Troubled Waters Under the Bridge: Time for Inclusive Growth in Equatorial Guinea

Guest blog by Cesar Augusto Mba Abogo

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Equatorial Guinea (EG) is a little known country. In fact, Wikipedia in its entry on the country warns not to confuse it with Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau. In the period between the month of April 2019 and the month of October 2020, I had the honor of serving as Minister of Finance, Economy and Planning in probably the darkest economic downturn the country has known since the mid-nineties of the twentieth century when it became a producer and exporter of hydrocarbons. At the end of 2019, the country was beginning to emerge from the recession into which it had fallen in mid-2014, we had closed a comprehensive agreement with the IMF that included the traditional macrofiscal stabilization component but also a commitment to strengthen fiscal governance, fight corruption, allocate greater resources to social sectors, stabilize the banking sector and boost diversification of sources of economic growth… and then the health and financial pandemic of COVID19 crashed down on Equatorial Guinea.

But before I go into detail about the most relevant learnings, in my humble opinion, of HKS´s Leading Economic Growth course and how it has changed my understanding of the challenge of inclusive growth facing my country, let’s talk a little about this my unknown country.

Continue reading Troubled Waters Under the Bridge: Time for Inclusive Growth in Equatorial Guinea

What Scrabble-playing Monkeys Have to Do with Contractors in Texas: Lessons from Leading Economic Growth

Guest blog by Maggie Jones

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Finding contractors in Texas right now is hard. Really hard. Finding contractors to work on a niche federally-funded home repair program with lots of red tape and paperwork is nearly impossible. Or so we thought. Fortunately for us, the many lessons from Leading Economic Growth over the last 10 weeks have been and will be put to work over the months and years (and then some) to come, not only for this particular challenge, but for future obstacles as well.

Society knows more, not because individuals know more, but because individuals know different.

What a relief! We do not have to know all the things! Want even better news? It is probably better that we don’t. This point resonates when thinking about the game of Scrabble. Imagine everyone on your team or in your community has the following letters: A, B, and C. There aren’t many words you can spell (or points you can get). But let’s say everyone on your team or in your community has different letters – perhaps 10, or 15, or more – then you can build longer words (and get more points). The same applies to productivity and ultimately economic growth.

Continue reading What Scrabble-playing Monkeys Have to Do with Contractors in Texas: Lessons from Leading Economic Growth

Addressing Economic Constraints in Libya

Guest blog by Saleh Abdallah

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 65 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Frankly, when I applied for Leading Economic Growth course, I had a different set of mind of what would this course be like at the end of 10 weeks. I have worked in bi-lateral and multi-lateral development institutions and as a consultant with the African Development Bank who has been implementing a ten-year Strategy to improve the quality of Africa’s inclusive growth, and the transition to green growth. I was not sure whether I would participate in this course as I was heavily engaged with heading an energy corporation that acquired many hours of work in addition to COVID-19 lockdown in the Fasting Month of Ramadan. But I am more than pleased that I did. What distinguished this course is the fact that it brought together leading experts in economic development with practitioners from around the globe to focus on practical approaches to shared growth and development led by Professor Ricardo Hausmann and Professor Matt Andrews who themselves were involved in the economic growth of some countries aided by strident TAs answering all questions, queries and offering clarifications if needed.

 I must say that very powerful new tools were learned that will help and allow me to better chart the road ahead, identify the obstacles to prosperity in my growth challenge and define actions that can lead to economic growth, one of such approach is to focus on expanding my country’s set of productive capabilities and expressing them in a more diverse and complex set of products and services (utilizing the product space in the Atlas Lab). It also calls for me to rethink economic strategies and build bandwidth organizations that are capable of unlocking new prosperities.

These exposures in this course aided me to write a more thorough document. Ideas such as “inclusive growth” enriched my understanding more when dealing with it on the national & subnational level. I have witnessed its incredible results when I was leading a bilateral development corporation in Sri Lanka for over eight years by creating family self employment for thousands of families where they were included in our business activities.

I thought it would be better summarizing what I have learned from this course into the following points: 

  1. PDIA is an effective tool for solving complex growth problems especially in rough areas where there is complexity as the PDIA method builds capacity within an organization, as well as political involvements.
  2.  Diagnosing the problem is vital:  We usually tend to think of a solution-oriented approach rather than the real diagnostic of the problem and we often believe we know what the problem is (i.e., misappropriation) and we proceed to challenge it without diagnosing the problem and get down to its root causes which must be addressed before the problem can be tackled.  
  3. The binding constraint is indefinable: Comprehending the biding constraints can be sometimes a challenge and as important like the growth problem itself. Our claim to pretend we know and figure out the binding constraints instantaneously is a wrong judgement, we must dig into facts, figures and talk to all involved to reach a sound judgement bearing in mind that we are not always welcome to address binding constraints due to numerous factors including political pressures, corruption, generation gap …etc. 
  1. Inclusive growth is the strong growth: Definitely, there is a great deal to learn about the “sense of us” as its narrative seems key to any growth story and hence it is fair to say that it stands for All of us and not leaving any one behind; we take a look at how we use GDP as a measurement for growth and job creation in the job market, but yet we don’t look at the lives of other people especially the halve-nots. Also, inclusive growth should lead to deep reductions in poverty and a correspondingly large increase in jobs. Unlocking a country’s great potential. It brings prosperity by expanding the economic base across the barriers of age, gender and geography, investing in infrastructure that unlocks the potential of the private sector, championing gender equality and community participation. It will also help improve skills for competitiveness, ensuring that those skills better match the opportunities and requirements of local job markets. To be inclusive is to be “PARTNERS NOT UNDERPRIVILEGED OR WAGE WORKERS”.
  2. Green growth:  We ought to ensure that inclusive growth is sustainable, by helping a country gradually transition to “green growth” that will protect livelihoods, improve water, energy and food security, promote the sustainable use of natural habitants.
  3. Strong leadership is not the whole story about growth:  While a visionary and strong leader is vital around which people to rally, he alone can not lead and execute the whole growth strategy as they neither have the skills nor the expertise. I believe that game-changing growth requires leadership from multiple agents which is very different from the heroic leadership many believes is a key to success in great policy involvements. Tyrant leadership does not allow people to take the lead, express their ideas freely, and develop as leaders. We must realize that Leadership is risky and a good way to manage risk is to share it (risk mitigation); so, having multiple agents in our leadership group makes it possible to ensure that our initiative survives job movements and other challenges that individual leaders have. 
  4.  The invisible power is tied behind our back: the invisible power of the market is not operating the way it is supposed to as it seems to have been purposely sidelined in the interests of the few mentioned above. There is some thing wrong in the functioning system as we see it from the unequal distribution of growth but rather heavily concentrated in the hands of the few who have given a little back to the system that helped them build their own wealth.
  5.  One country’s approach is suitable for all: is possibly the most adverse thought and idea we usually adopt. Believing so, makes us not realizing our growth potential and preserves the existing state of affairs. The only way to properly tackle our growth problems is through our untiring efforts to do things differently (i.e., Singaporean & Sri Lankan cases, Albania).   It is like what we have seen in the case of Chiapas in Mexico as a sub-national case where best practice in one Mexican dominion was not easily replicated in others. But they can be useful as a guide and a marker against which to judge our progress and outcomes. 
  6. Planting more trees makes it easier for monkeys to jump: Being from Libya with an area of 1.8 million sq km, most of which is desert, it is apparent we don’t have many trees that you may use its shade to protect your self from the burning sun! Hence, we ought to plant more trees for the monkeys to jump. Utilizing the product space, there are diverse array of potential exports especially by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and to attract investment agencies like the Privatization and Investment Board & the Foreign Export Agency. We ought to look at the other countries experience that built their capacity from the ashes and became one of the most prosperous leading economies of the world like Singapore.
  7.  Our world-wide economy is built on a feeble foundation: In my opinion that our worldwide economy is not built on solid but rather unsteady if not to say untidy foundations. This is clear from the economic system’s inability to resist the crises we face once in a while like what we have been going through during the COVID-19 current crisis. The gap of the Have & Have nots is growing as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few (half of the world’s net wealth belongs to the top 1%, top 10% of adults hold 85%, while the bottom 90% hold the remaining 15% of the world’s total wealth, top 30% of adults hold 97% of the total wealth (Distribution of wealth-Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org). Bearing in mind that the world population increase definitely affects economic growth as well as productivity giving the fact that the economic veracities can not accommodate more billions of people.

How would use what I have learned:

As we are recovering from the pandemic of COVID-19 and approaching the end of the Fasting month of Ramadan, I will be heading to Libya to start my real journey of utilizing the PDIA approach to address some of the country’s growth problems in the relative sector. Actually, I have already discussed some of the learned approaches including PDIA and the inclusive growth with the ministry of economics & the Privatization and Investment Board and arranged a meeting with them. We will discuss and try to develop a plan of action that involves many agents within the government as well as in the other levels of the three regions in the country.

One of the biggest challenges we will face is the political interest groups who are aligned with the militias where both have their own interest in the continuation of the current turmoil in Libya. This is another important component of any economic growth I wish the next course would touch on more: “Economic Growth in countries coming out of a turmoil”.

The world I understand and believe in is that the majority is controlled by the minority (the few) politically and economically! Giant corporations of the top developed countries are controlling most of Africa’s natural wealth but yet the poorest of the poor we find them in Africa (people who don’t even have a clean water to drink and they celebrate when we dig water-well for them!) and the hundreds of thousands of African youths trying to migrate to Europe to have a better with their natural resources that have been stolen from their own countries! I may pose the following question that the next course could cover:

As we have seen in my view the shaky foundations of the economic system and that in every crisis economists try to amend some of the flaws by recommending new or additional scenarios or even change some theories while the gap between the have & the have-nots continue to increase; Do you think the world may see another popular economic revolt to counter the current system? Similar to the Bolshevik one or different!  By they there is a saying that goes like this “when economists fail to solve a problem, they create new terminologies to keep us busy with” 😊

In conclusion, in spite of have been working in sovereign funds and development areas around the world, I truly found this course incredibly valuable, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and appealing. I enjoyed the weekly lectures and I actually enjoyed my weekly assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed my Tuesday meetings with Peer Group 3; actually, we have agreed to keep in touch outside of this course. If given the opportunity, I would definitely take another course like this one.  My sincere thanks to All the profs, the staff, the TAs, the organizers and coordinators as well. Special thanks to TA-Awab for your time in reading, making valuable comments and grading my weekly submissions. I wish you the best of luck in your current and future endeavours.  HAPPY EID!

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

Reflecting on the Growth of Agriculture in Albania

Guest blog written by Lorena Pullumbi

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

The Leading Economic Growth course has been an absolutely inspiring intellectual journey for me. Having taken place during unprecedented times and mostly under lockdown, it was a unique opportunity to truly reflect on key principles of economic growth while using that toolset to better understand the unfolding of policy choices and drivers of economic growth for my own country (as a policy professional working for the administration, you don’t always get that chance often). The world class academic excellence was a major driving force that triggered my intellectual curiosity and led me to deepen the involvement with course material and do further research, whereas the way the on-­‐line learning platform was designed made the course a delightful experience that I was looking forward to, every time I switched back from my day job.

Admittedly, coming from a background of political science and international relations, I had some initial self-­‐hesitation as to what level I would be able to absorb and internalize concepts from economic theory. Those doubts were slowly overshadowed by the exiting content that I read during the week and the engagement of faculty during live session discussions that made the course look highly practical and versatile to many situations around the developing world. Because of the breadth of information and cases from around the world brought by faculty and participants, it was easier to confront ideas and challenge existing ones. The design of weekly assignments in the form of a snowball (or rather straw rolls) that relied on information obtained during the weeks and build towards a final strategy to promote economic growth were a very engaging and demanding task that helped me to stay focused and better adapt abstract ideas and principles taught during in the course, in a concrete environment and circumstances of my country.

Continue reading Reflecting on the Growth of Agriculture in Albania

Can PDIA approaches help to enhance the development of Institutional Strategies in Multilateral Organizations

Guest blog written by Francisco Castro-y-Ortíz

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I work for a multilateral development organization—the Inter-American Development Bank—and am a citizen from a Latin-American Middle-Income Country (MIC). Because of this background, the main economic problem I am most concerned about relates to my own country—Mexico—and the Latin-American and Caribbean region (LAC) as a whole. It is about low average growth rates—for more than two decades already. Low growth matters in LAC because it increases the risks of regression, particularly to poverty and other human-development and sustainability metrics. Such an outcome may erase the hard-earned development gains of the last two decades. Furthermore, the problem of low growth is today being amplified significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic which, if not addressed, may have devastating economic consequences on both growth and sustainable human development.

The problem of low growth and its consequences lies at the heart of multilateral organizations’ Institutional Strategies (IS) working in the LAC region. Some of them will be considering updating them because of high-level managerial changes (tenure periods are expiring), or because of the adverse exogenous shock and economic consequences of the pandemic, or both. As I learned in the 2020 Leading Economic Growth course, following the steps of a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach may decisively help to enhance the formulation and update of the IS of multilateral organizations. 

For instance, let us begin with the first steps, constructing and deconstructing the problem to develop a clear problem narrative and “provoke reflection, mobilize attention and promote targeted and context-sensitive engagement”. In the case of LAC, the region has experienced low growth rates since the 1980s consistently. Despite being acknowledged as a “middle income region”, LAC has been stuck in that stage for decades. In addition, if the numerous exogenous and internal shocks that the region has experienced, are factored in, the low growth problem becomes critical because the region does not have enough fiscal space to confront the crises adequately. Consequently, living standards recede, per-capita income decreases, infrastructure and productivity get eroded. 

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Leading Economic Growth in Kazakhstan

Guest blog written by Baur Bektemirov

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

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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Learning to Crawl: Can a Health Financing Reform Unshackle Ukraine’s Growth Potential?

Guest blog written by Dzhygyr Yuriy

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Through past two decades, Ukraine has been steadily descending the Atlas economic complexity ranking list, going down from #30 in 2001 to #50 in 2016. At the lowest border of the second highest quintile, it is a relatively advanced economy and was assessed by Ricardo Hausmann’s international complexity simulations as having a significant potential to “move in all directions”. However, it currently remains invariably focused on agriculture and metals, exporting mainly to the immediate neighbors (Russian Federation and Poland), and has been gradually retreating from the more complex markets such as for vehicles, industrial machinery, optical and medical equipment. 

The 2013-2014 social, political and economic crisis – which inspired the Revolution of Dignity, a change of government and a reversal of the geopolitical orientation – has created a hope for a new development strategy. However, five years down the road, many of the post-Maidan reforms are losing traction, calling for an audit of what went wrong.

In the hindsight, the problems targeted by the post-Maidan policies strike as remarkably astute. Most of these policies tried to address the low quality of public services – one of the core issues which enraged taxpayers and illustrated the state’s failure in 2013. But these reforms were not only in popular demand; they also happened to intuitively react to strong price signals of an extreme growth constraints. 

The most striking example was the system of government-funded healthcare. By 2013, 92% of Ukrainians reported being terrified of catastrophic out-of-pocket costs if they get ill. Although the bulk of medical services in the country were tax-funded and provided by public facilities, de facto more than a half of costs were paid out of pocket through an entirely unregulated black market. Given the extreme information asymmetries, lack of competition and conflicts of interest, actual prices for healthcare in Ukraine have skyrocketed, exceeding the EU countries. Furthermore, while the state was failing to ensure quality control and continuous professional development of medical workers (reflected in the rapidly deteriorating health outcomes in the general population), selected categories of doctors were able to enjoy unusually high informal incomes despite the uncertain quality and safety of their services. The overpriced and unreliable healthcare was not only diverting private resources from productive investment, but also failed to provide the sense of economic security, social cohesion, and a robust state, ultimately depressing “animal spirit” throughout the society. This system of healthcare funding was also intrinsically obstructive to labor mobility within the country since access to services strictly dependent on the place of official residence. 

Continue reading Learning to Crawl: Can a Health Financing Reform Unshackle Ukraine’s Growth Potential?

Learning about Economic Growth in Angola

Guest blog written by  Noelma Viegas D’Abreu 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I: Key Ideas and Learning

LEG helped me demystify something very important: Economy is not only a science of accounting, finance, taxes and interest. Over the years, I was curious about economic theories and some approaches, reading and studying phenomena of leadership, change, growth, politics and development in some countries. I tried to find out why, as some countries did long jumps and others were or are stuck in the middle of their own problems and poverty, for years. 

Not to mention the fact that more inclusive, democratic , with best governance, ethics and better education systems, countries are in a better “shape”, with prosperous economies, than others. 

For this reason, I enrolled this course, with my country in mind and the great discrepancy between the wealth of natural resources and the poverty of the people, above all, poverty of primary goods, basic needs, essentials to life, and also lack of knowledge, education, and culture in the broadest sense. 

At the beginning of the course, I feared that the challenge would supplant my area of knowledge – clinical psychology and management – but I was positively surprised by the approach, because during the 10 weeks Professors showed me how economics is really a social science, valuing the right people, in the right places, complex relationships and the importance of connectivity between people, valuing knowledge as the essence for economic growth

In other words, this course, opened for me a world of opportunity to get different perspectives, learning deep insights, to know how and where to research and connect all “letters”, meaningful knowledge to make better decisions, identifying problems, knowing who should be envolved, framework, remove obstacles, implement programs and plans and make it all work. 

I learnt a broad range of theories, mainly the importance of “productive knowledge”, the analogy or Theory of Scrabble that articulates so well, the valuable understanding that production (both private and public goods) requires many “letters” provided by the markets (consonants) and also needs “letters” provided by the state (vowels), and to write “long letters”, e.g. how important it is to articulate and connect letters so we can evolve to develop economies, as presented by Professor Ricardo Hausmann. 

This makes clear how important is the interdisciplinarity approach, to understand problems and how can we find ways to remove biding constraints. 

I also understand now that some problems are complementary and not necessarily binding, and what we need to understand is how to use problems driven approaches, problem driven sequences and take into consideration authority, acceptance, and ability. 

II: My Progress and Insights

Professor Matt Andrews was very effective in helping me understand how important is Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) as an approach which rests on core principles: local solutions for local Problems (not copy paste of others; pushing problem Driven positive deviance (learn from what we have already achieved trying to get better); try, learn, Iterate, Adapt; and scale through diffusion. That is so usefull, not only for public management or decisions but also for private sector and even for some moments and important decisions in life. 

Continue reading Learning about Economic Growth in Angola

Top 10 Things I learned from Leading Economic Growth

Guest blog written by Robert Trewartha 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

 To be honest, I was “volun-told” into this course by the Mayor. I had joined her for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in 2019-20 and learned a great deal. This opportunity came along at a time when we were in the height of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in our City. I was not sure I wanted to take on school on top of my 60+ hour work weeks, but I am quite glad that I did. While I am not an economist by training, I found that I was able to keep up and even more, I learned great deal. 

As part of my role, I was asked to help author our City’s economic recovery framework – the foundational document of our recovery efforts for the next 2 years. Much of what I have learned in this course, the revelations, and the self-exploration helped me to write a more thorough, and I hope more effective document. Ideas such as “inclusive growth” were not ones we had explored deeply at the City level before. 

I am a political staffer and I like 10 point plans and lists. So, I thought I would organize what I have learned from this course into a Top 10 list. 

The Top 10 things I have learned from Leading Economic Growth: 

10. Our global economy is built on weak foundations: Our local, subnational, national, and global economies are built on shaky if not crumbling foundations. This has been laid bare during the COVID-19 crisis. Markets no longer match the economic realities of billions of people on this planet as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few. This negatively affects economic growth, productivity, and the health and well-being of the majority of us living on Earth. 

9. The invisible hand is tied behind our back: the invisible hand of the market is not functioning the way it is supposed to because it seems to have been purposefully sidelined in the interests of a few. Our capitalist marketplace is not functioning properly, because if it were, growth would be more equitably distributed and capital would not be so concentrated. Billionaires should not be tolerated in a capitalist system. There are many vowels in the alphabet that were used to create this wealth, but very little of it is given back to the system that helped build it in the first place. 

8. “This is the way we have always done it” is perhaps the most destructive sentence we can use. It holds us back from realizing our growth potential and maintains the status quo. Only through a concerted effort that aims to do things differently will we be able to properly tackle our growth problems (i.e. Sri Lankan or Singaporean examples). 

7. Defining the problem is critical: Too often we believe we know what the problem is (i.e. corruption) and we decide that we are going to tackle said problem. But too often we have not done the hard work needed to define the problem and get to the root causes, which must first be addressed before the problem can be properly addressed. 

6. The binding constraint is elusive: Like challenge of defining the growth problem, understanding what the binding constraint is can be equally as challenging, but just as important. Again, too often we think we know what the binding constraint based on what we can see before us, but until we fully delve into the data and talk to those involved, we will not know. And even if it is isolated, the binding constraint is not always easy to address, due to a myriad factors, including #8 on this list and political priorities. 

5. Use consultants sparingly: Consultants can be useful, but they can also throttle the development of institutional “muscle” and capacity that if developed properly, can far outlast the retainer of the consultant and can continue to produce change and results well into the future. I am intrigued by the PDIA method that builds capacity within an organization, as well as political buy-in. 

4. Best practices are not always best: A cookie cutter approach to growth and economic development does not always produce the best results. While a best practice may work in one jurisdiction, it is not always easily replicated in others. Like consultants, it is best to be wary of best practices as a panacea. They can be useful as a guide and a marker against which to judge your progress and results. 

3. Planting more trees makes it easier for monkeys to jump: Being from Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but also with a diverse array of current and potential exports. As I said in Week 2, I believe we are punching well below our weight for a variety of reasons. Through PDIA and exploratory work, including investment attraction agencies, you can plant more trees and breed more monkeys. It takes a concerted effort that properly identifies the growth problem, as well as the binding constraints, and then actively seeks out new investors and talent. The Singaporean “miracle” was especially instructive in this regard. 

2. Strong leaders are only part of the story: While a strong leader may be important to for public support and a focal point around which to rally, they alone cannot execute an entire growth strategy on their own. No one has that much time, bandwidth, skill or expertise. Ruling with an “iron fist,” does not allow others to take the lead, propose ideas, and develop as leaders. A more decentralized multi-agent leadership model is far more effective in developing a growth strategy than a single leader. 

1. Strong growth is inclusive growth: The story of “us” must include of all of us. Our growth must leave no one behind. We measure growth in terms of GDP and job creation, but we do not often look at the impact on real people, especially the vulnerable, women, visible minorties and the disabled. Macro economic evaluations of growth may show that an economy is “healthy,” but they do not tell the entire picture. Growth that is inclusive is growth that empowers more people to be more productive. 

Profit cannot be our only measurement for success; productivity is incredibly important as well. 

As we head into the recovery from COVID-19, I will be using the PDIA approach to address some of our City’s fundamental growth problems. In fact, in the past week, I have raised some of the ideas learned in this course, including PDIA and inclusive growth with our Director of Economic Development. We will be developing a plan of action that involves many agents both within our City government, as well as in other levels of government and across the community. 

The big challenge we will face is garnering political buy-in for our plans, as they are unlike anything we have attempted before. I suppose this one element that I hoped the course would touch on more: political influence and acceptance. Perhaps I see the world differently from my economic development counterparts as I am a political staff person, but I believe that we often underestimate the significant role that politics plays in not only providing licence to ideas and approaches, but also in championing them. The Green New Deal is a wonderful document that seems like a “no brainer,” until it is put on the floor of a legislature for debate. I know there are limits that I am just not allowed to test at this time due to the political realities in my community and my country (we’re spending $12B to build a pipeline to carry crude to a marketplace that increasingly does not want to buy crude). This course might benefit from some discussion of how to influence people at a political level to advance a novel growth strategy. 

Overall, I found this course incredibly worthwhile, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and engaging. I enjoyed the weekly lectures and I actually relished my weekly assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed my Thursday evening meetings with Peer Group 22; in fact, we have agreed to keep meeting monthly outside of this course. If given the opportunity, I would definitely take another course like this one. 

My sincere thanks for your time in reading and grading my weekly submissions. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours. 

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

Wrapping Up: My Leading Economic Growth Journey

Guest blog written by Penelope Tainton

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I’ve made some interesting choices in my life. They may not always have been the best decisions for my own long-term prospects, but without fail, they have taken me on journeys of discovery and growth. Always stemming from my over-riding desire to “fix” things, to contribute, to make a difference, to bring about positive change in areas that matter to me, these have not been easy pathways to tread. But, along the way, I have met amazing fellow-travellers who care deeply, who are driven by purpose, who – twee as it may sound – make the world a better place through their thoughts, words and actions.

Given the opportunity last year to coordinate a “War Room” in the Western Cape, South Africa, brought the interesting experience of testing Problem Driven Iterative Adaptive (PDIA) methodology. 

Tasked with addressing five problem statements, seen to be important in unlocking economic growth in the Province, we brought together teams of senior officials to work differently. Since this was a six-month pilot, limited resources were put behind the work. This was a real challenge: the approach was new and nothing like it had been tried before;  none of us understood how PDIA worked; the hierarchical nature of the bureaucracy was stifling, with deeply-rooted animosities between some of the representatives of two different spheres of government involved; and the contestation amongst a newly elected group of politicians had not yet settled to any degree of comfort. 

Cautiously setting out on this road, I met my first fellow-traveller, Professor Matt Andrews. In the way of guides on every pioneering journey, with generosity of spirit and complete commitment to the adventure and its success, he opened his map, shared his wisdom, talked us through each step, gave us a hand to climb over the hurdles, walked with us out of the valleys

I have worked in a government environment on previous projects, and willingly admit to non-existent patience with unnecessary bureaucracy, delays, obfuscation and failure to grasp opportunities that present, and that could significantly improve the lives of the very people government is meant to serve. My country is deeply wounded, suffering the consequences of a devastatingly destructive past that twenty-six years post-democracy has not addressed. That makes me angry. And while people have individual responsibility to use opportunities presented, ultimately it is government that must provide the enabling environment that makes those opportunities available. 

So I approached this challenge with great excitement. Was this a way in which we could support personal and professional development for capable government officials, encourage them to really understand their problems, deliver relevant actions that would have real impact? 

The answer was a resounding “Yes”. 

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