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Addressing unemployment in Panama

5 mins read

Guest blog written by Julio Spiegel

IPP through PDIA showed us a process to avoid the very frequent situation where good people with good intensions and good ideas fail in the implementation of the Policy.

After taking Leading Economic Growth, I received an email suggesting I take IPP to complement my learnings, and in my reflections, I felt an open-ended feeling when I finished Leading Economic Growth but was not sure what it was. So, I joined IPP last minute to search for that answer and the great news is that I feel I found it. How many times do we see bright people, seeming to work effectively as a team, all having good intensions and great ideas but end up failing?


Something that was reinforced was the realization that we are in front of something that is COMPLEX and not complicated, that the uncertain nature and the multidimensional organization required with conflicting interest and fighting for scarce resources is not an easy task to manage. It was through the different modules that I felt like Neo in the movie “The Matrix” and that there was that second where everything made sense to him “Neo… There is no spoon”.


We see leaders brag about what a great team they have and let’s assume they do, and what great ideas they have and let’s assume they do. Also let’s assume everyone in the team has great intentions, superb background experiences, and an altruistic sense of achievement. They will fail if they don’t realize that even though all those attributes are needed or will help, the fundamental realization that even with all of that, success is not guaranteed is the MOST important learning for me.


Once I realized the above, coming from an optimistic character and an Engineer mentality where every page in my life started with the word “problem” and ended with the word “solution”, even though it has been in front of me the whole time, I got so used to jumping into finding a solution, and it took me a while to realize that not all problems are meant to be solved, not all problems are problems, and not all problems are meant to be solved by me. What I learnt here is that on top of that, it is the most important job, to aspire to have success, to define the problem correctly. Spending all the time required to define the problem sounded like a waste of time but the opposite holds.


I want to share that back in 2009 I decided to do an Ironman triathlon coming from not doing anything even close to that. However, I started reading to prepare myself and I stumbled into a book that not only guided you on training, but also on anatomy, biology and logging your trainings. Whatever I did on week 4 was so irrelevant to achieving the goal but by logging it and seeing that it was more or faster or better than the previous week, a sense of progress was created. I finish my Ironman in my planned time (no champion but a finisher), and after that I took the discipline to log my weekly activities, progress and reflections or learnings. Through that process I also met other people more knowledgeable than me from whom I learnt and also introduced me to other people that helped me.

However on an Ironman the goal is clear, the time is set and uncertainty is low so it is a complicated endeavor, Implementing Public Policies is a complete different thing, very complex with a lot of political agendas and no clear path or authority. So in the past few months I have learned so much but also have made so many new connections and relationships that I am finally starting to feel comfortable in this pound. I relate this experience with PDIA since it is through the iteration, leveraging a non-formal network, focus on slow incremental progress giving you a sense of progress, I can for sure see myself adopting PDIA not only for my project now but for the future.


During Leading Economic Growth, I wanted to embrace my growth opportunity in the context of the pandemic and then it evolved into my challenge, Good Job Creation while addressing inequality and decreasing government dependency. When I chose this we didn’t know how social unrest or vaccination would evolve. Today we are back to almost normal with 80% already vaccinated and the number one priority of the country is the creation of lost jobs, so I am so glad I chose this but also reflect on what should we thinking today that will be relevant a year or two from now.


It took me a while to really understand the process and value of the Fishbone, but I have caught myself already using it in another context. However, I would like to share my Fishbone leading to some reflections:


My main reflection on this was understanding the balance between Authority, Acceptance and Ability and how this can help us find the entry point to start solving the problem and minimizing our risk of failure, while creating a sense of progress and that solving the problem is possible. Also the journey to convince and motivate those with the right authority to accept the problem exists, is relevant, needs to be solved, and can be solved. The Fishbone has become a great talking point in my day-to-day life. Just recently we were discussing helping as a telecommunication company the government of Jamaica and just putting the problem in this format helped the team move away from the solution and focus on understanding the problem. Our approach and strategy changed completely, and progress has been made in the right direction. And when you see the attached fishbone it will be clear why we decided to focus on the small and medium business sector that employs 70% of the total pre-pandemic workforce but had to totally re-invent itself as a sector since the strict lockdowns let to people at home finding ways to self-provide the services this sector served. Also it was clear there were too many companies doing the same services and also not being able to pay the same salaries as before the pandemic. But with the funds available, digitalization of services and new services needed in order to be able to embrace a hybrid (virtual/physical) work environment a re-ignition of this sector would create most of the jobs needed and the dependency on government subsidies will start quicker.

One thing I am proud of and for sure would not have been possible without this LEG and IPP learning process is that I was appointed to a tiger team that meets the President on a weekly basis, giving me the capacity to influence but also learn things that are happening that I would have never had access to. I will keep using what I have learnt but also share it with the multidimensional team I interact in order to improve my capacity to implement and impact.


My final reflection is that almost always what you think (picture in your mind) about a situation is just a portion or what others want you to believe and unless you don’t get to the understanding of what is really happening and where the true interests of all stakeholders are, your capacity to solve the problem is very low. On the other hand, more important than “knowing” (trying to be an expert) is to “know who knows” and having a network that you can use where expertise is deep and diverse. This will increase your capacity to have the best judgment when you hit an uncertainty pound.

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 6-month online learning course in December 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

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