Learning about Economic Growth in Angola

Guest blog written by  Noelma Viegas D’Abreu 

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: Key Ideas and Learning

LEG helped me demystify something very important: Economy is not only a science of accounting, finance, taxes and interest. Over the years, I was curious about economic theories and some approaches, reading and studying phenomena of leadership, change, growth, politics and development in some countries. I tried to find out why, as some countries did long jumps and others were or are stuck in the middle of their own problems and poverty, for years. 

Not to mention the fact that more inclusive, democratic , with best governance, ethics and better education systems, countries are in a better “shape”, with prosperous economies, than others. 

For this reason, I enrolled this course, with my country in mind and the great discrepancy between the wealth of natural resources and the poverty of the people, above all, poverty of primary goods, basic needs, essentials to life, and also lack of knowledge, education, and culture in the broadest sense. 

At the beginning of the course, I feared that the challenge would supplant my area of knowledge – clinical psychology and management – but I was positively surprised by the approach, because during the 10 weeks Professors showed me how economics is really a social science, valuing the right people, in the right places, complex relationships and the importance of connectivity between people, valuing knowledge as the essence for economic growth

In other words, this course, opened for me a world of opportunity to get different perspectives, learning deep insights, to know how and where to research and connect all “letters”, meaningful knowledge to make better decisions, identifying problems, knowing who should be envolved, framework, remove obstacles, implement programs and plans and make it all work. 

I learnt a broad range of theories, mainly the importance of “productive knowledge”, the analogy or Theory of Scrabble that articulates so well, the valuable understanding that production (both private and public goods) requires many “letters” provided by the markets (consonants) and also needs “letters” provided by the state (vowels), and to write “long letters”, e.g. how important it is to articulate and connect letters so we can evolve to develop economies, as presented by Professor Ricardo Hausmann. 

This makes clear how important is the interdisciplinarity approach, to understand problems and how can we find ways to remove biding constraints. 

I also understand now that some problems are complementary and not necessarily binding, and what we need to understand is how to use problems driven approaches, problem driven sequences and take into consideration authority, acceptance, and ability. 

II: My Progress and Insights

Professor Matt Andrews was very effective in helping me understand how important is Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) as an approach which rests on core principles: local solutions for local Problems (not copy paste of others; pushing problem Driven positive deviance (learn from what we have already achieved trying to get better); try, learn, Iterate, Adapt; and scale through diffusion. That is so usefull, not only for public management or decisions but also for private sector and even for some moments and important decisions in life. 

It is a fact that sometimes, in some countries there is a tendency to do long “laundry lists”, national big programs and strategies, without stablishing measurable objectives and focusing on priorities to do better if opting to go step by step, communicating, envolving the community and the right people. 

The principles of differential diagnostics to narrow down and determine the binding constraint in the context of Angola, using the theory of change, to move the binding constraint, and achieve economic growth, it was precious to learn. 

Transparency, best practices in management, sharing data, ideas and integrated strategy is the best way, as people will feel part of the process, included and that “sense of us” will motivate actions and get strenght to implement plans. 

The approach about “inclusion and the sense of us”, made me think about two important moments for us, the fight against colonialism that ended with the proclamation of the independence of Angola 1975, and the other, the end of the civil war in 2002. Those two defining moments, united the Angolans around a case, all of us touched by the emotions of the end of a long blooded war, were unanymous in the will to build our country – no more war, no more fights between one another. 

During this course, when I looked at some indicators, it was much clear, that we have to face and assume that we are a country heavily dependent on oil and diamonds export. However, equally rich in other mineral resources and beatifull landscapes. What we haven´t been capable to do, was serious investment in education, basic infrastructures, and agriculture development. We lack qualified human resources due to the exodus of skilled people (brain drain), exclusion, insecurity, poverty, unequality, assymethetric development between regions, lack of important infranstrucuture, and low complexity. 

“Complexity Map” is a very strong tool fundamental to understanding why I believe Angola is in the “Bridge over troubled waters” quadrant, a low-low profile between the current level of complexity and the complexity outlook index. First, because Angola, on one hand, produce products with low level of complexity and, on the other hand, the products are at the periphery in the product space diagram. 

As we learnt, countries grow by diversifying into new products of increasing complexity. Strategic new products aim to balance and in Angola we need to that. 

It is said that the first step to solve a problem is the identification of the problem itself. Once the problem is clearly identified and is well understood it will be easier to mobilize attention and engage people to solve it. When the information is clear, frank and appeals to the need for understanding and involvement of everyone, people interiorize as if it were something of their individual responsibility that, in turn, becomes collective, when generating a thought, it’s everyone’s belief. 

In Angola we need an action-learning oriented and iterative approach,to pursue a growth strategy. The progressive learning of the context, the environment, implementation of actions that best adapt, the acceptance and the impact created on people, and to make emerge the “why’s”, helping to define why certain situations cannot be resolved and bind constraints happen. 

Build an integrated strategy envolving different skills and knowledge; education in latus sensus meaning know, know why and know where to. 

Value the different knowledge and envolve the right actors from authorizers, motivaters, ideas people, problem solvers, connectores, implementers, etc. 

Covid-19, aggravated the situation, and “A new economic order requires an explicit quid pro quo between private firms and public authorities. To prosper, firms need a reliable and skilled workforce, good infrastructure, an ecosystem of suppliers and collaborators, easy access to technology, and a sound regime of contracts and property rights. Most of these are provided through public and collective action, which is the government’s side of the bargain”. 

III: How I will be using the knowledge of the LEG Course 

In my case by promoting the use of an integrated strategy, mesurable objectives, to improve management capacity, good governance, ethical principles, mastering of technological, accounting, financial and behavioural skills, I will be able to help the country to achieve economic diversification (meaning learning to do things we don’t currently know how to do), explore the adjacent possibility, analyze the related obstacles, improve of efficiency, and increase productivity. Not just think about profit, but productivity, as a win-win case. 

The fishbone diagram is a priceless tool to be used and even for my work. I am using it right now in a new strategy that we are designing due to this crisis. 

Angola´s population growth is at a rate of 3.2% per annum. Without economic growth the GDP and income per capita will continue to decline with severe consequences – i.e. no job creation, no distribution of wealth, or poverty alleviation. Instead, we’ll only continue to observe the worsening of the standard of living of the population. 

It is important to promote an integrated economic growth that would reduce the high level of unemployment. 

Being able to get employed is closely associated with solid levels of qualifications, skills, knowledge that individuals are developing throughout their lives. Thus, a serious and solid investment in people is imperative for Angola. 

That is why I would start by promoting an Inclusive Program – Retention and Return of angolans and other talents. Promote a CAMPAIGN – «ANGOLA NEEDS AND SUPPORTS THE RETURNING OF TALENT». Come to Angola, develop your career, contribute to the development of the country with a vast potential of wealth untapped. 

Identifying the principal areas of interest for the country, then develop a program to encourage the return of talent or investment in a career in Angola. 

My advise would be to: 

  1. Develop competent, integrated strategies for the implementation of policies and mechanisms capable of achieving objectives, translate into indicators of economic and human development, duly measurable, explicit and of public benefit; 
  2. Invest in people keen to learn, contribute and committed to the country’s development; 
  3. Invest in education, not thinking about quantity or years, but quality, training according to market needs, develop skills high qualified programmes; 
  4. Address the informality of the economy in Angola, that amounts to 40 % of GDP, as “a symptom”, that generates low possibility of tax collection, and creates insecurity, instability, economic disorganization for the people and the state; 
  5. Establish a follow-up and monitoring system that crosses the data, assessing whether, as people acquire more knowledge, they are able to acquire more letters and consequently obtain know-how, better jobs and thus, improving their salaries, reducing poverty; 
  6. Value and communicate with transparency 
  7. Develop policies, manage, and take decisions based on public interest; 

In my understanding strong leadership requires doing things you care about, people you care about, but envolving multiagents, inteligent, competent people with a solid reputation, that gives legitimacy to change the course of history, and people will believe in the sense of togetherness and belonging to construct a different and a better country. 

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

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