Cambridge, MA – Harvard University’s Center for International Development (CID) hosted its ninth annual Global Empowerment Meeting on April 18-19, 2017. Made possible by the collaboration with the MasterCard Foundation, GEM 2017 brought together a group of 100 business leaders, development practitioners, policymakers and academics representing a multitude of disciplines and geographies. Participants had the opportunity to hear from speakers from across the globe.
The theme of this year’s GEM, “the sense of us,” and its implications for economies and societies, emerged as an observation from CID’s research and country engagements. Through our work in different parts of the globe, we have recognized that this concept has profound implications on economic development.
The sessions at GEM allowed for wide-ranging discussions around what defines a society’s “sense of us,” how policymakers make decisions within the constraints of societal identity, and the importance of authentic leadership for building state capability and unlocking economic growth. Two topics with enormous importance for global development were discussed at length: migration and the tension between globalization and populism.
SETTING THE STAGE: THE SENSE OF US AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
A lot has changed over the last year that can be traced to different ways in which societies define who is “us” and who is “them.” Grounding the argument on emerging research from various disciplines, Hausmann put forth the notion that development requires technological diffusion and a capable state, which in turn requires an “imagined community, deep and broad enough to allow the mixing of new forms of knowhow." This point set the stage for the question to be explored throughout the conference: “what will be the future sense of us?”
AFTERNOON KEYNOTE: THE MORAL AND CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE SENSE OF US
Greene argued that morality has to do with the feelings that human beings have to resolve the problem of “me” versus “us,” and that a new kind of “metamorality” is needed to respond to the challenges of “us” versus “them.”
Lamont discussed how group identity and the degree of agency of stigmatized groups are shaped not just by cognitive forces but also societal structures and policy. Economic integration, technology, and policies play an integral role in creating hope and acceptance in increasing cooperation across groups and generating social change.
DINNER KEYNOTE: HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND THE EVER EXPANDING SCOPE OF COOPERATION
Wright believes that human history has been defined by a long-term growth in the depth and complexity of human interaction. This pattern is explained by the presence of non-zero sum dynamics in human interaction and an expanding role of these dynamics over time as new technologies have been created and human society has adapted to make use of them on larger scales.
Wright uses this perspective to shed light on current tensions in the world between national identity and globalization.
AN AGENDA FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Frank Neffke gave an update on CID’s research on understanding productivity differences between countries and emerging evidence of how the movement of people is critical to the diffusion of knowhow.
Miguel Santos presented concrete examples of countries where CID works where policy choices that were grounded in the unique “sense of us” of the place, created far from optimal conditions for the diffusion of knowhow. These policy choices have had a significant impact on the growth potential of these places and their ability to bounce back from crises.
AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE “SENSE OF US” IN POLICYMAKING AND STRATEGY
Senasinghe discussed how many of the most promising development strategies require balancing across different local groups that share an aversion to change. Castro shared the efforts to reorganize Bancoldex to catalyze growth and industry diversification. through a mix of adopting some OECD best practices while also developing local regional and city strategies. Mazniku talked about how the Municipality of Tirana is responding to the city's rapid growth by acting while planning and explained how collaborating with residents has been successful in building social capital to develop local solutions to local problems.
PROBLEM-DRIVEN ITERATIVE ADAPTATION FOR ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION (PDIA)
Through an interactive session, Matt Andrews explained PDIA as a process innovation that CID’s Building State Capability Program has been using within many countries to help governments find and fit solutions to complex problems that are specific to local context. In Sri Lanka, a team within that country’s government has been applying PDIA and building capabilities and authority of country officials to address a binding constraint to economic growth through action and learning by doing.
LUNCH KEYNOTE: PRAVIN GORDHAN INTERVIEWED BY HELEN BOADEN
Pravin Gordhan, former Minister of Finance of South Africa, spoke to Helen Boaden about the dramatic advances in development in South Africa and the tensions that continue to exist in the young, vibrant democracy. He concluded by noting that the country still requires a radical economic transformation that brings more innovation and transforms the structure of inclusion.
MIGRATION, RELATEDENESS AND CULTURAL LEARNING
Spolaore presented the historical factors at play in the diffusion of technologies and behaviors, showing the importance of ancestral barriers in the spread of development. Pekkala-Kerr gave a synopsis of a vibrant body of research on patterns of skilled-migration and lessons for developed and developing countries. Nedelkoska provided surprising new evidence on learning from migrants and discussed the nature of barriers to migration using four country examples from CID’s work. Pritchett summarized the puzzle presented by migration: the evidence shows that immigration is an important channel for development but getting more foreigners is rarely among the top priorities of countries trying to develop. The discussion highlighted the tension between more open immigration policies and the “the sense of us.”
GLOBALIZATION AND THE BACKLASH OF POPULISM
Hall presented his six theses about contemporary populism, concluding with his final thesis that “populism poses genuine threats to democracy.” Blyth traced the rise of populism to the rise and collapse of two economic regimes, arguing that the second regime of neoliberalism ended with the global financial crisis, and that the stagnation that followed established the conditions for populism to thrive. Berglöf contrasted two crises in Central and Eastern Europe--the transitional recession after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the more recent financial crisis. He described the forces that explain how some countries that made the transition into democracy are now turning in the other direction.