CIO Team

David Balson

ICT-KM Program Consultant

David Balson

David Balson, a man with boundless energy and an obvious passion for his work, has a confession to make. Despite a successful career, and a loving, supportive family in his native Canada , there is still one thing that eludes him.

"I'm an unsuccessful retiree," he quips. "Three years ago, my wife, Fran, and I both retired, but I missed being connected with my sphere of friends around the world so much that it was relatively easy to lure me out of 'retirement' and back to working with the CGIAR again."

David's relationship with the CGIAR spans more than twenty years; for it was way back in 1982, when microcomputers were just beginning to appear on the market, that he presented an ambitious concept paper at a meeting of the CGIAR Directors General in Washington, USA.

He explains, "I worked for many years with the International Development Research Center (IDRC), in Ottawa , Canada , where I was responsible for a program called Telematics. At that time, the program provided financial support, ideas and knowledge on how to use data communications, computer conferencing, electronic mail, etc. in the support of development activities.

"In the early stages of the program, it was decided that the best way to demonstrate the role telematics had to play in development and research activities would be to try to get the preeminent development organizations in the world to adopt telematics techniques in their operations. So a strategy was drawn up, and I was given the intimidating task of trying to convince the Directors General of the CGIAR that this data communication stuff was really meaningful; that they could save a lot of money and improve the effectiveness of their operations."

Despite a bout of nerves and an unfortunate, never-to-be-forgotten incident with a glass of water just as he was beginning his presentation, David successfully convinced the meeting of the meaningfulness of the strategy.

A subsequent feasibility study led to a pilot project for six CGIAR Centers, which in turn was developed into a world-wide project for all the Centers, saving hundreds of thousands of US dollars along the way. This project ultimately led to the creation of CGNet Services, a company that now services the whole CGIAR as well as many other donors with communication and information management needs.

Years later, when he was winding down the Telematics Program and starting up Bellanet, David organized a symposium on telematics in Africa with the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UN-ECA), and who should he meet there but Enrica Porcari!

"That was in 1995, and I didn't see her again until just a few years ago, when I was in San Francisco on business for Bellanet. At that time, she was about to be interviewed for the position of the CGIAR's first CIO, a position that she subsequently did indeed get."

Knowing that David was a champion of knowledge management, one of the major components of the ICT-KM Program, Enrica later invited him to help her with the design and development of the ICT-KM Strategy.

"I'd just 'retired' at the time," he says, recalling that moment. "But what's an incurable workaholic to do when he's asked to do something that he's been promoting and championing and enjoying for so many years?

"You see, after I'd worked on the connectivity issues, getting universities, research organizations, NGOs and donors to use conferencing and emails in their work instead of telexes, letters and faxes, the next generation of tasks was to get them to change the way they shared information, the way they viewed their relationships from one year to another in an organization, and the way they viewed their relationships with other agencies."

"I was trying to help organizations move from a silo type of behavior where information flows vertically and everyone competes with everyone else and basically doesn't make a lot of progress with regard to their objectives, towards a situation where information is shared freely and people come together with passion around areas, problems and opportunities of common interest to find solutions collaboratively."

Following the development of the ICT-KM Strategy, David was asked to help during the development of the 2004 Investment Plan. Subsequent to that, while continuing to give strategic advice, he was actively involved in the development of the projects that make up the Plan; the development and implementation of an active Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) regime; and in providing direct support to the coordinators of the projects supported through the Program. At the beginning of 2006, he was asked to take this last task on again.

His current focus, in addition to providing strategic advice and support to project coordinators, is on the development of activities that promote a change in the way the CGIAR does business platforms such as CGXchange that support collaborative work and easy access to (as well as the sharing of) critical information; and Knowledge Sharing and learning activities that directly influence individual and organizational behavior.

When David isn't working hard, you are likely to find him at home playing equally as hard. Now that their three children have all left home, he and Fran (who has managed to remain retired) have more time to spend with each other. Avid tennis players, they hit the courts twice a week, and in between, David finds the time to play ice hockey for three teams year round, while holding his own against men considerably younger than him.

This man just seems to keep on going, and going, and going...