Some Reflections on JVI Capacity Development: An Interview with Norbert Funke

August 09, 2016

After four years as director of the JVI, Norbert Funke is returning to the IMF in Washington at the end of the month. He spoke with JVI Newsletter staff about the JVI’s special role, his views about its work, the developments compared to his initial expectations, the alumni network, and much more.

Looking back, what do you think is special about the job at the JVI?
Many things are unique. First and foremost, you feel the positive impact of your work every day. And almost everybody appears to enjoy the whole JVI experience.

What do you mean by “the whole JVI experience”?
I am thinking of the special training environment. This has a lot to do with the excellent cooperation with Austria, the IMF, leading international organizations, and other partners; the up-to-date curriculum, the quality of the lecturers from the various institutions; bringing together people of 15 to 20 different nationalities in a class to exchange their experiences; the proximity of our residential and training facilities; and, of course, Vienna—one of the most livable cities in the world.

What about JVI staff?
They make it happen. I was struck by how dedicated they are. They love their jobs and the team is just as diverse as our participants. Among the 26 staff, we have 14 different nationalities. Everybody here goes the extra mile to make participants feel at home. I also enjoyed the easygoing collegial atmosphere with my management colleagues.

And who else is key?
The stimulating discussions in the JVI board provided excellent guidance and a lot of food for thought. And there are many other staff that participants may not see or see less, like those in the Operations Management Division of the IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development, those in the JVI Residence, facility managers, caterers, cleaning crews and others. Also, a big thank you to the donors of the JVI during the past four years, including the central banks of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Malta.

Was there a specific highlight for you?
Certainly one highlight this year was that within one month all three heads of the JVI Primary Members were at the JVI: the Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, held discussions with participants on capacity development; Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling delivered the Annual Lecture; and Oesterreichische Nationalbank Governor Ewald Nowotny, who had delivered the Annual Lecture in 2013, visited the JVI again.

Are there any accomplishments you are particularly proud of?
It is hard to point to any specific accomplishment. It is more about the gradual but continuous changes in training, outreach, and internal administration. In terms of training, there were some new courses offered by our members, such as the ones on advanced stress testing, energy subsidies, financial education, inclusive growth, managing natural resources, mortgage markets, sound fiscal institutions, new methodologies in statistics, among others, which showed how swiftly the JVI and its partners can adjust to changing needs. And there were a few high-level seminars, e.g., on pensions, monetary policy, and growth in the Western Balkans, which had a large impact. In terms of internal administration, we introduced quite a few changes, for example related to health and pension insurance, IT and work-life balance etc.

Looking more specifically at how training is evolving, is there anything that has turned out differently from what you expected?
On the one hand, online learning has taken off faster than I expected and it’s having great impact. I’m very happy to see the JVI’s contribution in this area expanding, including the key role it played in preparing the financial programming course in Russian. On the other hand, it’s harder than I thought to combine training and technical assistance effectively but progress is being made. Another positive surprise was to see how much benefit we get from cooperating with partners, for example for our courses on Applied Economic Policy and Structural Reforms, and those organized with the Bank of England, the Banque de France, and the Deutsche Bundesbank training centers.

What about outreach?
Our outreach agenda has operated very much as I had hoped. We were able to offer quite a few special lectures and seminars on cross-cutting issues, often again in cooperation with our partners. The Annual Lecture has remained the highlight of the year. Presentations of the IMF flagship publications, such as the World Economic Outlook and the Fiscal Monitor have become commonplace.

And relations with country authorities?
I believe they became stronger. We have direct counterparts, so called Training Directors, in all target countries. When we visit these countries, we now often organize alumni events, and bringing together anywhere between 30 to 80 alumni in a JVI target country is in itself fascinating. JVI staff have also started to be more active in participating in conferences or seminars, including at the ECB, OECD, the Astana Economic Forum, and in other JVI target countries.  

Anything else that particularly struck you?
Rarely in a job has one the opportunity to interact almost equally with the youngest and the most senior officials. In Vienna, I enjoyed exchanging ideas with highly motivated, often still very young officials. The discussions in JVI target countries with ministers and governors, and other senior officials, stimulated many new ideas for training.

Any reflections on the way forward?
The IMF’s Institute for Capacity Development is currently revamping its curriculum from which participants will start benefiting fully in 2017. A major question is how to “customize training”, i.e., tailor it to the specific needs of a country, but with limited resources. Peer-to-peer exchanges may increase and participants from the region may serve more and more as (guest) lecturers. I am also convinced that online learning will be more fully integrated into a sequence of courses.

Do you already know who will succeed you?
I am very happy that my IMF colleague Thomas Richardson, whom I have known for many years, will take over as director in September. Tom has enormous experience in academia, IMF surveillance, lending and capacity development, the region, as well as field assignments, most recently as IMF Senior Resident Representative in India. I am sure he will be in touch with you soon.

Any final wish?
It would be a real pleasure to meet JVI alumni or staff somewhere in the world and see some of them become very senior officials, possibly even minsters or governors. The chances are not so small. Currently, 19 governors and ministers and one president are JVI alumni. I look forward to keeping in touch (nfunke@remove-this.imf.org).

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