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CFPB and its Lean Startup

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.

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Meet the Finalist:

Who: Monte Desai, Product Manager, Technology and Innovation Team, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Finalist, Courageous Champion Category

“Monte is committed to sharing best practices and learning from the vibrant community of government innovators. Believing in the power of Open Source software to dramatically reduce costs for government, he’s always willing to help agencies interested in replicating IdeaBox or elements of it. He takes every opportunity to pitch in government innovation community, such as joining Open Data meet-ups, or helping with the White House Open Innovation Toolkit.” – Nominator of Desai for NextGen Courageous Champion Award.

Monte Desai is a Product Manager at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and focuses on technology and innovation. After the financial crisis, he started work at CFPB to make markets for consumer financial products and services work again. Desai is also part of the Director’s Financial Analyst Program, a highly selective rotational fellowship.

Prior to his government career, Desai worked in his family’s small business in South Carolina. Once part of CFPB, he helped build and lead the agency’s award-winning innovative initiative, IdeaBox.

“I help to create opportunities (through a social network) for people at CFPB to share their ideas on how they can improve the way financial markets work or the way the organization operates. Then our team transforms those ideas into implemented projects across the organization,” Desai said.

What is IdeaBox?
IdeaBox promotes innovation and collaboration within CFPB through a platform for all agency employees to share and build ideas on furthering the agency’s mission and operations.

“People can comment on each other’s ideas, like them, tag them, and try to build them into better proposals,” Desai said. “The IdeaBox team then takes those ideas and develops them into business plans. We then route them to the appropriate agency to incubate those ideas. Eventually, they’re brought to the right leadership to decide whether or not an idea should be implemented.”

This new platform has helped employees at CFPB develop a better organizational culture, share cross-expertise, and develop better proposals. “Everybody has moments of reflection whenever they come. So they can just go to IdeaBox and post their ideas. And colleagues from across the agency can see them. It could be a lawyer versus a technology person versus a finance person,” said Desai.

With his young mind, innovative ideas, and hard work, Desai fits the mold for courageous champion. His colleagues, however, also refer to him as a lean startup.

The Lean Startup
Desai is adept at agile technology development. To him, a lean startup means working in situations where resources might be constrained and there is a big objective or complex challenge to address. “One of the best ways to approach lean methodology is to start with a small pilot approach. You learn from how that went and then iterate and scale up. You’re always learning from previous experiences to improve your future operations,” he said.

Desai is clearly committed to sharing best practices across government. He believes the best technology can come from an organization that has already had success with the idea in question. “You know one agency has a solution that works, why not see if it can work somewhere else as well?” he asked.

Private Sector to Public
When asked why he made the move from the private world to work in the public sector, Desai said it came down to the people. “It’s the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people on the biggest issues facing our country,” he said. “At CFPB, we were formed in the aftermath of the financial crisis. We want to make sure that the issues we saw during the crisis don’t happen again. It’s really motivating to be a part of that.”

With just two years in government, Desai is already amazed at the level of talent. “ I was particularly impressed by how many incredibly motivated, talented people are here. They believe in these really audacious missions that we have to improve the country and they work hard toward those lofty objectives,” he said. “I’ve really learned here how to work with people of different backgrounds and different approaches, different disciplines, and different industries.”

For this audacious leader, his favorite part of the job is pressing the “Go Live” button. “I love seeing that idea transform into something real,” Desai said. He says he is a public servant because, “I believe in the potential for government to create a meaningful impact in the lives of families like my own.”

Desai’s words of advice for others thinking about joining government, “Government is awesome and don’t believe what they say.”

Photo Credit: Flickr/Daniel Tabas

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