Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  Michael Kubzansky '92

Alumni Profile: Michael Kubzansky '92

Creative accounting
Michael Kubzansky '92 and his World Bank peers turn innovation into a tool to fight global poverty

by Kari Richardson

In Turkey, villagers use discarded tire rims to reinforce their homes against earthquakes. In South Africa, children at play on a merry-go-round power a pump that provides clean water and AIDS prevention messages.

And in rural Mozambique, a Seattle-based nonprofit uses propane-fueled refrigeration to build a "cold chain" to allow delivery of critical vaccinations to remote areas.

These innovative projects and others like them are possible through grants from Development Marketplace, a World Bank initiative that is part of the growing wave of support for social entrepreneurship. Development Marketplace sponsors innovation at the grassroots level in developing countries around the world through global and country-level competitions.

Overseeing the grant-making process, until recently, was Michael Kubzansky '92, who sums up the job in two words: "unbelievably fun." Kubzansky has since moved to a new position at World Bank, the combination bank/development agency charged with reducing poverty around the world, as special assistant to the vice president for East Asia and the Pacific.

"The chance to put money into projects such as these is incredible," Kubzansky says during an interview from his Washington, D.C., office. "It's immensely inspiring to see creativity at work in impoverished areas."

What began in 1998 as a program to encourage innovation among World Bank staff, in 2000 expanded to include applications from outside sources including nongovernmental organizations, local governments — even individuals. The grants, which provide early-stage capital that allows social entrepreneurs to test their ideas for a year, also help demonstrate to the development community that new ideas are ripe for investment, Kubzansky says.

Development Marketplace's selection process works much like a business plan competition. Professionals volunteer to weed through proposals to find those that are most innovative and likely to be effective in solving their targeted problem. (For example, volunteers from the Kellogg Alumni Club of Washington helped with the December 2003 Global Marketplace Competition.) As the competition narrows, finalists present their ideas before a live jury.

Grant amounts typically are small — awards average about $150,000 for global competitions and about $20,000 for national competitions — but Kubzansky points out that the money goes a long way in developing countries. The next global competition will be held May 24-25 in Washington, D.C., in which about 75 finalists will vie for awards of more than $3 million to support their environmentally sustainable development ideas.

The selection process can be grueling, but Kubzansky says a strong management background is a useful tool for identifying the proposals most likely to work and the groups best suited to execute them. Like one of his favorite projects currently in the development stage — a process to capture dew from rooftops to provide drinking water in India — Kubzansky says the best ideas capitalize on existing strengths and don't require much behavior change from those who are to benefit.

"There's a tendency to confuse need for demand," Kubzansky says. "There's this assumption that because there's a need, everything will take care of itself. Solutions that require people to change their behavior typically don't work. All of those marketing classes I took taught me to think about end-user behavior."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University