Prioritizing Health and Education for Economic Growth

Presented with overwhelming historical evidence that countries characterized by more inclusive (aka democratic) and responsive governance institutions are more economically successful, ministers participating in the fifth Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum for Finance Ministers in April, were challenged by Chicago University Professor, James Robinson to reflect on the state of their own societies. Professor Robinson’s compelling arguments resonated with many participating ministers who are experiencing the sharp end of increasing political restiveness on the part of their predominantly youthful populations desirous of more inclusive and equitable institutional systems better geared to provide opportunities for meaningful economic advancement.

The demographic preponderance of under 25 year olds characteristic of many developing countries is increasing as neo-natal and under five mortality continues to decline across these countries without commensurate reductions in fertility. Historical evidence, particularly among the so-called “Asian tigers”—economies in South East Asia that grew rapidly during the 1990s—suggests that with the right combination of human development interventions and investments, this demographic phenomenon can result in accelerated economic growth. The best combination of human development interventions and investments was the primary focus of the Harvard Ministerial Forum with the goal of initiating closer collaboration between finance ministers and sectoral ministers in promoting a shared economic development vision and agreement on priority investments in health and education for optimal economic return. Adequately responding to growing pressure for more inclusive governance is a bigger challenge in many cases. The Harvard Forum encourages finance ministers to use the authority and influence of their positions to promote transformation.

The Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum is a flagship component of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program a joint initiative of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ministers are selected by invitation only based on their demonstrated leadership in government and commitment to transformative goals. Initially engaging only health and finance ministers, the Ministerial Program in June 2017 will for the first time also welcome education ministers to Harvard.

Harvard Chan School Dean, Michelle Williams said: “I have watched this important three-school collaboration mature over the past six years into a truly impressive initiative. More than 90 ministers have participated in the Program since its inception, and they consistently attest to its impact and value in helping them become more effective ministers and leaders of significant institutional transformation in their home countries.”