Global Network Conference Attracts Innovators Worldwide

April 13, 2005

When former Bogota, Colombia Mayor Antanas Mockus assumed office in 1995 he faced an immediate and daunting challenge. His city of seven million was using too much water, and any break in the system could be catastrophic. Soon after, one of the city’s main water tunnels broke, putting the new mayor in the intractable position of deciding whether to cut the supply of water from the source, as his predecessors had done in the past, or to convince residents to voluntarily curtail their water use. He chose the latter course and it worked.

Mockus was one of dozens of innovative government leaders to participate this week in the 1st biannual Global Network Conference, sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The conference was designed to foster new avenues for the sharing and proliferation of best practices in government policy, focusing on everything from enhancing public safety to promoting transparency to improving health and human services.

The water crisis in Bogota was an example of how a dynamic leader dealt with a serious public crisis in an innovative way. In the end, residents responded to the mayor’s strategy, and the city is now extending water service to all neighborhoods.

“People are consuming a lot less water and paying a lot more for it today,” Mockus told a workshop on Wednesday morning, “but the result is that hundreds of thousands of people who did not have water before now have water.”

A public service crisis of equal proportions faced Anna Mtani, coordinator of the Safer Cities program in Dar es salaam, Tanzania. When the program began, she said, only upper-income residents of the city could assure their protection through contracts with private security companies. “There was a total collapse of city management,” she said.

Mtani’s strategy to address the problem involved supplementing meager public resources with private initiative, resulting in greater cooperation between residents, the police, and local tribunals designed to resolve minor disputes.

In West Sumatra, Indonesia, the great public challenge facing local government head Masriadi Martunus was overhauling low-performing schools. Martunus founded Innovations in Education in the district of Tanah Datar. Teachers received better training, student discipline problems were addressed, and class sizes were reduced. “The key to success,” he said, “was the willingness to do innovation.”

Convincing other leaders to take strategic risks in the name of innovation and good governance is the goal of the Global Network Conference, which concludes at the Kennedy School on Thursday.

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