Panama Embassy official writes about promoting US-Panama trade ties

Guest blog by Franklin Morales, Head of Commercial and Economic Affairs at the Embassy of Panama in the United States.

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.

A few years ago, I became a diplomat of my country in the United States.  Over time, I gained more responsibility until I became the Head of the Commercial and Economic Section. I am responsible for investment promotion and building partnerships with the American private sector. Although I had previous experience in partnership building, I realized I needed additional tools to tackle some of the policy challenges I was facing.  I wanted to affect change and create public value, but I was uncertain about how to proceed.

Over the last 20 years, Panama has been a success story in terms of economic growth. The country attracted over 150 multinational headquarters, and its income per capita almost tripled in the same period. Although Panama made significant progress in reducing inequality while growing, distribution of income and opportunities remains a challenge in the eyes of most of its citizens and leaders.  Furthermore, growth in the last few years has stagnated, bringing a heightened risk of social dissatisfaction. The same risk that has affected other countries in the region. That is why Panama’s leaders want to promote growth through different avenues.  Two of those strategies include the Digital Hub Strategy and the Advanced Manufacturing Strategy. Both seek to diversify Panama’s exports to advanced sectors. Although these are not the only efforts in place, they are the ones that relate most to my job.  

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Food security in Burien, WA during COVID-19 pandemic

Guest blog by Kevin Schilling

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.

COVID spread within three months of my first term on Burien City Council.  When I ran for the office a few months prior to that, my expectations for policies to implement focused primarily on improving coordination between our city’s robust social service providers and the city’s administrative capabilities.  However, these priorities quickly changed with the financial and logistical impacts of COVID on our city operations, business operations, and educational offerings.  I knew I needed to turn to an opportunity to expand my implementation skills to harness the power of municipal government to fill the gaps of service provided by non-profits and churches.  Municipal governance no longer only required a perpetuation and continuation of budget changes and code adjustments, we now needed to recognize and adapt our priorities to an ever-changing global environment reacting to a public health crisis intersecting a racial justice crisis as well as economic recessions.  Through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program in implementing public policy, I expected the opportunity to learn and grow my skills in understanding how to do just that. 

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Tackling gun violence in Birmingham, Alabama

Guest blog by Crystal Smitherman

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.

Being a new and young politician, I knew I had a lot of learning to do in the political sector. I had a lot of energy and great initiatives, but I still need to learn how to revamp my message and craft good policy making habits. In the midst of a crime crisis, as our murder rates continued to rise significantly every week, I knew something had to change. I knew our policy approach towards dealing with crime needed to be reformed and improved. I came across the Implementing Public Policy course on the Harvard Kennedy School website. I knew my mindset Right then, would never be the same the moment I enrolled in the course.

I always knew I had the potential and capability to make a difference in my district and city by achieving attainable development goals and initiatives. Yet, I was still hitting a brick wall when it came to getting over the hump of pushing forward on certain initiatives. This is why I am forever grateful that I joined the 2020 IPP cohort.

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Promoting Equitable Investment and Job Generation in Fort Worth, Texas

Guest blog by Robert Sturns

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.

When I began the Leading Economic Growth program, my goal was really driven by a desire to understand how we could have a more equitable distribution of investment and jobs throughout my community. As we really begin to dig into issues of economic complexity, I discovered that our issue was much larger than just ensuring an equitable distribution of jobs. We really needed to focus on driving overall investment to the community as a first step and then ensure that those opportunities were experienced across the City. You can see this shift in thinking occur as you look at the fishbone exercises I completed over the course of the program.

As I studied the issue and thought through our challenges, I began to really see the binding constraints that are impacting our efforts. While marketing and promotion of the City is an easy first step that should be encouraged, it is increasingly difficult to convince new large-scale businesses to open in certain areas of the city. Business consolidations and web technology have eliminated many of the traditional neighborhood serving businesses and left low-income alternatives in their place. Because the high-skilled jobs are in other areas of the city that lack public transportation, these communities do not get the benefit of growing know how through a formal corporate environment and rely on individual operators in a less formal environment that impacts wages and know how. Low human capital is also a challenge for our underserved areas in that the high school graduation rate for minority (particularly African-American) students lags significantly behind their white counterparts.  This suggests that they will not be prepared for the incoming jobs of the future if we do not begin to take steps to address this problem.

Since marketing/promotion of the City has been an identified area of need that could be easily implemented, I was very interested in working on a CINDE like approach to our marketing challenges that would engage partners at the city, chamber(s) of commerce and the business community. By utilizing this model, the entities could focus on specific targets within an industry and spend time and effort on marketing to those businesses and building relationships. We have already begun having those conversations with the chamber of commerce, and have developed a perception survey that was sent out to over 100 site selectors to gauge their impressions of Fort Worth, and why we may not be seeing as many recruitment opportunities as we would like to see. Following the survey, both the city and chamber will begin to look at how we can develop a more comprehensive and proactive pitch campaign utilizing additional feedback from our local business community.

As I mentioned, identifying the true binding constraint on our growth was also a key part of the course that I focused on during the program. Fort Worth completed an economic development strategic plan three years ago that comprised over 200 recommendations or policy reforms to be undertaken by various organizations across the city. While we have made progress on many of the recommendations, that has not resulted in significant new business attraction/investment or new job creation. The recommendations and polices we have pursued do not seem to have identified the real binding constraint of why we are not attracting more development opportunities. In particular, one challenge that was highlighted in my fishbone diagram, is that we do not have the resources in place to accomplish some of the more primary tasks we need to complete as identified by the plan. In looking at how we could improve our efforts, we will need to drill down to what is our true binding constraint and focus our efforts there as additional resources are not likely in the near future. It will be imperative to pare back a lot of the recommendations going forward and focus on what is truly making an impact on our community.

A final insight from the course that was very illuminating was on the concept of the city’s identity and sense of “us”. Fort Worth, while being the 13th largest city in the U.S., describes itself as being a large city that maintains a small-town feel. We pride ourselves on our western heritage by embracing slogans like “The City of Cowboys & Culture” which is part of our identity and make up the sense of what makes us Fort Worthians. However, that sense of “us” does suggest a community that is not very diverse or progressive to those not from Texas, and can be a significant challenge when trying to attract new investment from other parts of the country. Younger residents of the city have a much different perception of the city and how it needs to promote itself. While they still have pride in the “maverick” spirit of the city, younger residents are more aligned and interested in the progressive neighborhoods, artists, creatives and entrepreneurs that make up the community. In addition, our minority residents often do not see themselves reflected in the perception of “us” that is promoted nationally and should have better representation. In considering enhanced marketing efforts and promoting the city in order to deal with the growth challenge, we will have to balance keeping some semblance of what makes the city what it is, while promoting the opportunities it can provide and what it could be in the future.

Given that my growth challenge is specifically about investment and equity, I was really intrigued by the efforts of bringing inclusion to the forefront of our growth strategies and would like to explore this in more depth in the future. In looking at models like the Brookings Metro Indicators or OCED, setting metrics on wage growth, poverty rates and job growth in underserved areas, seem to be efforts that should be pursued at the city, state and national level. The big question will be how to balance growth while also tackling inequity. As Dr. Hausmann so eloquently put it during our closing session, the problems we face may be clear, but the proposed solutions may not give a full answer to the problems due to our assumptions and beliefs about the nature of the world. We need to look outside of assigning blame and focus on addressing the overall problems of inequality. How can cities/regions/countries truly galvanize support across multiple entities and expand cooperation in order to focus on addressing the problem of inequality? This will likely be the defining issue of economic growth over the next few decades.

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

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.

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Honoring the memory of a lost child: A father’s inspirational pursuit of policy change

Guest blog by Anjan Chimaladinne

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.

On August 13, 2016, my 16-year-old son passed away unexpectedly and suddenly. My wife and I have established scholarships in his name at his high school and the college he was planning on attending. For the 4 past years we rendered help to several other social causes. In the United States, suicide was the second leading cause of death for persons aged 10–24 from 2000-2017 and mental health is leading contributor for suicides. This issue has been bothering us for the past 4 years and we wanted to help and did not know how to. The Covid-19 and work from home situation opened time and helped me find and enroll in the Implementing Public Policy course. My initial expectation of this course was, it would certainly help me do something in honor of my son, Anshul, and save at least few lives.

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Navigating innovations in emergency services with PDIA

Guest blog by Ken Bailey

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.

I have been privy to the legislative and public policy process for well over 10 years, mostly with an amateurish understanding and certainly lacking the tools to be consistently effective. Having muddled in this space for a number of years, I have been successful on many fronts, again more through tenacity than with clarity of purpose. I have authored and pushed through several pieces of legislation, most of which have become part law in my State. Additionally, I have played the politics at the regional level, attempting to shape policy positions, largely with mixed results. As to be expected, my overall results have more losses than wins. Though it was not this loss / win ratio that bothered me. What concerned me the most was the idea that there was a better way of doing things that I was not aware of, thus I looked in to the Implementing Public Policy course at the Kennedy School.

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Tackling workforce development in Tampa, FL using PDIA

Guest blog by Ocea Wynn

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 enrolling in the IPP Online, my initial thoughts were that this would be a course extensively focused on theory with very little practical application. I anticipated that if practical examples were presented, they would be so-far removed from the realism of local government work that this course would be another ‘check the box’ example of fulfilling a request by providing an input (class attendance) with an expected output (course completion) with no anticipated outcome.

My perception soon changed when we started our discussion on classifying a policy as complex or complicated. As an engineer, my education, training, and all my work experience have been in a complicated environment, of plan and control. So, when Matt started the discussion on defining complicated work, I thought ‘this course will be a piece of cake’. However, all of that soon changed as we began to delve into complexity of policy implementation. This expanded my mindset to a new way of looking at all problems, both professional and personal ones.

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Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Guest blog by Maria Viggiano

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.

As America faces a national reckoning over racial injustice and the over-policing of communities of color, the concept of “defunding the police” has become a hot topic in various cities including my hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. As Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport is home to over 145,000 people, the majority of whom identify as Black, Latino, or Asian Americans. The Bridgeport Police Department has suffered from a series of scandals over the last several years.

In 2017, a Bridgeport police officer shot and killed an unarmed Latinx youth, 15-year-old Jayson Negron. In 2018, the top aide to the Bridgeport Police Chief was fired after the discovery of numerous racists texts directed at African-American police officers in the department. Earlier this fall, the police chief himself was arrested by the FBI and later indicted on federal corruption charges. The demands for reform reached fever pitch this summer with local activists calling for a defunding and dismantlement of the Bridgeport Police Department.

The concept of “defund the police” is a relatively new one within the realm of public policy. The movement in favor of this approach emerged almost entirely from the activist community in the wake of recent nationwide protests against police brutality, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. There are few academic papers or studies available that evaluate the effectiveness of specific policies aimed at reallocating public funds away from law enforcement departments and toward social service departments like housing, health, and education. However, ample academic research does definitively point to the short- and long-term payoff of investing in these areas as a preventative strategy for minimizing societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, crime, and violence.

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Reimagining policing and passing reparations in Asheville, NC

Guest blog written by William Young

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.

There is nothing in the United States of America that policy does not dictate. In a world where politics touches nearly every aspect of our lives, we are surrounded by public policy. How do we get to that point? The point where policy is implemented into our daily lives, known or unknown. The position where policy regardless of difficulty moves from the humble beginnings of thought, to problem solving. What roadmap do we travel? To move from the smallest effect on your lives, to the largest detriment possibly if not done with the intelligence needed to implement these public policies. As an elected official and public policy expert one can always use some guided insight. So why not go to Harvard?

What comes to mind when you think of Harvard University? The word brilliance. A long storied history of excellence in thought and reasoning. Harvard is the place where some of the worlds greatest minds and leaders have come to study. Presidents, CEOs, and intellectual leaders alike, have added their names to the growing roster of Harvard alum. The credibility given to the university in all fields of human endeavor seems to be synonymous with the words excellence and reliability.

By understanding the weighted influence of the University’s reputation, one can ascertain an expectation of rigorous, thought-provoking, intellectual challenges that forces an individual to exceed one’s best efforts when applying reasoning and practical experience in the areas of public policy. The Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Education has created a program that delivers the blueprint to help you build the vehicle that propels you from policy inception to implementation. A sustainable method that can be duplicated time and time again. Creating reliable results by helping navigate the usual pitfalls of public policy.

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