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The “development industry” is 70 years old (if we take the 1945 Bretton Woods Conference as its foundational moment) and it remains undisrupted. In a time in which technological change has fundamentally altered many other sectors, International Financial Institutions are still working by introducing incremental changes in the way they operate. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is part of this industry and we are proud of our many years of helping our country members to improve the lives of its citizens.

At the same time, we are starting to see new actors, a homogeneous group ranging from new financial institutions to startups, emerging to bring new solutions to development problems.  By leveraging new technologies and platforms, these actors have begun to represent a challenge for established industry actors such at the IDB. Rather than looking at these actors as a threat, the IDB is resolutely listening, collaborating and partnering with them. And this is not a strategy, it is a cultural change.

In this, we follow Peter Drucker’s dictate that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. And it is precisely because of this realization that we started our Startup Weekend Corporate Editions at the IDB three years ago.

We knew that in bringing in two days of collaboration and co-creation we were facing many questions:

Could we be able to make work possible among organizational silos? Could this set up bring both junior and senior colleagues to collaborate, breaching generational differences? Could we be successful in incorporating our corporate departments such as human resources, legal, etc? What kind of projects should we be favoring? Those related with corporate solutions or those directly related to our financial products?  

With three years of experience, Startup Weekend has helped us to answer many of these questions. 

The methodology, especially the pitching competitions, makes it easy for experts from different parts of the organization coalesce around an idea. Curiosity and imagination replaced narrow sectoral expertise.

Proportionally, junior specialists are more active. We needed to develope a dedicated pitch to entice more senior professionals, many times bringing in senior management to convey the importance of the experience.  

We were surprised to find that corporate departments were fairly present and active without any special prompting. And their participation made a lasting difference.

Far from being a scientific observation, for example, we now see participating lawyers more ready to discuss innovations in our day-to-day activities and products.

Our first Startup Weekend did not specify whether the projects should be corporate solutions (internal) or operations solutions (related to our external clients). For our last Startup Weekend, however, we decided to focus on corporate solutions. We found that corporate solutions were more “sheltered” and more likely to produce continuous collaboration and results.  

From a pragmatic perspective, we continue to adapt Startup Weekend to the lessons and needs of the IDB.  And we are always helped by the Startup Weekend’s flexibility and imagination fueled by the outstanding quality of the Techstars team. But a pragmatic view does not cover the breadth of our experience.

Walking the corridors of the IDB, I often hear about relationships and networking that started with SW as a starting point for many innovations. I am sure that Peter Drucker would recognize this as a cultural change far beyond what strategies could achieve.

Want to have a brief view of our last SW? Watch this video.

Marcelo Cabrol Marcelo Cabrol
Marcelo heads External Relations at the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest multilateral development lender for Latin America and the Caribbean. As an international development expert, he currently manages all external communications for the IDB and coordinates efforts to bring to light the Bank’s work on innovation and entrepreneurship as a critical tool to accelerate development.