Introducing the BCG Sustainable Economic Development Assessment

Introducing the BCG Sustainable Economic Development Assessment

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Introducing the BCG Sustainable Economic Development Assessment

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    Learning From the Best: A Foreword by Tony Blair

    Who are the best at this? A simple question, but one that all leaders today need to ask. Whether you are grappling with a tough decision on economic strategy, coming up with a new environmental policy, or reforming your health-care system, you need to learn from what has worked elsewhere. And in a world where government is becoming increasingly post-ideological, this lesson is more important than ever.

    One of the things I found as prime minister is that bureaucracies are good at remembering but bad at learning. I would ask for advice on how we could achieve a radical improvement in a given area and would get back a list of reasons why change was difficult, drawing on all the previous, often disappointing, attempts at reform. What I needed, and what I tried to build during my time in office, was a system that would look around the world, draw out the examples of success in a particular area, and work out how the best bits could be tailored and applied in the U.K. There are three lessons that I drew from that experience.

    First, it is increasingly clear what is needed for a country to develop. The old political debates of left versus right are often beside the point. If you look in this report at the countries that have progressed rapidly in the past decade, whether it’s Brazil, New Zealand, or Poland, there are clear trends. Start with the basics—security and the rule of law are the foundation. That means establishing secure borders, building a judicial system and courts that can be relied upon, and a police force that can uphold the law. These are things we can easily take for granted, but in their absence it will always be an uphill struggle. Next, create a strong environment for the expansion of your domestic private sector and the attraction of foreign direct investment. Predictable rules that are followed are at the heart of this. And build essential infrastructure. If you’ve got power, electricity, roads, and railways, everything else becomes achievable. Through my charity, the Africa Governance Initiative, I’ve seen this in Africa. Getting the lights on in Freetown and the port working in Monrovia have opened up the potential of Sierra Leone and Liberia to make rapid progress. None of this is about ideology; it ultimately comes down to implementation.

    Which is my second point—and this is the biggest lesson: learn from how others have implemented a reform as well as what the reform was. Getting the policy right is often the easy bit, it’s building a system that can implement it that is really tough. This issue of governance, by which I mean the capacity of a government to implement its priorities, is the biggest challenge I see for leaders today. For the governments that I look at around the world—and, by the way, I include rich countries in this, too—the problem is how do you get the right skill set, the right capacity to deliver programs of change, whether it be infrastructure or rule of law reform. That’s why I set up the Africa Governance Initiative—to help African leaders with precisely this challenge.

    But again, I do think the lessons are out there. If you look at leaders who have delivered real transformation, from President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil to Mayor Bloomberg in New York, they have certain things in common. Although their styles and strategies may be totally different, these successful leaders get certain things right. They prioritise ruthlessly. As a leader, if you’re trying to deliver more than a handful of big things at any one time, you are going to struggle, so focus is key. They build a system that allows them to ensure implementation is happening and intervene where things are not happening fast enough. And, critically, they get the right people around them to make it happen.

    The final lesson is to get beyond the countries that look like your own. There is a natural tendency, when trying to learn from the experience of others, to focus on the countries that are most similar to yours. So as U.K. prime minister, I would hear about examples from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and, at a push, Scandinavia and Northern Europe. But actually, the most interesting examples are increasingly coming from much further afield. For example, in this report, you notice that along with the usual suspects—Western Europe, North America, and the BRICs—the successes are from elsewhere, including the post-communist Eastern European states that have outperformed their peers on addressing income inequality, health, and education, as well as Vietnam, which leads the way on economic dynamism, and even Rwanda, a country whose government I have worked closely with over recent years and which is making significant progress on anticorruption and property rights.

    The challenges political leaders face today are unprecedented in their scale and complexity. But the good news is that we know more and more about how best to tackle them. Leaders everywhere should be scouring the globe for the best examples of what’s worked. Reports like From Wealth to Well-being will help them do that; I advise them to read it well.

    Tony Blair, former prime minister of the U.K. and founder of the Africa Governance Initiative