Un espacio para ideas y soluciones en seguridad ciudadana y justicia en América Latina y el Caribe

Rethinking States to provide better services to citizens

The door of Carlos Santiso was open for the eight years that he led the division of Innovation in Citizen Services (ICS) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). As head of division, Santiso used this policy for all the entities with which he worked: his team, his colleagues and his clients. Responsible for improving the lives of citizens of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and their relationship with their governments, Carlos and his team opened doors to create well-being.

Carlos’ purpose has always been aligned to improving lives, even before arriving at the IDB. His interest in the region came from a young age, in his first practices with the United Nations in the peace process in Guatemala in the 1990s. He always wanted to work at a regional level, so his contribution would have a greater impact, and Latin America and the Caribbean is the place he wanted to dedicate his life and work to.

Rethinking the meaning of state modernization

In his time at the IDB, Carlos was characterized for creating and revolutionizing, articulating and promoting. One of the most important changes he pushed for was that the name of the division should better reflect the final purpose of his team’s work. What used to be the Institutional Capacity of the State Division was adjusted to make more explicit who it serves: the citizen. “We seek to strengthen the State, not to strengthen it as the ultimate goal but as a means to provide better services to citizens, because in the end they are our customers.”

We seek to strengthen the State as a means to provide better services to citizens, because in the end they are our customers

However, changing the name of the division was not enough. Carlos knew that the key was to rethink the way they worked. This is at a time when crime and corruption are at the forefront of the region’s political agenda and the concerns of citizens, as we see, for example, in the electoral marathon this year. “We are going through a crisis of confidence in the state,” Santiso tells us, “a state that does not respond to the aspirations of citizens who are less tolerant of endemic corruption and more demanding in terms of the quality of public services.”

Carlos came to the IDB in 2011 to a division in which cohesion was lacking. “There was a need to re-articulate and rearrange the division’s agenda. There were very committed people with many ideas, but we needed to redefine the strategy, refine our service lines, and rethink the business proposal we were offering.” Nine areas of work were merged into three, and now focus on supporting governments in working with greater agility, integrity and transparency; to improve public services through digital solutions based on data; and to fight against crime and strengthen citizen security.

What are the skills necessary to lead this agenda?

Now Carlos embarks on a new path, outside the Bank, but still in the region. He is proud of his team, but beyond pride, he will always be grateful. Grateful for having had people with exceptional human quality and cutting-edge knowledge, and especially committed to the Bank’s mission. Although there is no perfect formula to belong to the division of Innovation in Citizen Services, he has a clear idea when asked about the profile that is needed. He said with a smile that talent must have vision, be creative, passionate and know how to transform ideas into public policies.

Someone I respect a lot always told me that you have to know how to drive uncertainty. It’s better to make a mistake quickly than to be right too late.” The work of the Innovation in Citizen Services division directly impacts the countries in which it works, which is why it is important to turn creative ideas into tangible solutions that generate real impact in the lives of citizens. As Jorge Luis Borges reminds us, “the future is not what is going to happen, but what we are going to do.

It is crucial not only to think, but to do.

Carlos loves risks and betting on ideas that will provide better quality of life to the citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean, so he will continue to be dedicated to the region in his next projects. His approach to the Division, the work they do and how to do it, was focused on “being concrete, specific and making risky but realistic bets“. With this vision, Carlos and his team brought successes to the IDB, expanded their reach in the region, and turned unfulfilled gaps in business lines.

Carlos managed his role as Head of Division in the same way in which his team provides services to its clients: managing processes, people and challenges “always looking for the solution to the problem and not the problem to the solution“; taking care of the communication with his audiences, but even more important, receiving new ideas and accepting that you do not have the answers to everything. “You always have to listen to what others have to say; you learn more by listening than by talking.”

If you want to work to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean, like Carlos, click here.

To read more about the work of the Innovation in Citizen Services team, click here.

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