romania and Russia) and now in Africa (especially South Africa and Gabon). RAS process is wrought with many challenges, both internally and externally. The process is quite challenging even for the most senior and proven TTLs. I have been following the process of RAS development by some great TTLs and watching their experience of excitement and agony. It is becoming clear to me that if knowledge services and the RASs in particular, need to succeed as a WBG product brand we need a TTL with an attitude! A TTL who has a thick skin, who is not afraid to challenge the system (legal, fiduciary, procurement etc), who is a risk taker and also someone who is innovative at the core of his or her area of expertise. Here are some take aways for you to ponder:
Operational Issues

  • Most of the time the TTL needs to start a task without any allocation of BB resources and work at the margins of existing tasks and missions for a long time before he or she can see any developments on a formal RAS task. As Bank staff we know this is not a common practice as most tasks get a PO number from a CD even before the fiscal year starts and the delays are mostly in creating AIS and launching the task by staff and various units! However, RASs are a different kettle of fish, as we will see below.
  • Operational polices are confusing at best and mostly not precise. The RM, BPS and legal interactions for RASs are wrought with challenges as everyone seems to be emphasizing their broad policy notions without communicating with each other in ways that can harness RASs. There also seems to have been a constant process of change throughout the last two years, especially on the financial side with upcoming changes not being communicated clearly and well enough in advance. The main concern in this regard would be the procedures for charging and using the overhead funds, which has been different this FY from last FY and as I understand will change completely again next FY without any clear guidance as of July 1.
  • From many TTLs an attitudinal Paradigm Shift is needed from a “Prior Action” mentality to an “At Your Service” mentality. Most of the Bank TTLs, and perhaps their managers as well, find this transition difficult to understand, let alone achieve success at this shift. TTLs are more used to consultations when the Bank makes investments by “invitation”, while in RAS case they have to be more “salesman like” and be able to convince that their product is the best and to “sell” it at the best price.
  • The TTL needs to work to the Client’s timetable and not the Bank’s timetable. This can have implications for many of the Bank’s processes such as procurement, internal review process requirements (legal, RM etc), coordination with country and sector departments etc.
  • The most difficult are the potential trade-offs/tensions between the Bank’s Best Practice “oversight” requirements and the Client Agenda. This need for balance requires not only intellectual enthusiasm but also significant relationship and trust building. Should be able to comply to Client’s needs at the same time staying in line with Bank regulations and procedures; i.e. to be able to develop good client relations. To be flexible where needed and be able to stay firm when needed. 
  • The TTL needs to be in constant contact with the client – almost on a day to day basis. Communication and the perception of availability are paramount.
  • And finally Competition! Both for the program and in the program. Even though there is no bidding process in most RASs, the TTL needs to realize that the client looks at other alternatives and the Bank needs to prove its value for money. Not only do proposals need to be presented in an appealing way, the CV package for the task needs to impress – education and experience both count. But this is not a one time thing. The client is constantly looking at and consulting others, even while the Bank is delivering its work. The Bank’s work needs to be “bullet proof” – the standard of excellence is much higher. One could expect this objective to be helped by the new Global Practices (GPs) model.

Administrative Issues

  • Although not limited to only RAS tasks, RAS TTLs are less likely to carefully observe procedures as things need to be done in more of a rush to meet the needs of a paying client. But it is not only lack of will but also lack of knowledge of these processes which is creating many challenges to TTLs.
  • TTLs cover expenses at Bank’s own costs and afterwards it turns out that those expenses are not in line with the Bank procedures. Sometimes agreements are signed that have not been agreed with the Bank and/or differ from those agreed upon earlier. Afterwards, the Bank faces problems with the incorrect amount and/or not having formal agreements.
  • There are financial and legal implications leading to financial and budgetary losses. This can happen due to a wrong amount being mentioned, not following required regulations and/or legal implications.
  • Very often TTLs do not even upload relevant documents in the system and it creates problems at a later stage.
  • Starting from July 1, RASs of all regions will merged in one global system and it will be even more difficult to manage them.
  • There is no unit or person to guide the TTLs at the regional level. There is a need of a person, a focal point, who will have a holistic view/approach and will be able to manage the situation. This problem will only get worse with the numerous GPs who need to be covered from July 1!

As you can see from the above points, for knowledge work and RAS we need a TTL who is “miracle worker”, much more than the traditional TTL, who is expected to be a “super star”! The good news is with more and more TTLs doing RASs, the internal processes are becoming clearer and TTLs are becoming more confident to take risks and push the envelope to the limit.
All these are welcome developments for the future prospects of RASs. But at the core we need a TTL with an attitude who can surf the system until operational policies are clear and a favorable environment is in place for RAS development.
Sudharshan Canagarajah - Adviser, Development Effectiveness, Africa Region

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