Abstract

Background“Que voyager c’est apprendre à vivre”. This is how Montaigne starts one his essays, “traveling is learning to live”. It was certainly my story. And this story begins in the 1970s. I went to the U.S. for graduate education, my interests have always been the psychology of learning and its practical implications for education. During my doctoral studies, I had the opportunity to engage in international projects led by my thesis advisor, Robert Morgan. At the time he was one of the principal advisors of the educational reform in Korea. In the early seventies there was great optimism about the potential of "new technologies," including emerging ones like Educational Radio, Educational TV, and Computer-based education. Ronald Gass was leading CERI – a Center for Educational Innovation at the OCDE, sponsored a tour which provided me with a taste of educational developments in Europe and also gave me to opportunity to evaluate a distance-learning program in Portugal. This is how I entered the world of international education.Returning to Brazil after completing my doctorate in the USA – I think I was the first Brazilian to obtain a doctoral degree in Education - I actively participated in various initiatives in Brazil between 1973 and 1986, including the Ministry of Education, in the area of distance education, in the Ministry of Planning, in the areas of Science and Technology and in a special non-portfolio Ministry in charge of “De-bureaucratization”. These experiences in my own country provided me with valuable insights into the possibilities and limitations of change, innovation, technology, and reforms in general.Three significant experiences shaped my understanding of change processes and their impact.First and more important, I learned that implementing educational technology projects was an attractive proposition, innovations are always welcome, but scaling up and interfering with regular school operations remained a chimera.Second, I witnessed the launching and implementation of policies and institutions in the fields of science and technology, the major push came from the Ministry of Planning. This effort taught me the importance of a strong start, selecting competent leaders and individuals with appropriate credentials. I also learned to recognize the significance of institution-building as a foundation for sustainable change.A third, and pivotal experience, was related to large-scale administrative reform.A special ministry was created to simplify rules and regulations in a highly bureaucratic and formalistic culture. I learned how power, bureaucracy and corruption were deeply interwined. I also learned that while initiating change may be relatively straightforward, the resilience of bureaucracies often undermines the best intentions. Bringing about and sustaining change requires addressing both structural and attitudinal transformations. Leadership, continuity, and accountability are essential. Chance can also play a role.These experiences led me to delve into the study of organizations and organizational change. A post-doc at Stanford Business School gave me the opportunity to study, learn, and exchange ideas with various experts on the sociology of organizations, such as Jim March (bounded rationality), Richard Scott (formal organizations), Judith Tendler (Inside Foreign Aid), Aaron Wildawsky (Implementation), and John Meyer (Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony), among many others. Despite the warnings, knowledge, and experience, hope prevailed.Despite being based in Brazil, throughout this period, I was engaged in numerous consultancy activities over the years, collaborating with organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS), UNESCO, OECD, and USAID in various countries. I learned a great deal from Dean Jamison and François Orivel about economics and cost/effectiveness studies, and also learned how evidence played such a minor role in actual decision-making. I also learned a great deal about implementation of large-scale projects in several consulting missions with Emile McAnany and John Mayo. Throughout these experiences, I learned far more than I contributed.Just before joining the World Bank in 1986, I sought to understand how Brazil interacted with the institution. In a conversation with the Brazilian Minister of Planning at the time, I obtained an extremely valuable piece of information: Brazil was primarily interested in obtaining "hard currency" rather than specific projects. This revelation made me realize that the logic and intentions of the local government differed significantly from those of financiers or even sectoral ministries. This early insight made me aware of the limitations of project-based change. With this background, I could not be accused of naivety. And so, my international journey continued.

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