The Brilliant Citizen and the Economist: Learnings from Leading Economic Growth

Guest blog by Esther Adegunle

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 61 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in December 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Brilliant Citizen: My dear Economist, I have not seen you in a very long time. What is going on?

Economist: I had a baby about 3 months ago. Also, I was engaged in a program at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Brilliant Citizen: Wow, congratulations to you and the family. You mean you were attending a training after giving birth?

Economist: Thank you. It was quite an intensive one. I am thankful for my support system, they made it possible for me to attend. Also, the training was online, so I did not need to travel.

Brilliant Citizen: Oh, that is good. Did you say Harvard, the one and only Harvard?

Economist: It was facilitated by Harvard Kennedy School. It was a 10-week course on Leading Economic Growth.

Brilliant Citizen: My Economist, I am so proud of you. When I grow up, I want to be like you (grinning). Please come and use your international knowledge to solve Nigeria’s numerous problems. You know a lot has happened since the last time we spoke.

Economist: Certainly, the program was very insightful. I am happy to share some of the learnings from the course. So, tell me what has happened since we spoke last?

Brilliant Citizen: A lot has happened. First, that concept you taught me about economic growth. Hmm, yes, GDP. It seems to be growing but we are not seeing it. Only the number is increasing according to the reports. Yet, unemployment remains high, debt is rising, and prices of goods and services are skyrocketing, especially food. Lastly, there are discussions about removal of subsidy, that one will cause more problems. Now I am considering relocating…

Economist: Calm down, do you know it is not only Nigeria that is facing economic challenges this period? Many countries are grabbling inflation and other economic problems. Many of the challenges are because of the pandemic.

Brilliant Citizen: Let us not continue to blame our problems on the pandemic. You know our own problems are peculiar and multifaceted. No other country has faced the challenges we are facing. Well, I do not know of any that has it worse except those in war situations.

Economist: That is not true, there are many others but let us not mention countries, let’s focus on ours. Which of these problems should we discuss today?

Brilliant Citizen: Let us start with unemployment. Specifically, youth unemployment. Many youths are graduating and cannot find a decent job. They have searched and searched and are tired. For some, this has led them to criminal activities, drug abuse, and others, depression. What is the way forward?

Economist: Indeed, youth unemployment is a big issue. In Nigeria, it is high reaching 42.5% and underemployment at 21%. Also, with 44% accounting for the country’s population between 0-14 years, youth unemployment is expected to increase if strategic actions are not taken. Interestingly, youth unemployment was the economic problem I worked on in the program.

Brilliant Citizen: So, you have all the solutions to our unemployment problem. Harvard is good!

Economist: Calm down, the course was not about sharing generic solutions. It was more focused on the methodologies for assessing complex economic challenges and approaches for generating strategies towards its resolution.

Brilliant Citizen: That sounds interesting. It will be good to understand Nigeria’s unemployment problem more…

Economist: In problem diagnosis, one of the methods is the fishbone analysis. Here, we use a fishbone diagram as a tool to outline the various causes of the problem. You continuously ask why a problem exists until you identify the roots. Have a look at what I did for high youth unemployment.

Brilliant Citizen: (looks at the fishbone analysis for a while) This is very robust. How did you develop it? How does this work?

Economist: This can be more detailed. Typically, it should be developed by bringing in stakeholders to contribute based on their understanding of the problem. I developed this and continue to improve on it. I am happy for you to add more things to the analysis.

Brilliant Citizen: I like it and can think through more things to add later. For now, let us work with this. So, what happens next? After you have this breakdown, what do you do next? Do you begin to tackle the mini-causes one after the other? Who do you get to lead on it? How do you ensure progress is made? How do you measure results?

Economist: You have so many questions. I like how you are thinking. Indeed, the fishbone analysis is only a starting point. The idea is to get people/teams to work on different areas of the fishbone. Each team should meet regularly and agree on tangible actions within a timeline. The goal is to continuously make progress no matter how small. You measure your results based on what was agreed. It is also important to define what success will look like from the beginning. This guides the teams as they continue to make progress.

Brilliant Citizen: That is interesting…However, I see some things cannot be achieved immediately. Also, some need to be further broken down. For example, high illiteracy, that has many components.

Economist: You are very correct. Some things will take longer to solve than others. What you may want the team to do is identify the binding constraint.

Brilliant Citizen: What is binding constraint? I have not heard of that.

Economist: It is a factor that impacts the big problem directly and will cause positive changes immediately once it is worked on. Many times, you need to test the binding constraint. Do you want to give it a try?

Brilliant Citizen: (reviews the fishbone analysis again) Hmm, I think the insecurity. If insecurity is sorted in Nigeria, it will attract investment and improve the business environment in many places. It is a factor that impacts high unemployment as in some States, people have stopped going to work out of threats and fear.

Economist: You could be correct. So, you want to ensure there is a team working on the security matter toward reducing high youth unemployment.

Brilliant Citizen: Ok, I see the link now. It seems practical and workable. Let us keep discussing…So, for solutions won’t we learn from other countries that have faced similar problems. You know what is called best practices.

Economist: Certainly, it is essential to learn from other countries. But guess what? Sometimes the potential solutions may be in another region or state in the same country. There are so many things to share from the program, but I need to go now. Let us continue this conversation when we next see each other.

Brilliant Citizen: I have enjoyed our discussion today. I will see you soon so we can continue this chat. I am enjoying your Harvard knowledge. Bye for now and please take care of your baby. I will bring a gift for baby soon.

To find out more about the Leading Economic Growth program visit: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/educational-programs/executive-education/leading-economic-growth

One thought on “The Brilliant Citizen and the Economist: Learnings from Leading Economic Growth”

  1. This is really nice. I was able to learn new concept and also enjoy the conversation, really impactful. Great job

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