‘Help others as you climb the ladder, as your path will surely cross again’: five minutes with… the Development Bank of Latin America’s Carlos Santiso

By on 25/04/2022 | Updated on 26/04/2022

Carlos Santiso is the director of digital innovation in government at the Development Bank of Latin America, and is based in Colombia. He shares his thoughts on reforming developing countries’ civil services, Portugal’s digital transformation, and the importance of working with govtech startups

What have you achieved in your career that you’re most proud of?

Growing people; growing with people. Managing people is probably the most challenging and, at the same time, rewarding achievement one can have in the public service. What I have learned in my career is that, at the end of the day, transforming government is about changing mindsets, building empathy, and serving the public.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life?

Generosity and empathy are critical soft skills of effective public service leaders. Help others as you climb the ladder, as your path will surely cross again.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the civil service?

Don’t give up on your ambitious and stay the course, thinking about the bigger picture. The impact one can make from government is unique. I firmly believe that governing should be about putting people first and at the centre of public policies.  

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be?

In emerging economies and developing countries in particular, civil services tend to be feeble because of their lack of stability, capacity and the proper incentives to deliver. But they are the backbone of government. The reform of the civil service workforce is the hardest ‘nut to crack’ of all to give governments greater muscle and to sustain policies over time.  

Which country’s civil service are you most inspired by and why?

I have always found the modernisation trajectory of Portugal fascinating, especially its drive to digitally transform its bureaucracy over the past decade, driven from the centre of government and by the administrative modernisation agency. This experience shows how countries can leapfrog development.  

Which project or innovation do you think would be valuable to your peers overseas?

To me, one of the most promising trends to accelerate innovation in government is building new alliances with the tech startups seeking to generate public value and have a social impact. The emergence of govtech ecosystems in which startups work with governments, especially local governments, to improve service delivery and government transparency are ‘ones to watch’.

Which attributes do you most value in people?

Honesty, empathy, and humility.  

Which three famous people, alive or dead, would you most like to invite to a dinner party?

Leonardo da Vinci, Brad Smith, and [Spanish businessman and economist] Jose María Álvarez-Pallete to discuss our digital future.

What is your favourite book?

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.

What is your dream holiday destination?

Galicia, in Northwestern Spain, where I used to holiday in my youth.

Read more: Doing good with data: an interview with the Development Bank of Latin America’s Carlos Santiso

Carlos Santiso is a member of Global Government Forum’s Content Advisory Board.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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