Promoting design for global business in Brazil

Guest blog by Isabel Tarrisse da Fontoura

“The flow of life envelopes everything. That’s life: it heats up and cools down, it tightens and then loosens up, it becomes calm and then unrests. What it wants from us is courage”.

João Guimaraes Rosa

1. An act of courage

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) program Implementing Public Policy (IPP) is an act of courage. It is so from the day you decide to commit to six months of action learning in the middle of a global pandemic to, today, as we end this journey with 142 peers from 47 countries and the HKS team, and we’re moving ahead working on pressing challenges we care too much about to let go.

The good part is that every ending is a new beginning.

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Low local supply in global value chains in Chihuahua, MX

Guest blog by Torres Luis Oliver

Being part of this course was not only an academic experience, it was also a professional experience of great impact for the development of my skills as a professional in territorial development.

In this sense, having spent ten weeks learning new methodologies and mechanisms to measure economic development and growth as well as the identification of problems in the territory, allowed me to develop capacities and skills to apply them in my work responsibility.

It was not only the knowledge that I was able to acquire through the conferences, papers and recommendations made by the teachers, but also the knowledge and experiences that other peers do in their cities and countries, this experience of collaboration with other students of the course. It has been fundamental to generate contacts around the world.

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Promoting agricultural sector products to diversify the economy in Mongolia

Guest blog by Batjargal Khandjav

The Leading Economic Growth Program has been an absolutely inspiring intellectual journey for me during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It was a unique opportunity to reflect on key principles of economic growth while using toolset to better understand the unfolding of policy choices and drivers of economic growth for my own country. The breadth of the information and cases from around the world brought by the course and participants helped me to confront ideas and challenge existing ones. The weekly assignments that relied on information obtained during the weeks are very engaging and the comments provided by the grader helped me to stay focused and better adapt ideas and principles taught during the course, in a concrete circumstance of my country.

Each of the modules of the LEG Program offered ideas and learnings that gave new and interesting perspectives and helped me to assess the main problems and obstacles for the economic development of Mongolia, look for the roots of these problems, analyze possible solutions to these barriers.

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How PDIA helped me build Nigeria’s poverty alleviation plan

Guest blog by Tayo Aduloju

The HKS Implementing Public Policy Executive Program appealed to me because I was looking for an alternative to planning and control styled approaches which I had learnt, known and practised for most of my career and considering the challenging problems I faced daily at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, I needed a capacity upgrade. The IPP has been a significant deviation from many the other Executive Programs at the HKS I have attended: it underpinned learning by doing; its iterative and group learning dynamics was useful in debating broad-based, cross-multidisciplinary applications and experiences that were very useful in exploring how I applied session insights to real-time problems. My most profound learnings were in the areas of understanding complexity and the importance of construction and deconstruction process. The Fishbone Diagram took on a whole new meaning!

My Implementation Challenge was to design, develop and gain consensus on National Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Plan. My problem was to tackle the complex challenge of lifting 100 Million multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians out of extreme poverty in a decade. My Core Team was a Federal Government inaugurated Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Technical Working Group.

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Leading Economic Growth in Kazakhstan

Guest blog written by Baur Bektemirov

There is an old cliché that crisis is an opportunity. In my case, the Great Lockdown has certainly become an opportunity to learn and even re-think my work as the Chief Economist for a government organization, which just recently was tasked with an expanded role to help the government to attract more investment and contribute to the economic growth.

The Leading Economic Growth program has helped me to assess, once again, the main problems and obstacles for the economic development of Kazakhstan, look for the real roots of these problems (the binding constraints), analyze possible solutions to these barriers, and even formulate a draft for solving some of them.

It does not, however, gives you a ready recipe to address current problems, instead, the program teaches and provides methodology: how to assess the problem, look for solutions, take a problem-driven iterative approach, build authority, ability, and acceptance to solve the problem in the existing political circumstances.

For example, Kazakhstan is showing all the symptoms of classical Dutch decease problem. The pro-growth policies adopted in late ‘90s—early 2000s, have led to rapid growth of the GDP at the expense of economic diversity (economic complexity). This has led to all the standard problems: strengthening of the national currency, growth of mining and non-tradable sectors of the economy with little productivity growth at the expense of other tradable goods and services. As the result, the economic growth has been stagnating for about 6-7 years now, while investment into economy has contracted, mostly due to the stagnation of banking lending.

The current pandemic does not help solving this problem either. But now, in addition to the short-term economic stimulus, central authorities must decide on economic policies, which will ensure long-term sustainable development. It is imperative to review the current model based on old pro-growth policies, which do not yield the same results as they used to 10—15 years ago.

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Developing a Strategy for the Border Region between Australia and PNG

Guest blog written by Geoff King

Having worked as a development professional for the better part of two decades, I was hoping Leading Economic Development would deliver a few additional tools I could add to my well worn tool belt. However, in several fundamental ways it has led to the evolution of my thinking and changed my practice.  

Growth diagnostics informed by complexity analysis, have changed the way I view the challenge of economic development.  The method, presented using accessible analogies, are powerful analytical tools that can help identify points of entry for further diagnosis/analysis informing economic development strategy.  I will never think of monkeys in trees the same!  

I was broadly familiar with PDIA thinking. However, applying the approach to a case I am currently working on brought the theory to life. From my experience, project/ program documents have become littered with claims of adaptation, iteration and learning as you go, but the rhetoric rarely translates into reality. 

PDIA uses an accessible conceptual vocabulary to provide a systemic, yet flexible, approach to complex (often meta) problems supported by practical tools and processes. While individual case studies demonstrate its success, a meta-study demonstrating its efficacy in a larger population of cases would help in gaining the support of skeptical decision makers questioning case selection bias (picking winners).

Working for the Australian Government in PNG, I lead a team that in week two of the course was tasked with developing a development strategy for the border region between Australia’s Torres Strait and PNG’s South Fly district of PNG. 

At its closest point, PNG and Australia are only four km of open water apart. Australia’s per capita GNP is 21 times that of PNG. One of if not the largest disparity in the world for any two countries sharing a border.  The gross regional product of the Far North Queensland region, comprised of 260,000 people, is one third of the GDP of PNG, with a population exceeding 8 million.  Life expectancy in South Fly is estimated to be around 60 years and maternal and child mortality is extremely high. In comparison, Australia ranks sixth on the global Human Development Index league table.

The region is ethnically and linguistically diverse, but has english as the lingua franca spoken by the vast majority of residents and taught in schools. This common language, to a degree, shapes a regional identity.  

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Learning to Lead Economic Growth during COVID-19

Guest blog written by Yakama Jones

My country suffered from the Ebola crisis six years ago, experienced negative growth rates and is yet to attain pre-Ebola growth rates. It is in the midst of the recovery process that the current Corona pandemic has struck. There is a general scale down in economic activities, rise in employment, and risks of food insecurity in vulnerable households. This is coupled with existing challenges in human capital development and infrastructure. The introduction of movement and social distancing restrictions in a bid to ‘flattening the curve’ has exacerbated already existing multi-dimensional poverty and social protection issues. Despite some financial support from International Finance Institutions, and donations from the private sector, the economic impact of COVID-19 on our import-driven economy, which we have spent the last couple of years struggling to diversify, would be long-lasting.

Yes, there is a lot of data, albeit high-level projections of the economic impact of COVID-19. The forecasts produced with technical support from the IMF, saw original GDP growth projections for 2020 being revised downwards from 4.2% to -2.2%; Balance of payments worsening from $30.2 million to -$301.3 million; and domestic revenue falling by about 15%. Resources are being diverted towards the health response and the Quick Action Economic Response Programme. 

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the implementation of the country’s Medium-Term National Development Plan has slowed down. There is a need to re-evaluate current progress and re-strategise our approach to growth and development to help catch up and accelerate growth, especially for the delivery of His Excellency the President’s Human Capital Development Priority Portfolio. It is within this context and aim to contribute to Post-COVID growth that I enrolled on the Leading Economic Growth Course.

One of the first things I learnt from this course is that the challenge of addressing economic growth and making sure it leads to development is not a complicated but complex problem. Like every country, mine comes with its history, experience, governance styles, natural resource endowments, institutions and humans. As humans, we are already complex beings. Bringing all our knowledge, skills, technology, and other production capabilities together are also complex. The interconnections across the ecosystem are numerous, and so are the possible outcomes. Country experiences and positions are continually evolving. Sometimes it is just not easy to determine what would ‘make the monkeys jump’.

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4 Ways to Rethink Economic Growth During COVID-19

Guest blog written by Manuela Fulga

The pandemic threatens to erase years of progress made by developing and emerging economies towards sustainable development. The World Bank estimates that between 71 and 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, increasing the global extreme poverty rate for the first time in more than 40 years.

This realization convinced me to apply to the “Leading Economic Growth” course at Harvard Kennedy School. My objective was to explore and learn practical strategies that countries can adopt in the current context, particularly with limited resources and tight fiscal spaces, in order to protect their population without forgetting the important investments necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The 10-week online course allowed me to take the key concepts from the lectures and readings and apply them to a specific country, developing a plan for the recovery. It truly felt like a journey, and more specifically like a climbing expedition: professors Hausmann and Andrews were the expert guides, leading the way and setting the trail for us; the video lectures and readings were the manuals we read before starting to climb; the weekly assignments – deep-dives to help us develop our own country strategy – represented key milestones, or the most difficult trails where we had to reflect on the learnings and apply them to our strategy; the feedback of the teaching assistants was our anchor and rope, setting us on the right path to success.

This course opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about economic growth and particularly to innovative approaches that can support governments in identifying game-changing policies. These are the four key takeaways that have forever changed my view on development and economics, and that have the potential to help countries build back better from COVID-19 towards a more resilient future.

Focusing on problems rather than solutions

The dominant theory of change in development is that great governments emerge when a savvy leader takes the opportunity of a crisis to implement the right policies and holds power long enough to drive implementation. In reality, the story is far from simple: it is not about one solution applicable for all, forced down the system by a powerful individual. Development is a complex matter, where many social and economic factors are correlated and interact with each other, causing at times unexpected consequences, and requiring multiple iterations to achieve true impact.

This is why “problem-driven iterative adaptation” (PDIA) is a more hopeful concept than “solution- and leader-driven change” (SLDC): countries do not have to wait for a brilliant leader to change their faith, but can adopt a new approach by engaging distributed groups of agents in a gradual and iterative search for the best policy to drive economic growth. PDIA materializes when governmental agents interact and exchange information in new ways, yielding locally determined responses to economic challenges by constructing and deconstructing bottlenecks preventing growth. This enables governments to transform tangled and complex problems into manageable issues, by revealing the root causes and addressing them step by step, identifying quick wins.

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A Problem-driven Approach to Complexity, Public Policy and Economic Growth

Guest blog written by  Claudio Roberto Amitrano 

What is development? How is it driven? How can we get there? Who is it for? What do countries have in common? What are their specific problems? How do we identify them? How do we find solutions? Who will lead, authorize, design and implement them? Who are ‘We’ and how do we build the ‘Sense of us’? What can we learn from the policymaking process, working in multi-agent teams and doing things together? 

These issues come to my mind when I think about the Leading Economic Growth (LEG) course from Harvard Kennedy School. However, those questions were presented not to show an absolute answer, but to teach us a way of thinking about them, a method to identify the important problems for our societies and to empower us to find and implement solutions that fix them. 

Despite not providing definitive answers, the course touched upon some clues. Firstly, it seems that economic development is related to technology, which can be divided in three parts: 1) embodied knowledge (machines); 2) codified knowledge (books and manuals); 3) tacit knowledge (knowhow in people’s brains). While the first two are relatively easy to diffuse and absorb, the latest is not. 

The way countries use technology to foster development is strongly related to complexity. The more diverse and less ubiquitous the set of goods and services a country produce and trade, the more complex and developed its economy is. In turn, diversity and ubiquity are conditioned by the amount of different knowhow a country can absorb and amass. Although each individual might know less, the society, as whole, knows more. The image of the scrabble game is quite interesting to exemplify this idea. A word to be written needs letters. The more letters one have, the more different and complex words one can write. 

In this sense, growth is associated with the country’s ability to ‘jump’ to nearby activities, whose knowhow is similar to the ones already developed. On the other hand, it might be related to its ability to ‘jump’ to faraway activities, whose knowhow is quite different from the ones already learnt, but through strategic policies can be acquired. Notwithstanding, the ‘growth problem’ is not only connected to these issues. It also depends on the removal of the binding constraints that hinder progress and the policies countries develop to deal with them. It leads us to another way of thinking complexity. 

Complexity can also be seen as problems with multiple moving parts and interdependent players, in which relationships, their properties of self-organisation and interconnections defines their trajectories. From the standpoint of public policy, identifying and finding solutions to complex problems requires a Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation’ (PDIA) approach, instead of a ‘Solution-and Leader-Driven Change’ (SLDC), in which one can construct and deconstruct problems. From the perspective of economics, it requires a Growth Diagnostic approach, whose main objective is to find the binding constraint to economic growth. Based on the idea of  complementarity between inputs, as well as between institutions, this methodology is able to avoid or at least minimize the second-best interactions problem. 

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Jumping the Wall

Guest blog written by Mohamed Hejres

I applied for this course as I was seeking clarity on best practice and innovation that would support my organization. The issue that I had identified was the methods that the Bahrain government adopted towards addressing, designing, advocating and implementing public policy initiatives. I was seeking ways that my organization, the Bahrain Economic Development Board (BEDB), could be an effective part of the government process.

The Bahrain Economic Development Board became an advisory body (exclusive to the government), to support policy advocacy and policy implementation. This came after a major restructuring of the government. However, I found that our role could be more efficient.

I felt that we, BEDB, require adding value, as I saw a standard approach towards any policy. This is done through a single project manager, where he/she would request for a benchmarking activity with issue in hand. No innovation nor engagement processes, which is commonly used internationally.

I saw an opportunity in this course. Little did I know that this was going to be a life changing experience. I felt excited once I was accepted into the program. The excitement had no limit, but I was concerned about whether this course would really benefit my hunger to bring some more effective methods to how we, in Bahrain government, deal with policy development and/or policy change.

The method of which the course started had enabled me to start with enthusiasm, especially the course material and videos which we had before the start of the course in Boston.

Also, it will be unfair to limit learnings of this course to few. I would start with the main word that attracted me to this experience, “iterative adaptation”. I have been practicing policy development and change, where I had understood some part of the Iterative Adaptation; however, this has enabled me to have a clear path towards employing it and involving teams in such an approach. My colleagues in this course were amazing, they shared all their views and many success, and many times, failures as well. This was an amazing experience and learning curve for me. Continue reading Jumping the Wall