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Several new faculty members across a wide range of policy areas are joining Harvard Kennedy School this fall. We take this opportunity to introduce them to the HKS community.
Simeon Djankov is an adjunct lecturer in public policy. Djankov was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Bulgaria in 2009 to 2013. Prior to his cabinet appointment, he was the chief economist of the finance and private sector vice-presidency of the World Bank. In his fourteen years at the World Bank, he worked on regional trade agreements in North Africa, enterprise restructuring and privatization in transition economies, corporate governance in East Asia, and regulatory reforms around the world.
Q: What brought you to the Kennedy School?
Djankov: The Kennedy School has a long tradition of attracting former policy makers to share their experience with students. I am coming off a four-year term as a Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria.
Next to my office will be Lucas Papademos, visiting professor of public policy, who successfully led Greece out of its deepest crisis in many decades as a caretaker prime minister. I am also familiar with some of the faculty at the Kennedy School, who are top researchers in their fields, for example professors Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy, Rema Hanna, associate professor of public policy and Michael Kremer, Gates Professor of Developing Societies.
Two years ago - while still in the Bulgarian government - I was invited to the Kennedy School to give a talk on how Europe was dealing with the euro crisis. I have also presented seminars at the Kennedy School in my previous job as the chief economist for finance and private sector in the World Bank. In both instances I found the students to be very engaged. This is why I chose to come here.
Q: What are your primary areas of research?
Djankov: Most of my research is in the areas of regulation of product and labor markets. While at the World Bank, my team started an annual report based on this research - the Doing Business report. Now in its 11th year, it is the top-selling World Bank publication and the data collected have been used in 1,700 academic articles to-date.
I have also done research in the area of public finance and corporate finance - spanning research corporate restructuring in Eastern Europe, corporate finance in East Asia, and public finance and taxation globally.
A newer area is the research on corruption. This work is done jointly with other Kennedy School faculty - professors Rema Hanna and Sandra Sequeira. My current focus is a book on my experience in Ecofin - the Council of Finance Ministers in the European Union. It is called Inside the Euro Crisis, and describes the various attempts at resolving the crisis in Europe. Many of them not so successful. And some paths towards a more stable Eurozone.
Q: What courses will you be teaching?
Djankov: My main focus will be the course The Politics of Development (PED313). It should be fun. I can draw on experience both from the World Bank and my term in the Bulgarian government. And, of course, the research I have done in the last 15 years.
I have substantially updated the syllabus to include the latest research on this topic. The syllabus is also extended to several new areas with recent research on the role of political leaders in reform (or change more generally), the role of the media (including social media) in lobbying for change, and my favorite topic of regulatory reform. I will also help some dissertation students and participate in some other courses.
Q: How can the work being done here at HKS address some of the world’s most significant public policy challenges?
Djankov: First, by preparing future policy makers for the rigors of governing. There is the purely expert side – do you have the necessary knowledge to be effective in the public administration. But there is also a tactical side – how to present your reform ideas, who to partner with outside the government and in the government itself, how to fight successfully special interests, what to expect from international financial institutions, how to engage effectively with the media. You can never be fully prepared, but better recognize all the challenges.
Second, by researching and writing case studies of successful and failed reforms. There is a dearth of such work, similar to the case studies done at the Harvard Business School. Once in government, you don't typically have much time to read, so a compendium of case studies can go a long way towards helping reformers avoid some pitfalls. I thought I was quite experienced after nearly fifteen years advising on reforms while at the World Bank. But fell into traps several times in trying to reform healthcare in Bulgaria, for example.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Djankov: I am reading various research papers and news stories on public protests. What interests me is their evolution over time, and what they manage to achieve. Currently we see large protests in Brazil, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, India and Turkey, to name a few. More generally, Europe has been continuously under protests in the last five years. They have some national specifics but also some similarities. For example, social media plays a significant role in the initial organization, but also in channeling detailed demands at a later stage.
For leisure, I am reading Phoebe Hoban's Basquiat. I have never quite understood his art so this is a last-ditch effort.