06 May 2010: Message to Cities Alliance Executive Committee, Progress Report

06 May 2010

Dear EXCO members,
Warm greetings from Washington.
Overall, I am pleased to report very good progress by the Secretariat in implementing the decisions taken by the Consultative Group in Mumbai. A summary of progress is contained in this email.
However, I also wanted to give you a preliminary assessment of the impacts of the changes.
With regards to the new business model, the fact that the Cities Alliance closed its grant-making facility on the 31st March caught the attention of many of our members, most obviously the operational staff from those members that have traditionally been associated with the implementation of CA activities.
However, we have taken every opportunity (whether in the course of our normal exchanges, or at events such as WUF) to explain - in more detail - the developmental logic behind these changes, as well as the impacts that the CG is trying to achieve. I have found that we are receiving a near-universal understanding and appreciation of the developmental arguments behind our new business model, even when it is accepted that certain old priorities or practices of the Cities Alliance will need to be sacrificed as part of the process.
Internally, the Secretariat is in the process of restructuring as part of the same process. In broad terms, there are two connected, over-riding objectives with the restructuring: (1) to better align staff, and their skills and interests with the new business model; and, (2) to simultaneously introduce a whole set of new practices, through the extensive delegation of authority, and the sharing of responsibility, both of which have long been intended, but never decisively implemented. This process will also culminate in the fuller integration of the out-posted staff within the daily business of the Secretariat. It would be premature to comment on progress, other than to say that the early signs are very encouraging indeed.
The third aspect to which I wish to draw your attention has been the need for all Secretariat staff to improve their knowledge of, and interaction with, World Bank operational practices and procedures. This process has already commenced, and is expected to smooth our operations, and better leverage the Cities Alliance work programme. As we had anticipated, the depth of engagement that is facilitated by the in-country programme approach is creating significant opportunities for the Cities Alliance to greatly enhance the coherence of effort of its members, as well as improve impacts, not only through increased prospects of linkages to investments, but also in terms of enhanced potential that is contained in a comprehensive, multifaceted programme over a meaningful period of time. This also requires a more active role for the Secretariat, which will hopefully result in better programme design as well as the more active involvement of Cities Alliance members.
It is, indeed, early days, and we anticipate many problems and challenges ahead. However, I believe that the decisions taken by the CG in Mumbai will prove to have been both insightful and decisive for the Cities Alliance. There is now far greater focus on our work programme, and the opportunities that it can create, and I expect the staff to progressively spend less time on administrative transactions that, ultimately, don't have direct impacts on the lives of the urban poor.
I will provide a more detailed briefing at the EXCO meeting.
1 Briefing: Secretariat restructuring
Effective April 2010. The main objectives of the re-organisation were the following:
1.   To better align staff skills and interests with the new business model of the Cities Alliance;
2.   To create a number of specific teams, each with a Team Coordinator, to improve focus and management within the Secretariat;
3.   To strengthen the delegation of responsibilities from the Manager;
4.   To create a Management Team; and
5.   To improve overall accountability within the secretariat.
In order to delegate more authority, improve efficiency and better share the workload, staff have been assigned to one or more of four teams. Each team will be lead by a Team Coordinator, and will be responsible for establishing, and following, a well-defined work programme and budgets.
The Four Teams are:
  • Programme Operations (Günter Meinert: Team Coord.)
  • In-Country Programming Operations (Julian Baskin: Team Coord.)
  • Programme Administration (Phyllis Kibui: Team Coord.)
  • Partnership Operations (William Cobbett: Manager)
The Team Co-ordinators, Manager and Deputy Manager have been constituted as the Management Team, which is operational. Regional staff will join the rest of the Secretariat in May (17-21) to finalise team structures, and procedures, and to complete the restructuring.
2. For Decision: Closing of Grant Facility
Following the decisions of the CG in Mumbai, the Secretariat notified all CG members and affected partners about the immediate implications of the new business model. Accordingly, the Secretariat closed the Grant-making Facility on the 31st March.
As you will see in the attached Briefing, the process had the desired effect of speeding-up a number of proposals, and forcing hard decisions in some cases, but the net result was a batch of 29 proposals for Core funds for a total of $9.3m. Through a series of procedures and negotiations, the Secretariat has managed to finalise a package of 24 proposals which will require a funding envelope of $6.0m in Core funds.
EXCO approval is requested to ratify the process to be followed by the Secretariat, and the financial obligations on behalf of the Cities Alliance. Following EXCO's approval, all proposals would proposed to move forward would be subject to regular Cities Alliance procedures, and due process. Please respond as soon as possible, and no later than Thursday 29th April, to the Secretariat's proposed course of action. Unless we hear to the contrary by that date, we will assume that this batch of proposals is cleared for further processing.
3. EXCO Meeting: Paris, July 2010
Preparations are beginning for the EXCO meeting. We are grateful for UNEP's offer to host the meeting at their offices in Paris. The dates will be finalised in the next couple of days, but the meeting will take place in early July.
At this time, I would be grateful if any specific Agenda items could be sent to the Chairperson, Elisabeth Gateau, and myself. We expect a full Agenda, and are thus planning to make provision for an afternoon meeting, dinner, followed by a full day.
At this time, besides the standing issues addressed by EXCO, we anticipate that the main items for discussion will be (i) progress in implementing the new business model, including the need for additional resources, (ii) Membership, and Decision-Making procedures, (iii) preparing for the next Independent Evaluation and (iv) preparation for the CG Meeting in Mexico, November 2010.

With my best wishes,




William Cobbett
Cities Alliance
1818H Street, NW
Washington DC


Download the EXCO Status Report: Transition to Catalytic Fund, 31 Mar 2010 (183 KB )