Why Expats?

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!