Wrapping Up: My Leading Economic Growth Journey

Guest blog written by Penelope Tainton

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I’ve made some interesting choices in my life. They may not always have been the best decisions for my own long-term prospects, but without fail, they have taken me on journeys of discovery and growth. Always stemming from my over-riding desire to “fix” things, to contribute, to make a difference, to bring about positive change in areas that matter to me, these have not been easy pathways to tread. But, along the way, I have met amazing fellow-travellers who care deeply, who are driven by purpose, who – twee as it may sound – make the world a better place through their thoughts, words and actions.

Given the opportunity last year to coordinate a “War Room” in the Western Cape, South Africa, brought the interesting experience of testing Problem Driven Iterative Adaptive (PDIA) methodology. 

Tasked with addressing five problem statements, seen to be important in unlocking economic growth in the Province, we brought together teams of senior officials to work differently. Since this was a six-month pilot, limited resources were put behind the work. This was a real challenge: the approach was new and nothing like it had been tried before;  none of us understood how PDIA worked; the hierarchical nature of the bureaucracy was stifling, with deeply-rooted animosities between some of the representatives of two different spheres of government involved; and the contestation amongst a newly elected group of politicians had not yet settled to any degree of comfort. 

Cautiously setting out on this road, I met my first fellow-traveller, Professor Matt Andrews. In the way of guides on every pioneering journey, with generosity of spirit and complete commitment to the adventure and its success, he opened his map, shared his wisdom, talked us through each step, gave us a hand to climb over the hurdles, walked with us out of the valleys

I have worked in a government environment on previous projects, and willingly admit to non-existent patience with unnecessary bureaucracy, delays, obfuscation and failure to grasp opportunities that present, and that could significantly improve the lives of the very people government is meant to serve. My country is deeply wounded, suffering the consequences of a devastatingly destructive past that twenty-six years post-democracy has not addressed. That makes me angry. And while people have individual responsibility to use opportunities presented, ultimately it is government that must provide the enabling environment that makes those opportunities available. 

So I approached this challenge with great excitement. Was this a way in which we could support personal and professional development for capable government officials, encourage them to really understand their problems, deliver relevant actions that would have real impact? 

The answer was a resounding “Yes”. 

Continue reading Wrapping Up: My Leading Economic Growth Journey

From Struggle to Deep Learning, then Action!

Guest blog written by Kojun Nakashima

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

2020 will surely be the unforgettable year for all the people around the globe. Everything has been required to be changed. Everybody has been stopped to rethink the course of life and work. 

In May 2020, the first ever Leading Economic Growth (LEG) Online was launched. The timing was perfect. Everybody was gradually adjusted to new-normal lifestyle. Online meeting became common. What is more, everybody seek opportunity for being equipped for next step towards post-COVID era.

It should have been an experimental course for Harvard Kennedy School too, but it turned out to be a huge success. More than 200 students from 70 countries joined at maximum, and kept on actively enjoying and engaging with live lessons, group works and reading/writing assignments every week (though it was tough, actually). 

My Struggle: Am I trapped in status-quo?

I have been working in Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for 7 years. JICA is bilateral development agency, which provides ODA towards more than 180 countries with more than 90 overseas offices. 

Since 2017, I have been assigned to JICA Myanmar Office and responsible for Electricity Sector Development. With total 1.2 billion USD Loan portfolio, we provide supports to Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MOEE) on developing electricity infrastructure for Generation, Transmission and Distribution together with capacity building programs for electricity development planning and engineering.

Due to COVID-19, all the operations were required to be reconsidered. But even before COVID-19, I had been struggling as one development officer. The core question was “Is our cooperation effective enough to bring real change?”

Continue reading From Struggle to Deep Learning, then Action!

Seeking the Next Gear for a Country with 30 Years of Continuous Growth

Guest blog written by Jacek Kotrasinski 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Photo of Warsaw, Poland, by Jacek Kotrasiński 

Being from Poland, a country that recorded the unprecedented last 30 years of continuous economic growth, I came to the LEG Program to find out how to “Lead the Economic Growth” further. 

I have lived in exceptional times in Poland over the last 40 years. I witnessed the collapse of communism in 1989 and the country’s transformation into the market economy based on the neoliberal model. Then I experienced Poland’s economic growth and integration with the Western political and economic structures – the NATO and the European Union (EU) in the 2000s. And recently, after the 30 years of continuous growth, I can observe the extension of the social market economy and take part in the quest for becoming a high-income, innovation-based developed country, just like the most advanced economies of the EU and the West. 

Taking part in that history line also significantly influenced my career path. Being driven by the sense of public mission to help Poland’s socio-economic development, in the 2000s I became a civil servant. In my capacity as the Head of Unit for Strategic Management at Poland’s Ministry of Development, I worked on Poland’s most significant development strategies and investment programs. And now I am a non-profit leader and an independent expert further focused on fostering social and economic development of territories. 

The growth problem that I have been concerned about, and pursued during the LEG Program journey, was how Poland can sustain its growth towards the innovation-driven, developed economy. 

Over the last years, Poland has been one of the leaders in growth in Europe. Since the early 1990s, the Polish GDP has been constantly growing, being on the 2nd-longest growth line in the OECD, and having not suffered a recession even during the previous financial and economic crisis. After Poland joined the EU, between 2004-2019, the Polish GDP per head grew almost twice, and almost tripled since 1990. In the last few years, the Polish GDP growth rate was one of the highest in the EU, reaching over 5% annual rise in 2018. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the GDP for 2020 is forecasted to decline: according to the European Commission and the IMF by over -4% (still, the lowest decline in the EU), and according to the Polish government by over -3%. 

The problem matters because, based on the international and domestic statistics, Poland’s economy is upper-middle-income, and on the edge between being efficiency-driven and innovation-driven. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2018 Poland was ranked the 37th out of 140 countries studied in terms of global competitiveness and had the economy in transition to innovation-driven. And in London’s FTSE and German Stoxx indices in 2018 Poland was just upgraded from the “emerging market” to the “developed market” status. It is needless to say that the innovation-driven economies are world’s development leaders, have the highest social and economic advancement, offer “good jobs”, allow for wealth creation and accumulation, and provide the highest living standards for citizens. 

Continue reading Seeking the Next Gear for a Country with 30 Years of Continuous Growth

Public policy during a crisis: 3 Lessons learned from Ecuador’s earthquake

Guest blog written by Sandra Naranjo Bautista

Last October, I was a guest lecturer at Harvard’s Executive Education ProgramBudgeting Through Crisis. I talked about my experience as a minister during Ecuador’s 2016 earthquake with Salimah Samji, Director of the Building State Capability Program. Our conversation brought up memories that motivated me to write this blog. You can also listen to the podcast.

I’ll share 3 lessons from my experience dealing with a crisis. I also prepared a cheat sheet with additional information and examples that complement this blog. You can download it here.

Ecuador’s 2016 earthquake 

In April 2016, Ecuador was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the strongest earthquake in nearly a century. The epicenter was between the coastal provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas, around 200 Km away from the capital, Quito. At the time I was Minister of Planning and Development. That night, as the reports started to arrive, I could literally feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. The next morning, the scale of damages became clearer and the severity of the situation started to sink in. Homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and major infrastructure had been destroyed. More than 600 lives were lost, and damages and losses amounted to US$ 3 billion (0.7% GDP). 

Lesson 1: Have your priorities clear

Emergencies are unexpected and their effect can surpass government’s installed capacity to respond. There can be confusion about what to prioritize and how to find the required resources. Breaking the process into manageable steps can help to avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

Continue reading Public policy during a crisis: 3 Lessons learned from Ecuador’s earthquake

Economic Growth in Liberia: 10 Weeks to Remember

Guest blog written by Fred D. Koilor

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

What if this was a one-week journey? Well, many things about the Leading Economic Growth (Online) course probably would not have been the same. Firstly, I can certainly say that students would not have had ample time to digest the course materials and make adequate appreciation of knowledge acquired during the ten weeks. Secondly, the one week on campus would not have given us the opportunity to reach out to institutions and development stakeholders for vital pieces of information, which helped to shape our understanding of the lecture materials discussed during the course. During the ten-week period, I had the opportunity to meet with two departments within the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) for data and analysis on aspects of my growth strategy. Thirdly, the span of ten weeks provided enough time for the lecture materials to be sequenced into ten weekly modules. This approach enabled the students to navigate the course in a consecutive order of logic, chronologically sequenced from week one through week ten. More importantly, it made learning a lot easier than it would have been in only a week.

In spite of my economic background, this course offered some key insights, which are not only novel, but also shaped my understanding of economic growth, especially considering the growth challenges of my country, Liberia.

The Scrabble Theory of Economic Development provides a fundamental explanation for why some countries are rich and others are poor. With the help of the scrabble metaphor, the theory explains, in very simple terms, that the wealth of nations or prosperity of economies is determined by the level of societal knowhow, which is represented as letters used to produce products, represented as words. Knowhow, described as what the society knows how to do, is not measured by the depth of knowledge individuals in the society possess, but the diversity of knowledge spread across different individuals at the societal level. With a higher level of diverse knowhow, otherwise known as letters, more complex products, otherwise known as words can be produced, thus increasing the complexity of goods and services produced by a nation. The intuition of this theory explains, to a large extent, why Liberia is economically poor, even though it is enormously endowed with natural resources. Liberia has vast deposits of rubber, iron ore, timber, gold, and palm oil, but these resources are mostly exported to other countries in their raw or unprocessed forms because the population does not have diversified knowhow (letters) to produce products of more complexity (words) that could generate higher export earnings, reduce or cancel out our balance of payments deficit, generate more foreign exchange, increase employment opportunities, spur growth of industrial activities, and improve the macroeconomic outlook. Liberia needs more knowhow to manufacture more complex products from its natural endowments. Local manufacturing will generate more jobs locally, add value to our local products, increase their worth as exports, and positively impact many macroeconomic indicators, including balance of payments, net foreign capital inflow, international trade, etc.

Continue reading Economic Growth in Liberia: 10 Weeks to Remember

Leading Economic Growth in a World at Risk

Guest blog by Sharon Lewis

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Continue reading Leading Economic Growth in a World at Risk

BSC 2020: The Year in Review

written by Salimah Samji

2020 was a challenging year. The Covid-19 pandemic and other crises highlighted the failures of governance and the large economic disparities that exist around the globe. The need to build public sector capability to meet these increasingly complex challenges has never been greater.

Our response to these challenges included convening and training policymakers, as well as practitioners, around critical issues of leading through crises, implementing public policies, inclusive growth, and budgeting in times of uncertainty. Drawing on BSC’s past experience running both online programs and blended learning programs, we put our knowhow into action and pivoted two executive education programs to online. We also provided our students opportunities to work on real-world problems as a way to help them build the muscle memory of solving complex problems.

Some highlights of 2020 include:

  • Trained and engaged with 875 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, online executive education, and direct policy engagements with governments); 
  • Published 89 blog posts; 
  • Recorded 17 podcasts, including a new 4-part series on the 4P model of strategic leadership; and
  • Activated our HKS IPP community of practice.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2020.

January

BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative on their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program, by developing three problem exploratory online modules as part of the pre-work to be completed by participants in advance of their training in New York City. 72 participants across 9 City teams completed these exercises. 

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World at the Harvard Kennedy School. 36 PFM practitioners participated in this program.

Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji, co-taught the class entitled, PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence at the Harvard Kennedy School. This year we invited alumni of our IPP Executive Education program to nominate real-world problems that the students could work on. You can read more about what student’s learned about dealing with uncertainty, the bias towards finding solutions, the importance of different perspectives, iteration, and team-work.

Class photo taken after final presentations in March 2020.

The process of implementing public policies and solving complex development problems requires working in teams. We released a podcast on building effective teams recorded by BSC Faculty Associate, Professor Monica Higgins, Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Continue reading BSC 2020: The Year in Review

Developing a Strategy for the Border Region between Australia and PNG

Guest blog written by Geoff King

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Having worked as a development professional for the better part of two decades, I was hoping Leading Economic Development would deliver a few additional tools I could add to my well worn tool belt. However, in several fundamental ways it has led to the evolution of my thinking and changed my practice.  

Growth diagnostics informed by complexity analysis, have changed the way I view the challenge of economic development.  The method, presented using accessible analogies, are powerful analytical tools that can help identify points of entry for further diagnosis/analysis informing economic development strategy.  I will never think of monkeys in trees the same!  

I was broadly familiar with PDIA thinking. However, applying the approach to a case I am currently working on brought the theory to life. From my experience, project/ program documents have become littered with claims of adaptation, iteration and learning as you go, but the rhetoric rarely translates into reality. 

PDIA uses an accessible conceptual vocabulary to provide a systemic, yet flexible, approach to complex (often meta) problems supported by practical tools and processes. While individual case studies demonstrate its success, a meta-study demonstrating its efficacy in a larger population of cases would help in gaining the support of skeptical decision makers questioning case selection bias (picking winners).

Working for the Australian Government in PNG, I lead a team that in week two of the course was tasked with developing a development strategy for the border region between Australia’s Torres Strait and PNG’s South Fly district of PNG. 

At its closest point, PNG and Australia are only four km of open water apart. Australia’s per capita GNP is 21 times that of PNG. One of if not the largest disparity in the world for any two countries sharing a border.  The gross regional product of the Far North Queensland region, comprised of 260,000 people, is one third of the GDP of PNG, with a population exceeding 8 million.  Life expectancy in South Fly is estimated to be around 60 years and maternal and child mortality is extremely high. In comparison, Australia ranks sixth on the global Human Development Index league table.

The region is ethnically and linguistically diverse, but has english as the lingua franca spoken by the vast majority of residents and taught in schools. This common language, to a degree, shapes a regional identity.  

Continue reading Developing a Strategy for the Border Region between Australia and PNG

Learning to Lead Economic Growth during COVID-19

Guest blog written by Yakama Jones

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

My country suffered from the Ebola crisis six years ago, experienced negative growth rates and is yet to attain pre-Ebola growth rates. It is in the midst of the recovery process that the current Corona pandemic has struck. There is a general scale down in economic activities, rise in employment, and risks of food insecurity in vulnerable households. This is coupled with existing challenges in human capital development and infrastructure. The introduction of movement and social distancing restrictions in a bid to ‘flattening the curve’ has exacerbated already existing multi-dimensional poverty and social protection issues. Despite some financial support from International Finance Institutions, and donations from the private sector, the economic impact of COVID-19 on our import-driven economy, which we have spent the last couple of years struggling to diversify, would be long-lasting.

Yes, there is a lot of data, albeit high-level projections of the economic impact of COVID-19. The forecasts produced with technical support from the IMF, saw original GDP growth projections for 2020 being revised downwards from 4.2% to -2.2%; Balance of payments worsening from $30.2 million to -$301.3 million; and domestic revenue falling by about 15%. Resources are being diverted towards the health response and the Quick Action Economic Response Programme. 

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the implementation of the country’s Medium-Term National Development Plan has slowed down. There is a need to re-evaluate current progress and re-strategise our approach to growth and development to help catch up and accelerate growth, especially for the delivery of His Excellency the President’s Human Capital Development Priority Portfolio. It is within this context and aim to contribute to Post-COVID growth that I enrolled on the Leading Economic Growth Course.

One of the first things I learnt from this course is that the challenge of addressing economic growth and making sure it leads to development is not a complicated but complex problem. Like every country, mine comes with its history, experience, governance styles, natural resource endowments, institutions and humans. As humans, we are already complex beings. Bringing all our knowledge, skills, technology, and other production capabilities together are also complex. The interconnections across the ecosystem are numerous, and so are the possible outcomes. Country experiences and positions are continually evolving. Sometimes it is just not easy to determine what would ‘make the monkeys jump’.

Continue reading Learning to Lead Economic Growth during COVID-19

Working with local governments to improve service delivery in Indonesia

Guest blog written by Karrie McLaughlin

Melayani project in Indonesia

When Indonesia decentralized just over 20 years ago, it did so partly on the promise that bringing services closer to citizens would help to improve them. However, at the same moment that responsibility for the provision of basic public services was shifting to local governments, the nature of those service delivery challenges was itself shifting from improving availability of services to improving access and quality. The logistical tasks of constructing clinic and school buildings and hiring nurses and teachers had largely been completed, and districts are now left looking toward the top of the tree at more difficult problems. This blog examines the MELAYANI – Untangling Problems in Improving Basic Services program to better understand the issues local governments face in dealing with more demanding service delivery challenges, and how they can better be supported in doing so.

Importantly, there is a common element to these more difficult problems—they are complex, context-specific and cannot be solved by one-size-fits-all prescriptions from the central government. The root causes of these problems are multi-faceted and frequently vary from one location to another. As such, they require district governments to play a more active role in identifying, understanding and responding to them.

MELAYANI addressed these challenges by working with local governments to solve service delivery problems of their choice, while testing scalable capacity development approaches and learning about locally-led change. Experiences in the three locations (Bojonegoro, East Java; Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan; and Belu, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT)) are presented in this video.

MELAYANI supported local governments to select the problems that they felt were most important, helping to ensure that they were locally salient. By anchoring analysis in a key issue, rather than a particular sector, it allowed both for more actors to be involved and for the identification and mobilization of new resources. In addition, by providing support to local governments to better understand citizen problems, it provided clearer arguments for policy stability and commitment.

Continue reading Working with local governments to improve service delivery in Indonesia