In his article in the most recent USAID Frontlines publication, Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, gave CIPE a nice shout-out for its work in encouraging public-private dialogue. We appreciate the recognition, and the extent to which USAID has supported our efforts both past and present to improve public-private dialogue on economic policy.
Postel’s article is a broader piece that looks at the sum total of the agency’s efforts to promote economic growth and their impact. While cataloguing the work USAID does, from building infrastructure to the role technology plays in spurring growth, the thing that strikes me most is that there is no one silver bullet to promote economic reform and growth. Rather, development policies that deliver must embrace a wide range of activities that require both hard skills (shovel, mortar, and cell phone) and soft skills (advocacy and policy making).
For every business park that’s built we need to ensure that the infrastructure, both physical and regulatory, is present to ensure that enterprises can flourish. This is best done when governments and donors alike take the time to sit down with businesses to discuss their needs and priorities. But too often the business community is poorly prepared to engage in meaningful discussions, leading to frustrations all around.
Over the years CIPE has encountered this phenomena in many different settings, from the post-Soviet transition economies to conflict environments like Afghanistan and Iraq. What we have learned is that successful reform efforts require process and patience, and the content of reform efforts, while important, often needs to take a backseat to the identification of needs and the ability of local governments to implement them, and of local businesses to comply.
CIPE’s National Business Agenda (NBA) programs focus on helping business leaders develop a dialogue process that links the needs of their small business members with the reform priorities of policy makers. NBAs create a win-win situation for both groups: policymakers can be responsive to their electorates’ needs, businesses get the good governance they require, and associations build credibility as intermediaries in the process.
As development policy calls on donors and governments to create stronger linkages with the private sector, and to recognize the leading role it plays in generating growth and development, these types of skills are going to become more and more critical. If donors seek to build stronger dialogue with business leaders they will need to invest in the ability of those leaders to represent business needs effectively. From our experience there is still plenty of work to do in this regard, and we’re pleased that USAID supports it.