Kangaroo crosses rural road in Australia

Broadening the Sense of ‘Us’: Exploring LEG Principles in Western Australia

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Guest Blog by Pippa Hepburn, LEG ’22

When we started Leading Economic Growth (LEG) ten weeks ago, I was confused by the repeated assertions from Keisha and the teaching staff that they were ‘excited’. I figured, like any good laconic Australian, that they would surely tire of this pretence and I would eventually see the real people behind the energetic façade.  

Ten weeks later, I’ve stopped waiting for any masks to slip. Week after week, I have been privileged to learn from brilliant, passionate people who care about their work and the communities they work for. There is no sign that the LEG team is anything other than deeply committed to economic growth for the greater good of humanity.  

We are told that leadership is by example, and we should try to embody the principles we most admire. I have experienced the LEG team lead us by example to a better way of approaching our work and understanding our economic environment. They live it and they teach it – and it was obvious from the final course presentations that they have a profound effect on their students.

I was born outside Australia and raised here by rather un-Australian parents. No sports or meat pies were consumed in my household. My sense of the Australian ‘Us’ has been informed by years of careful study of my fellow citizens and I have retained a suspicion that I am not quite ‘one of Us’. However, while I completed LEG and talked with my beautiful team members Jorge, Mauro, Olivier, Sisay and Beto, I discovered just how Australian I am. I also realised that my thinking has become parochial and complacent. These realisations have opened my mind to many possibilities for personal growth and development. Far from being scared by this, I am encouraged to try harder and learn more.

In my application to LEG, I described my love for the small inland towns of the Great Southern region of Western Australia, and my concern regarding their ever-dwindling populations. I was focused on the lack of opportunities for these communities, and the vicious cycle of opportunity loss leading to emigration and further population decline.

Now that I have completed the course, I might express my concern that these small towns exist in a regional economy that is insufficiently complex, with only a few simple exports and poor access to the inputs that provide opportunities for growth. I might also risk offering the opinion that economic growth in Western Australia is not inclusive and there is insufficient State investment to improve access to these inputs in my region.

I might further suggest that, if the binding constraints such as water supply, power grid access and digital connectivity are relieved, and new industries are developed, the people in these small towns will need to ensure their own growth is inclusive. To have a truly prosperous region, we need to broaden the sense of ‘Us’ to embrace diversity and harness the knowhow that exists in the new, different, and marginalized sectors of our population. We need to stop importing people for labour and ignoring their talents and ambitions. We need to value Others and make them Us.  

However, this is only my opinion. Instead of telling people what I think, I want to gather a group of representatives from around the region and ask them to join me in seeking the truths behind our situation. I will try (and fail) to muster the eloquence and vitality of Matt Andrews when discussing the complex nature of our problem. I will introduce tools such as fishbone diagrams and growth diagnostics to analyse our problem. Our group members will be inspired to reach out to others and form their own groups, expanding the circles of connection and knowledge and seeking information from many people in a coordinated yet non-hierarchical manner.  

Drawing of Pippa holding a fishbone. Behind her two monkeys sit in a tree, next to another empty tree. Pippa says "And

We will document our progress and achievements on this journey because we will need to build and maintain legitimacy and authorisation for the work. My aim is for the work, and the lexicon, to become a common understanding in my agency, and the PDIA approach a business-as-usual activity (fitted between more tedious activities such as grant administration and hosting soirees for visiting dignitaries).  

On our journey, I will introduce some shorthand terminology, because I desperately need to discuss hippos in the desert with people around me (I have been seeing them everywhere!). I also need everyone to devour the juicy Atlas of Economic Complexity and comprehend the product space. It will help us to understand that distributing random extra letters into our economy isn’t going to propel us into a paradise of complex exports. Instead, we should strategically invest in a few new words using our existing letters and the considered introduction of new ones. I’m also going to enjoy challenging the (widely held) assumption that we must ‘value add’ to our raw materials. After all, we can go beyond wheat, sheep and wine. However, I won’t be able to explain any of this with the intellectual panache and charm of Ricardo.

I will seek to demonstrate, and inspire others to believe, that information must be sought at every opportunity. This may be from agencies, experts, industries, businesses, hippos… monkeys… well, you know what I mean. I also want to demonstrate that data must be gathered and analysed to critically assess our ideas. As part of this data gathering, we will work together to create and monitor key metrics for our success; these might include job creation in new industries, gross regional product growth outside the primary production sector, uptake of tertiary education and growth in populations of families with school-age children. Finally, once we have progressed and effected change, people will tell us they are excited to be moving their family into the region because of all the opportunities it presents to them.  

Yesterday, I found myself chatting on the phone with an aquaculture business and asking them about barriers to their development in the region, scribbling away at my notes as I muttered ‘oh that’s very interesting, mmm yes, very interesting…’. It started as a conversation about their supply of fish for an event I was organising and became a vital data point on my journey of discovery.

I appreciated the insight we were given into Ricardo’s journey of discovery when the Sense of Us was discussed. As always when I meet interesting people, my outstanding questions for the LEG team are more personal and philosophical – what makes us who we are? How did the Growth Lab and Building State Capability teams come to be? Are you all philanthropists? Is anyone ever not excited about their work? Do any of you sleep or is it a 24-hour cycle of wide-eyed enthusiasm?

I can’t wait to continue my own journey with my colleagues (at first), followed by representatives from industry, government and community, expanding further and further to people outside the region, the State and the country.

I will tell everyone, with absolute sincerity, that I am excited to be working with them. They might take a while to believe me – but we’ll get there.

Thank you Matt and Ricardo – Salimah, Keisha and Claudia – and of course, the International Growth Geeks – for leading me to a better way of viewing the world and working for my clients.

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 71 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2022. These are their learning journey stories.

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