Addressing economic growth in the Middle East

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Guest blog by Anton Osin

The course has been a journey, and it has exceeded my expectations as it provided me with deeper understanding of several economic concepts and gave me exposure to HKS faculty and peers students from across the globe. The intensity of this course and the volume of information gradually transformed into quality and deeper understand of economic concepts and case studies.

First and foremost, I am exposed to economic growth problems in the Middle East in my daily work, therefore I was able to utilize all the knowledge straight away, i.e., it was not an abstraction to me. The course focused my attention on several concepts which I was, of course, aware of before but was hardly able to understand to this extent.

Firstly, the course starts with the discussion of leadership styles affecting the growth journey – SLDC and PDIA. Although familiar, shaping these two distinctly different styles and their effect on the economic development of certain jurisdictions is truly revealing. Although the course introduces these concepts in the Week 1, I kept connecting the dots and adding new things to these two throughout the whole course. The final lecture which explained inclusion based on the Singapore example, was the final logical full stop.

Secondly, the course introduced and explained several concepts related to countries income disparities, causes for volatility, inequality and income disparately using multiple examples, including but not limited to Nogales and Mexican states where economic inequality is distinct despite either historic similarities of governance by the same institutions. The parallels made to the book ‘Why Nations Fail’ have been useful and important as I had read the book before.

Then, I found the concept of ‘adjacent possible’ and the business and mathematical logic behind the Atlas of Economic Complexity and Metroverse revealing and refreshing. (Overall, one of the key takeaways for me is the work conducted by CID and specifically the Growth Lab). I spent a significant amount of time thinking through the concept of ‘adjacent possible’ for my projects in Saudi and related concepts based on concrete examples from the Friday sessions. I realized the country should prioritize transfer of know-how via transfer of technology, migration of specialists or any other means possible. And sectors develop most successfully if they are based on something existing and related to other sectors, rather that pure ambition (from Albania: leather production may translate into leather car seats manufacturing; from Sri Lanka: textiles industry may trigger clothes manufacturing; however, Costa Rican example reveals that miracles may also happen, and sometime SDLC-type top-down approach and leadership support may give rise to the successful programs such as Intel factory set up without any previous ‘adjacent possible’).

The related concept of scrabble – letters and words has become a useful analogy I started using in my daily communication at work. However, I must admit this is one of the few analogies Ricardo has used that sticks, as far as I am concerned. I find some a lot less intuitive (and especially so Ricardo’s music analogies 🙂 )

Starting Week 4 I had a good refresher about ‘high bandwidth’ policy making and organizations. This concept is very close to my heart as I learned from running large programs that it is key to understand and manage your stakeholder environment, and to stick to the Authorization, Acceptance and Ability triumvirate to pull things thru in a difficult environment with multiple competing interests. Enabling organizations to become ‘high bandwidth’ is very applicable to my Russian and Middle Eastern experience due to the nature of projects and decision-makers involved. Therefore, I found it very useful to enhance my toolkit in this respect too.

The techniques this course provided with regards to deconstructing the problem and getting the diagnosis right have been useful. I started using the ‘5 Why’ technique from the start. I wish I learned it 6 months before – it would help me avoid a failure at one of my recent projects where a client realized in the middle of the journey that what we were doing was not exactly what they wanted, and we got badly stuck. If I used the ‘5 Why’ from the started, this situation could have been avoided! But I am an optimist in such matters and am happy now that I learned this and will keep using this knowledge in the future.

Finally, the course helped me re-look at the idea of inclusion from a pure economic perspective. For years we tend to look at inclusion from race, gender sexual orientation perspective. It goes without saying that that such diversity must be in place – it makes teams more creative, helps Boards make better decisions, improves the atmosphere and the tone in most organizations. However, I have also started looking at diversity from viewpoints of ‘access to the pie’, i.e., some regions and countries may be disadvantaged as they don’t have means/ skills or know-how to access the economic pie and grow it. The issue of inequality is essentially at the grassroots of the matter and should be closely looked at/ resolved.

Over the 10 weeks I have undoubtedly enriched myself via interaction with the faculty and the study group/ peers. The study group, ‘Coffee Lovers’, I was part of was very diverse. We had people from the US, Africa, and the Middle East. Despite living and working in different parts of the world, we were on the same page in terms of understanding each other’s challenges and offered relevant solutions to each other. I also realized the challenges in Saudi and Nigeria with regards to youth unemployment, may sound quite similar. However, the actual solutions differ massively – the measures Nigeria will deploy will likely differ from those Saudi will. This demonstrated additional trickiness and complexity behind applying ‘best practice’ approach that is so much favored in the world of consulting but may be dangerous due to the intrinsic oversimplification. I will continue processing and synthesizing some of the lectures to ensure I get to the depth of it. I will also continue using the Atlas of Economic as one of the tools in my work.

Going forward, I would like to understand the economic/ mathematical side of the concepts we discussed in the course a bit deeper. I would specifically like to understand the economic multipliers of each sector, e.g., how many jobs will be created by development travel & tourism sector vs construction sector. Another topic of interest is the role of Government in incentivizing economic growth, understanding what works for large infrastructure projects and what does not, what are the good market practices and case studies deep-diving into the state-private investors relationship with regards to FDIs attraction. I will continue fathoming these concepts and applying them to practice.

I am deeply impressed by the course. I have not been a student for a while, and the course revealed how much I can give and gain from the interaction with faculty and peers. I have decided to apply for Mid-career program at HKS for the Class of ‘22/23 and have recently submitted my application. I keep my fingers crossed this will be a success. Then I will be able to dedicate myself to economic development a lot more!

On a separate note, I would like to thank you for the useful advice and hard work reading and assessing all the essays over the past weeks – wish you all great success and hope to stay in touch!

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.

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