Building the foundation for economic growth in Burkina Faso

Guest blog by Gillesamadou Ouedraogo

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.

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.

A saying that paints well what I’ve gleaned from this insightful journey. This class has helped me come to the realization that growth stems from a meticulous, intentional, minute, and coordinated ensemble of efforts deployed to a very specifically determined end, it will never occur accidentally. If planned growth efforts often fail it’s because it is a process, iterative in nature, that is disruption averse and responds well to consistent application of policy translated into action. It requires a concerted coordination of efforts from government, civil society, private sector, investors, banks, industries, and a slew of different stakeholders, to grow the pie. But one must know the recipe. And depending on where you are, the ingredients, and ultimately, the flavor might be different. That is why it important to ensure a future for tomorrow. Alas, the future in my society is a very volatile and neglected concept. The future has never been a priority for us, as the now has always been enough of an enigma that we live for today and hope for tomorrow. But slowly, we are getting into a mindset where we understand that planning for tomorrow has its advantages. That is why it is crucial for us to invest in our children being left with more than what we found when we came into this world. Otherwise, we risk leaving nothing to our descendants in the next generations.

I enjoyed every bit of this course, and I believe I will take these lessons with me. I was shocked to learn the details of Burkina Faso’s dangerously unbalanced trade balance, which disproportionately relies on the exportation of gold (over 75% in 2018) and cotton. Both raw materials that could be useful in different ways.

However, understanding value added and comparative advantage is important.

I will be using what I learned in this course to enrich my perspectives in my profession. During this online course, I’ve had the privilege of switching employers, which in the end, is a double-edged sword. I will have only explored so much in each, rather than delving to the deepest possible depths of each thematic sector (humanitarian relief vs environmental action).

In terms of my next question, it is thematically focused on the environment and how we can leverage green infrastructure and technology to foster growth in an area through job creation. I really believe in humanity needing to change its ways in terms of energy consumption and in terms of our relationship with nature. It has become obvious from the past decades and for the better part of the last century that our lifestyles are unsustainable and unscalable. If everyone in the world consumed energy like the average American household, we would be out of a planet by the year 2100 if not sooner…

Yet, for countries like Burkina Faso that contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, we are sure bearing the brunt of its consequences. Over 30% of our arable land has been eroded during the past century due to the Sahara Desert dangerously advancing. Human practices and animal rearing don’t help the situation either, but this is a wake up call for us.

A Greek proverb I love says: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I am not old, but I am ready to plant trees, whether I sit in their shade or not, my society shall grow great.

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

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