Guest blog by Saleh Abdallah
This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.
Frankly, when I applied for Leading Economic Growth course, I had a different set of mind of what would this course be like at the end of 10 weeks. I have worked in bi-lateral and multi-lateral development institutions and as a consultant with the African Development Bank who has been implementing a ten-year Strategy to improve the quality of Africa’s inclusive growth, and the transition to green growth. I was not sure whether I would participate in this course as I was heavily engaged with heading an energy corporation that acquired many hours of work in addition to COVID-19 lockdown in the Fasting Month of Ramadan. But I am more than pleased that I did. What distinguished this course is the fact that it brought together leading experts in economic development with practitioners from around the globe to focus on practical approaches to shared growth and development led by Professor Ricardo Hausmann and Professor Matt Andrews who themselves were involved in the economic growth of some countries aided by strident TAs answering all questions, queries and offering clarifications if needed.
I must say that very powerful new tools were learned that will help and allow me to better chart the road ahead, identify the obstacles to prosperity in my growth challenge and define actions that can lead to economic growth, one of such approach is to focus on expanding my country’s set of productive capabilities and expressing them in a more diverse and complex set of products and services (utilizing the product space in the Atlas Lab). It also calls for me to rethink economic strategies and build bandwidth organizations that are capable of unlocking new prosperities.
These exposures in this course aided me to write a more thorough document. Ideas such as “inclusive growth” enriched my understanding more when dealing with it on the national & subnational level. I have witnessed its incredible results when I was leading a bilateral development corporation in Sri Lanka for over eight years by creating family self employment for thousands of families where they were included in our business activities.
I thought it would be better summarizing what I have learned from this course into the following points:
- PDIA is an effective tool for solving complex growth problems especially in rough areas where there is complexity as the PDIA method builds capacity within an organization, as well as political involvements.
- Diagnosing the problem is vital: We usually tend to think of a solution-oriented approach rather than the real diagnostic of the problem and we often believe we know what the problem is (i.e., misappropriation) and we proceed to challenge it without diagnosing the problem and get down to its root causes which must be addressed before the problem can be tackled.
- The binding constraint is indefinable: Comprehending the biding constraints can be sometimes a challenge and as important like the growth problem itself. Our claim to pretend we know and figure out the binding constraints instantaneously is a wrong judgement, we must dig into facts, figures and talk to all involved to reach a sound judgement bearing in mind that we are not always welcome to address binding constraints due to numerous factors including political pressures, corruption, generation gap …etc.
- Inclusive growth is the strong growth: Definitely, there is a great deal to learn about the “sense of us” as its narrative seems key to any growth story and hence it is fair to say that it stands for All of us and not leaving any one behind; we take a look at how we use GDP as a measurement for growth and job creation in the job market, but yet we don’t look at the lives of other people especially the halve-nots. Also, inclusive growth should lead to deep reductions in poverty and a correspondingly large increase in jobs. Unlocking a country’s great potential. It brings prosperity by expanding the economic base across the barriers of age, gender and geography, investing in infrastructure that unlocks the potential of the private sector, championing gender equality and community participation. It will also help improve skills for competitiveness, ensuring that those skills better match the opportunities and requirements of local job markets. To be inclusive is to be “PARTNERS NOT UNDERPRIVILEGED OR WAGE WORKERS”.
- Green growth: We ought to ensure that inclusive growth is sustainable, by helping a country gradually transition to “green growth” that will protect livelihoods, improve water, energy and food security, promote the sustainable use of natural habitants.
- Strong leadership is not the whole story about growth: While a visionary and strong leader is vital around which people to rally, he alone can not lead and execute the whole growth strategy as they neither have the skills nor the expertise. I believe that game-changing growth requires leadership from multiple agents which is very different from the heroic leadership many believes is a key to success in great policy involvements. Tyrant leadership does not allow people to take the lead, express their ideas freely, and develop as leaders. We must realize that Leadership is risky and a good way to manage risk is to share it (risk mitigation); so, having multiple agents in our leadership group makes it possible to ensure that our initiative survives job movements and other challenges that individual leaders have.
- The invisible power is tied behind our back: the invisible power of the market is not operating the way it is supposed to as it seems to have been purposely sidelined in the interests of the few mentioned above. There is some thing wrong in the functioning system as we see it from the unequal distribution of growth but rather heavily concentrated in the hands of the few who have given a little back to the system that helped them build their own wealth.
- One country’s approach is suitable for all: is possibly the most adverse thought and idea we usually adopt. Believing so, makes us not realizing our growth potential and preserves the existing state of affairs. The only way to properly tackle our growth problems is through our untiring efforts to do things differently (i.e., Singaporean & Sri Lankan cases, Albania). It is like what we have seen in the case of Chiapas in Mexico as a sub-national case where best practice in one Mexican dominion was not easily replicated in others. But they can be useful as a guide and a marker against which to judge our progress and outcomes.
- Planting more trees makes it easier for monkeys to jump: Being from Libya with an area of 1.8 million sq km, most of which is desert, it is apparent we don’t have many trees that you may use its shade to protect your self from the burning sun! Hence, we ought to plant more trees for the monkeys to jump. Utilizing the product space, there are diverse array of potential exports especially by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and to attract investment agencies like the Privatization and Investment Board & the Foreign Export Agency. We ought to look at the other countries experience that built their capacity from the ashes and became one of the most prosperous leading economies of the world like Singapore.
- Our world-wide economy is built on a feeble foundation: In my opinion that our worldwide economy is not built on solid but rather unsteady if not to say untidy foundations. This is clear from the economic system’s inability to resist the crises we face once in a while like what we have been going through during the COVID-19 current crisis. The gap of the Have & Have nots is growing as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few (half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%, top 10% of adults hold 85%, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth, top 30% of adults hold 97% of the total wealth (Distribution of wealth-Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org). Bearing in mind that the world population increase definitely affects economic growth as well as productivity giving the fact that the economic veracities can not accommodate more billions of people.
How would use what I have learned:
As we are recovering from the pandemic of COVID-19 and approaching the end of the Fasting month of Ramadan, I will be heading to Libya to start my real journey of utilizing the PDIA approach to address some of the country’s growth problems in the relative sector. Actually, I have already discussed some of the learned approaches including PDIA and the inclusive growth with the ministry of economics & the Privatization and Investment Board and arranged a meeting with them. We will discuss and try to develop a plan of action that involves many agents within the government as well as in the other levels of the three regions in the country.
One of the biggest challenges we will face is the political interest groups who are aligned with the militias where both have their own interest in the continuation of the current turmoil in Libya. This is another important component of any economic growth I wish the next course would touch on more: “Economic Growth in countries coming out of a turmoil”.
The world I understand and believe in is that the majority is controlled by the minority (the few) politically and economically! Giant corporations of the top developed countries are controlling most of Africa’s natural wealth but yet the poorest of the poor we find them in Africa (people who don’t even have a clean water to drink and they celebrate when we dig water-well for them!) and the hundreds of thousands of African youths trying to migrate to Europe to have a better with their natural resources that have been stolen from their own countries! I may pose the following question that the next course could cover:
As we have seen in my view the shaky foundations of the economic system and that in every crisis economists try to amend some of the flaws by recommending new or additional scenarios or even change some theories while the gap between the have & the have-nots continue to increase; Do you think the world may see another popular economic revolt to counter the current system? Similar to the Bolshevik one or different! By they there is a saying that goes like this “when economists fail to solve a problem, they create new terminologies to keep us busy with” 😊
In conclusion, in spite of have been working in sovereign funds and development areas around the world, I truly found this course incredibly valuable, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and appealing. I enjoyed the weekly lectures and I actually enjoyed my weekly assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed my Tuesday meetings with Peer Group 3; actually, we have agreed to keep in touch outside of this course. If given the opportunity, I would definitely take another course like this one. My sincere thanks to All the profs, the staff, the TAs, the organizers and coordinators as well. Special thanks to TA-Awab for your time in reading, making valuable comments and grading my weekly submissions. I wish you the best of luck in your current and future endeavours. HAPPY EID!