Tackling high rates of poverty and low growth among MSMEs in Nigeria

Guest blog by Member Feese

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.

My key learning from the Leading Economic Growth course is how to effectively define a challenge / problem using the 5-whys technique and not use the solution to define the problem. For instance, the definition of my first economic problem was lack of transportation infrastructure in Nigeria, however, I discovered that that definition was narrow and did not identify the main problem of why transportation infrastructure was lacking. Using the 5-whys technique, I was able to redirect my challenge to tackling high rates of poverty and low growth rate among Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the binding constraint, concentrating on transportation infrastructure. If poverty and growth rate are addressed, transportation facilities will improve.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, the level of poverty in Nigeria is currently about 40% of the total population, 83 million people, with MSMEs contributing a large portion of that figure. MSMEs are a primary source of jobs, accounting for about 96% of businesses and 84% employment (PWC, June 2020). However, the economic climate faces challenges of poor infrastructure, unfriendly business environment, high incidence of informal sector, etc., which adversely affects the MSME sector. More specifically, the current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on the sector, which has affected household livelihoods across the country.

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Pay attention to the problem!

Guest blog by Gabriel Aduda

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

My initial attempt at being part of the very first edition of the Implementing Public Policy Program in 2019 was fraught with challenges, due to my work schedule. At that time,  I was responsible for organizing national events in the Presidency, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and also saddled with organizing the Transition to second term of the Buhari Administration and the Democracy Day 2019 on 12th of June; an activity that was significant, as it was just a few days away from the second term swearing in of Mr. President. The thought of me heading to Boston to attend the physical kickstart of the program at the same period was clearly unthinkable and my boss simply said to me without looking up at me across his table “.I am sure you have deferred your course at Harvard” to which I replied without arguing “on it sir” and I went off to drop Amber a mail…. the rest is history.

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How PDIA helped me build Nigeria’s poverty alleviation plan

Guest blog by Tayo Aduloju

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

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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Fast-tracking Nigeria’s economic recovery

Guest blog by Member Feese

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

When I registered for the course my conception of public policy was the public definition – a course of action developed by a government in response to public problems. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the course began. I realised that public policy is not only for government but for all citizens that want to make a positive impact in society.

I came into the course with a goal to developing a policy that will help to reduce the level of poverty in the Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most resourced countries in the world, in terms of human and endowments, yet with a high poverty rate of over 40.1 percent of total population being classified as poor in 2019 (National Bureau of Statistics). This translates to over 82.9 million Nigerians estimated to live below the poverty line. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the figure is projected to have increased astronomically especially among Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), due to production slowdown, movement restriction and lockdown which resulted in supply chain disruption.

To address this challenge I knew I wanted to focus on infrastructure however, I was not sure of where to begin. I avoided focusing on capacity building and access to finance as they have been done numerous times and failed to reduce the level of poverty. The government, corporate institutions and individuals have spent resources training entrepreneurs and linking them to funds to start or expand their businesses. However, the cost of doing business has consumed a large portion of the funds. The Nigerian society is plagued with poor infrastructure such as erratic power and water supply and poor transportation facilities which affects the productivity and profits of MSMEs. As a result, I identified the need to address infrastructure.

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Encouraging Nigeria’s youth to engage in agribusiness

Guest blog written by Abubakar Murtala Mohammad

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

The understanding of Public Policy Implementation became a necessity for me after my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on SDGs to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. My career path has, up till then been in the Private sector where the main aim is profiteering as against the Social services for communal purpose of the public sector. My first instinct for success is to equip myself with the requisite Public Policy knowledge. This is with a view to reduce the incidence of Policy failure on all my assigned duties.

There is no better place for this learning process than the IPP Program as offered by Harvard Executive Program which I immediately applied for, and when I got admitted, my excitement was beyond measure.

I have attended quite a few Executive Education courses, mostly as in-person events. I therefore commenced the IPP Online program with a mixed feeling as regards to the content, engagement, and fluidity of knowledge transferability. I discovered, some weeks into the program, that the IPP Online is a well-structured program with engagement as close to an in-person experience, but only better-thanks to Salimah and Amber. The program is intense as well as extensive with a caution for ‘burn-out.’ A good use of feedback mechanism is encouraged throughout the duration of the program. Thumps up Ms Anisha Poobalan, my TA for interactive feedback and encouragement.

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If on a Winter’s Afternoon Four Policy Students …

Guest blog written by Nathalie Gazzaneo, Tendai Mvuvu, Rodrigo Tejada, Matt Weber

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

On a winter’s afternoon in early February this year, a Mexican MPP1, a Brazilian MPP2, a Zimbabwean MC-MPA and an American MC-MPA randomly stepped up to the plate of abandoned projects in Nigeria. We, the four students and travelers, had never crossed our paths before (more accurately, we had never seen each other over Zoom). Additionally, none of us had ever worked in Nigeria. Before you think it could not get more chaotic, we had only 8 weeks to learn and experiment as much as we could on the assigned problem before coming up with novel and actionable ideas to expand its change space. Ready. Steady. Go! We weren’t ready, the journey wasn’t steady, but we definitely went on.

Maybe one of our first and most powerful realizations in our PDIA journey was that there was no silver bullet fix to the problem of abandoned projects in Nigeria. It took us two entire weeks to look at the problem with more curious and deconstructive eyes until we managed to draft a set of plausible causes and sub-causes that could be at its roots. We had to remain patient and above all curious and collaborative to shift from our initial planners approach to the searchers perspective required by the PDIA process.

As we deconstructed the problem through interviews and research, the Ishikawa fish diagram and the “five whys” heuristics helped us organize our insights in a meaningful fashion. At this stage, we also started to become more wary of our language usage versus our authorizer’s language usage (more on that later). And as our inquiry and knowledge deepened, so grew our ability to ask smarter questions and to find viable entry points.

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Increasing Tomato Production in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Edward Adamu

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

When I first thought of my policy implementation challenge, it appeared daunting, knowing that past policy attempts had not yielded any dependable solution to the problem. When I constructed the problem, it became even more frightening. As I went further to deconstruct the problem, I realized it was indeed a complex…too many causes and seemingly endless sub-causes. I began to imagine how tedious it would be to mobilize enough agents, and the diversity of agents I would need scared me even further. I had one thing going anyway – the courage to continue, drawn essentially from the early readings provided by faculty and the assurance that there existed an approach for dealing with complexity in the policy arena. I was simply curious!

My confidence started to grow after reading the piece on the journey to the West in 1804. Even then, I retained some doubts about the mission. I think my actual breakthrough came when PDIA – Problem-driven iterative adaptation – was introduced as the approach to be used. I had been introduced to the PDIA concept at earlier programs I had attended at HKS. Furthermore, I was particularly inspired by the Albanian example of its application. PDIA is a policy implementation approach that offers the policy implementing team ample learning experience and opportunity to adapt, anchored on a stepwise or incremental process of developing a policy and executing same. It is especially suited to a policy situation in which there are many unknowns, which are often better understood along the way.

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Tackling Blood Safety in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Allan Franklin, Dana Radojevic, Hesham Gaafar, Lauren Truong

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

Over the past 8 weeks, we had the opportunity to work with the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) on the lack of safe blood in Nigeria. The lack of safe blood during emergencies such as car accidents or postpartum hemorrhages has led to high numbers of preventable deaths.

Upon learning about our project, we were afraid that our lack of knowledge and experience in public health would limit our progress, but the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process showed us how addressing major problems such the lack of safe blood in Nigeria requires learning on the fly, using the diverse perspectives and contributions of our teammates, and constantly reflecting and improving on our work.

Here are some of our key learnings:

Focus on the problem, not the solution.

It is our nature as humans to be solution-oriented and not problem-focused. Is the lack of safe blood in Nigeria due to the low number of voluntary donors the problem? Or is it a combination of supply-sideand demand-side factors? Instead of assuming what the possible solutions could be, the PDIA process slowed us down and forced us to get uncomfortable and ask hard questions. This helped us identify the problem at hand and helped us construct our fishbone diagram.

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IPP Program Journey: Poor Tax Collection in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Fuad Kayode Laguda

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

I must disclose that coming for this course was a product of careful decision-making and determination. It is not easy combining my job schedules with the academic tasks. The course structure, coupled with the quality of the administrators, lecturers and fellow colleagues, actually surpasses my expectations. It exposed me to improved patience, persistence, importance of building, having a team, diverse way of solving problems and formulating policy. This course has allowed me to understand and showcase the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) to my authorisers and other decision makers.

The key learnings were too numerous to explain in details. However, I will not forget the “Fishbone” as well as the sequential techniques of problem solving. IPP has enriched my proficiency in critical thinking and programmatic application of various approaches to identifying and solving complex problems through strong network for consultation and collaboration as well as partnership for actions with different national or corporate decision makers.

However, IPP has made me more confident, courageous in handling data and emphasis on the importance of mobilising and working with a team(s) to implement the data. 

This course has taught me to appreciate little successes and that every effort taken to solve challenges are not a waste. It builds me for connecting with authority and building legitimacy around my actions. It has allowed me look for opportunity in the problems I proposed to solve. 

The IPP networking system is highly remarkable to the extent that implementation of the instructions, ideas and policy innovations passed in the classes (on-site and off-site) becomes successfully feasible. PDIA is a remarkable learning for me because it opens my eyes to gaining the confidence of authorisers through the cultivation of informal engagement with them. PDIA taught me to manage constructively every shortfall and celebrate every slight achievement.    

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IPP Program Journey: Highlighting Experience and Learning

Guest blog written by Fatima Kakuri

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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Coming to Harvard to do this course, my goal was to gain advanced thought and greater insight into public policy concepts, theories, elements, types and stages of policy making, I was caught up in a subliminal whirlwind of nervousness and feeling out of place before starting the course, as I felt I may be out of my wit coming from the context of a developing country. My experience however was completely unexpected. The course has allowed me to see beyond my initial belief that it there has to be a theory that guides all our policy actions. The course has given me the opportunity to discover my own policy and political beliefs and to see in much greater detail the benefits and disadvantages of the vast array of policy ideologies that are present in the world today. Being able to interact with my colleagues with similar challenges was a separate lesson entirely. I also found that the style of teaching in this course helped me express my views accurately and concisely which turned out extremely useful!

My journey on this course had an unexpected impact on my views and perspectives to governance and life in general.

Key Findings:

I, like presumably 60% of the population in Nigeria, viewed policy from a solution based perspective, typically from the lens that we cannot develop a project proposal unless we had the idea of the end result, the plan would follow the idea of the proposal and after consultation with authorisers or budget funders that plan is collectively adopted for further planning to develop the implementation plan which most likely comes from logical frameworks to guide the timelines for implementation of that project.

The greatest assumption for me was that we had identified the problem, and that we had devised the right solution that will fix it; without any evidence as there was rarely ever any proper research done to support these assumptions and that we are superior to the people whom we create these projects or policies for so we rarely require their input, needless to say, that was a flawed mindset.

I learnt through this course and found that most commonly the people who develop/draft policies are rarely involved in the implementation and control process which becomes a fundamentally flawed process from the outset with the policy makers not being part of execution of the plan. So, my biggest discovery is finding that the most popular theory of developing a public policy plan which is widely practiced especially in my part of the world is not the most effective system. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Highlighting Experience and Learning