From Struggle to Deep Learning, then Action!

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Guest blog written by Kojun Nakashima

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?”

Bigger the operation size becomes, it tends to fail into mere format type of operation. Of course, all the programs and projects are based on the careful and thorough survey and discussions, but still, the above core question was always in my mind. Bigger the operation size became, the portfolio became stable, and there are many status-quos in the operation. I had my struggling feeling at bottom of my heart; “Am I trapped in status-quo?”

My Deep Learning: Know how to construct and deconstruct the binding constraint

LEG lectures were provided by two main professors: Professor Ricardo Hausmann and Professor Matt Andrews. Their great combination provided students with profound learning experiences. Professor Hausmann brought me the fundamental theory and way of rethinking the essence of economic growth. Professor Andrews brought me the new ideas and practical know how of Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach. 

Especially, the PDIA method was perfectly matched with my struggling. In the world with high uncertainty, there is no single solution which applies to everything. Even if we find certain direction, that may still not be the goal. Take small steps, then stop and rethink whether we are going right direction or not. More we interact with key players in the course of the direction, more we can know whether the approach is in the right direction or not. 

Besides, to construct and deconstruct the assumed true bottleneck of the problem in the beginning of PDIA approach, Fishbone Diagram is effective tool. Firstly, it enables to illustrate the broader view of the problem comprehensively. Secondly, it enables to break down to reach true binding constraints by repeating whys in each assumed bottleneck. Thirdly, it enables to create strong narrative based on the comprehensive and deep trial of bottleneck analysis by your own words and views. 

Together with the learning of the essence of economic growth and diagnostic approach, those know how brought me Deep Learning which contained great potential to reflect to my actual work. 

My Action: Try to break the status-quo by strong narrative

Fortunately, as I am in the position to conduct direct interaction with the counterpart government officials, I could set up an occasion to make presentation on my Fishbone Diagram about Myanmar Electricity Sector in June 2020, around 5thweek of the course. 

Usually, when I discuss with counterpart government officials, I tend to fail into only discussing about “what we do” and “how we do”. They are busy, we are busy. We have many issues always and we try to focus on something urgent which needs to be fixed as soon as possible. That is the status-quo I trapped in. 

By making presentation using Fishbone Diagram, I could share “why we do” in my own narrative. Instantly, the counterpart government official responded with my presentation saying, “totally agreed on your point, and that is the point we need to approach together”. 

Thanks to their positive response, I could start my further explanation on “what we do” and “how we do” about the next new potential program in a good way. And the discussion went on positive and constructive way better than before. 

This is my Action based on the Deep Learning from the course. Further on, I could capture the deep sense that the learning should be shared in my organization, with my colleagues. So that is my next small Action. Disseminating my Deep Learning to people around me. Hopefully, in this high uncertain field of development, my colleagues, my counterpart government officials and I can take the right steps forwards to achieve the real change. 

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.

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

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