Economic growth strategies in North Macedonia

Guest blog by Jones Anthony

– Growth challenge: Slower economic growth compared to neighboring countries     

– Country/region/municipality: North Macedonia (NM)

  • What are some key ideas/learnings that you will take away from this course?

I gained a deep understanding of several key economic growth and public policy ideas from the course. The Product Space analysis is a game changer for my work on all future targeted industry strategies. Instead of focusing primarily on the industry concentrations and their growth rates (Location Quotients) for a country/region/city, I am now equipped to target those more complex industry sectors that will have the biggest impact on advancing economic growth and increasing the knowhow of the economy. I am also eagerly awaiting the City/Region Complexity Index in May, which I believe will be transformational for local economic development practitioners across the globe.

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Lack of diversity in Mongolian exports: Effects on employment & productivity

Guest blog by Suzanna Sumkhuu

Over the past 4 years, I have been working at the country’s development policy planning reform, streamlining legislative, institutional and policy mechanisms. On this journey, I have encountered two contrasting views: necessity for strong central planning systems vs abolish the government and leave everything to the market economy. Because Mongolia has such a strong history of central planning under Socialist rule, the public view is also differing. I knew from the get-go that neither absolute form of these contrasting options could deliver on today’s socio-economic and planetary needs. Hence, I have been searching like a nomad for answers that could trigger systemic change in ensuring more inclusive and sustainable development.

Against this backdrop, I came into the Leading Economic Growth program with a growth challenge that I have been exploring for some time now and something that I was planning on making the central line of inquiry for the formulation of the country’s Annual Development Plan for 2022 and conceptualization of the next ten-year development strategy, which I was tasked to lead. My growth challenge was Mongolia’s lack of sufficient non-mineral export products and job creating exports, which mattered because it leads to low levels of employment and productivity.

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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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Learning about Economic Growth in Angola

Guest blog written by  Noelma Viegas D’Abreu 

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. 

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Wrapping Up: My Leading Economic Growth Journey

Guest blog written by Penelope Tainton

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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Economic Growth in Liberia: 10 Weeks to Remember

Guest blog written by Fred D. Koilor

What if this was a one-week journey? Well, many things about the Leading Economic Growth (Online) course probably would not have been the same. Firstly, I can certainly say that students would not have had ample time to digest the course materials and make adequate appreciation of knowledge acquired during the ten weeks. Secondly, the one week on campus would not have given us the opportunity to reach out to institutions and development stakeholders for vital pieces of information, which helped to shape our understanding of the lecture materials discussed during the course. During the ten-week period, I had the opportunity to meet with two departments within the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) for data and analysis on aspects of my growth strategy. Thirdly, the span of ten weeks provided enough time for the lecture materials to be sequenced into ten weekly modules. This approach enabled the students to navigate the course in a consecutive order of logic, chronologically sequenced from week one through week ten. More importantly, it made learning a lot easier than it would have been in only a week.

In spite of my economic background, this course offered some key insights, which are not only novel, but also shaped my understanding of economic growth, especially considering the growth challenges of my country, Liberia.

The Scrabble Theory of Economic Development provides a fundamental explanation for why some countries are rich and others are poor. With the help of the scrabble metaphor, the theory explains, in very simple terms, that the wealth of nations or prosperity of economies is determined by the level of societal knowhow, which is represented as letters used to produce products, represented as words. Knowhow, described as what the society knows how to do, is not measured by the depth of knowledge individuals in the society possess, but the diversity of knowledge spread across different individuals at the societal level. With a higher level of diverse knowhow, otherwise known as letters, more complex products, otherwise known as words can be produced, thus increasing the complexity of goods and services produced by a nation. The intuition of this theory explains, to a large extent, why Liberia is economically poor, even though it is enormously endowed with natural resources. Liberia has vast deposits of rubber, iron ore, timber, gold, and palm oil, but these resources are mostly exported to other countries in their raw or unprocessed forms because the population does not have diversified knowhow (letters) to produce products of more complexity (words) that could generate higher export earnings, reduce or cancel out our balance of payments deficit, generate more foreign exchange, increase employment opportunities, spur growth of industrial activities, and improve the macroeconomic outlook. Liberia needs more knowhow to manufacture more complex products from its natural endowments. Local manufacturing will generate more jobs locally, add value to our local products, increase their worth as exports, and positively impact many macroeconomic indicators, including balance of payments, net foreign capital inflow, international trade, etc.

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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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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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Using PDIA to Decode Growth in Honduras

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From left to right: Jose Arocha, Matt Andrews, Marco Midence and Jorge Jimenez.

Over the past 10 weeks, Matt Andrews has been working with a team of three mid-career students from Latin America on a project applying the problem analysis in PDIA to the challenge of growth in Honduras. We had shared their fishbone diagram in a previous post. The team used growth diagnostics, product space analysis, and PDIA to find practical entry points for moving forward. We are proud of them and wish them the best on their PDIA adventure!

Watch the video of their presentation. You can also follow along with their Powerpoint Presentation

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