Why Expats?

January 22nd, 2014

Magritte - Son of Man

Was reading: Why Expats? | AidSpeak, about the false dichotomy between local and expat. It sparked me to posting about something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while – public policy delivery, specifically in developing countries. The development world is largely focussed on developing and delivery public policy – so, education, health, security, energy, etc. Yet development professionals by and large have a ‘development’ background – it’s relatively rare to find development agency staff with real world public policy experience. People who have worked on education policy in their country, or who have worked in the NHS, or for an energy regulator. Granted, there are contextual issues in a developing country, like low salaries, staff retention issues – but these are issues we face around the world (albeit at different scales). Surely a career in developing and delivering health policy in South Korea is of more value than a Masters degree in Development Studies?

So my answer to the question “Why expats?” is less about their expat-ness and more about what people have to bring – if they have expertise and skills that can help in delivering public policy, then there is a clear rationale for them – it doesn’t matter where they are from, domestic, regional or international; developed or developing country – as long as they have something professionally relevant to bring.

I would love to see more peer-to-peer exchange, where public policy professionals and civil servants from around the world work in different countries to share insights – this is particularly true at the management level. It’s an approach that the Africa Governance Initative (AGI) use, where they tend to focus on placing senior civil servants in developing country ministries to help build delivery capability. But why not go further and have exchanges the other way? What better way to inspire and motivate a civil servant than to show them how it could work in their country? To build a generation of young leaders who can have an impact on public policy delivery, drawing on what does and doesn’t work in other countries – adapted to their national and cultural context. How could we convince say, the UK Treasury, to employ someone from the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to work on UK macroeconomic growth policy?

I think it would also help break down the paternalistic and patronising development dynamic by emphasising what’s common across countries and not their developing/developedness. Regardless of context, the same skillsets are needed for public policy – an ability to synthesise analysis from different disciplines, systems thinking, public engagement, financing, delivery mechanisms, value-for-money.

Finally, I think this would also go a long way to challenging negative perceptions of ‘faceless bureaucrats’ – the public tend to have a very negative view of civil servants. My theory is that it’s because no-one really understands what they do (plus there is genuinely a lot of waste and deadwood in the public sector in any country…).

I’m sure there are initiatives out there that try to do this – so do let me know of any!

,

2 Responses to “Why Expats?”

  1. Krischan Says:

    I would like to point you to this:
    http://international.cgdev.org/blog/one-size-doesn%E2%80%99t-fit-all-lant-pritchett-mimicry-development

    Besides being an interesting insight, one of the side remarks that are done in the paper is:
    – Someone working in/who has experience with an existing system (that has likely existed for quite a bit longer than he lives) is by no means an expert on developing such a system.

    But the main point is that “transplanting” a working system to another context often leads to the opposite effect, something which (seasoned) development specialist are aware off, but a public policy expert from a developed country likely has very little experience with (partially because of the above).

  2. Daniel Yeo Says:

    Thanks Krischan, a very interesting read – and I was reading their other paper on escaping capability traps just the other day.

    You make a very good point about the risks of ‘transplanting’- and the particular issues that development specialists are attuned to – but they have had to learn this too, so why can’t public policy experts? I also agree about the dangers of isomorphic mimicry, but I am not suggesting ‘mimicry’ of institutions, processes and structures (or that one-size-fits-all) – instead, I’m suggesting that we use experience to develop contextually specific ways of delivering public policy. One of the things that makes a civil service effective is its ability to adapt and respond – which is what problem-driven iterative adaptation is about.

    Secondly, I do think that there are core transferable skills that are applicable in all contexts (and missing in many civil services – developed and developing!) – like analysis and options development.

    I guess it’s not really about development professional vs public policy professionals (which is a false dichotomy anyway) – but how do we ensure that there is the right mix of skills/know-how?

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Other posts in አዲስቀን (Addis/New Days)

It’s the profit, stupid

June 25th, 2014

I enjoyed a delightful lunch today with energy sector colleagues exploring how to kick start the small scale private sector for energy services. Private sector development is all the rage at the moment and there is no end of projects and programmes to support private sector development.
However they all seem to share the same flaw – the dominant methodology is to subsidise private enterprises. I guess that’s what happens when you get public sector staff trying to target the private sector.

There seems to be a lack of attention to the core of the private sector – profit. How do business models deliver a profit? Is there a market for the product? Are people willing and able to buy?

The conversation then moved on to payment by results, where private companies are paid for delivering social goods. For example a solar lantern seller might receive payments per household with increased access to lighting. However this just props up an otherwise unsustainable market. As soon as the donor money goes, the business model is no longer viable.

Profit as results


This led me to reflect on how else public money might stimulate and reward successful business models. How about an approach where successful businesses are rewarded. You could take a payment by results approach, but define results as profitability or rate of return rather than households served? Or alternatively, a competition where the most successful business model wins capital funding. It’s still subsidising, but focussing on accelerating businesses that have demonstrated success rather than fitting a predefined (internationally imported) definition of what model or technology should be used.

Imagine that.

Why Expats?

January 22nd, 2014

Magritte - Son of Man

Was reading: Why Expats? | AidSpeak, about the false dichotomy between local and expat. It sparked me to posting about something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while – public policy delivery, specifically in developing countries. The development world is largely focussed on developing and delivery public policy – so, education, health, security, energy, etc. Yet development professionals by and large have a ‘development’ background – it’s relatively rare to find development agency staff with real world public policy experience. People who have worked on education policy in their country, or who have worked in the NHS, or for an energy regulator. Granted, there are contextual issues in a developing country, like low salaries, staff retention issues – but these are issues we face around the world (albeit at different scales). Surely a career in developing and delivering health policy in South Korea is of more value than a Masters degree in Development Studies?

So my answer to the question “Why expats?” is less about their expat-ness and more about what people have to bring – if they have expertise and skills that can help in delivering public policy, then there is a clear rationale for them – it doesn’t matter where they are from, domestic, regional or international; developed or developing country – as long as they have something professionally relevant to bring.

I would love to see more peer-to-peer exchange, where public policy professionals and civil servants from around the world work in different countries to share insights – this is particularly true at the management level. It’s an approach that the Africa Governance Initative (AGI) use, where they tend to focus on placing senior civil servants in developing country ministries to help build delivery capability. But why not go further and have exchanges the other way? What better way to inspire and motivate a civil servant than to show them how it could work in their country? To build a generation of young leaders who can have an impact on public policy delivery, drawing on what does and doesn’t work in other countries – adapted to their national and cultural context. How could we convince say, the UK Treasury, to employ someone from the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to work on UK macroeconomic growth policy?

I think it would also help break down the paternalistic and patronising development dynamic by emphasising what’s common across countries and not their developing/developedness. Regardless of context, the same skillsets are needed for public policy – an ability to synthesise analysis from different disciplines, systems thinking, public engagement, financing, delivery mechanisms, value-for-money.

Finally, I think this would also go a long way to challenging negative perceptions of ‘faceless bureaucrats’ – the public tend to have a very negative view of civil servants. My theory is that it’s because no-one really understands what they do (plus there is genuinely a lot of waste and deadwood in the public sector in any country…).

I’m sure there are initiatives out there that try to do this – so do let me know of any!

,

Enkuan adderesachu

January 7th, 2014

Melkam Genna! Happy Ethiopian Christmas (Genna). Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 7th January (Tahesas 28/29 by the Ethiopian calendar) – typically by slaughtering an animal and feasting with family and friends. We were privileged this year to be invited to two Genna feasts – one at a friend’s and another at a local guesthouse where other friends were staying. I learnt that we greet each other at this time of year by saying ‘Enkuan adderesachu’, which roughly translates as ‘give thanks for bringing us here ‘ and to which the response is ‘enkuan abro adderesachen’ – ‘give thanks for us arriving together’.

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Sharing the Search

January 1st, 2014

My new year’s resolution is ‘Screw connectivity, post more’, so hold me to it!

I joined GGGI because I believe that the dominant economic models of our time are broken and that our future lies in evolving new models. That’s easy to say, but is it a utopian ideal where we have our cake and eat it? More seasoned professionals who have worked on economic development will tell me it’s not possible, that it’s all been tried before and what we have is the only choice.

But what if it’s not? I am a dreamer, but also as an engineer, I’m grounded in practicality. The only way we’ll find out if it’s possible is to act as if it were and see what happens. That’s what excites me about Ethiopia – there is a genuine desire to do it, to find a new way of growing, that is sustainable without compromising. I don’t have the answers, but no one does – that is the very nature of a paradigm shift. You can’t comprehend it until you’ve been through it.

So, in the spirit of my new year’s resolution, I will attempt to share the journey, to open up the search – a thousand mile journey begins with a single step, this is mine.