The traditional silo structures of most governments are not well suited to advancing progress in human capital development. Tackling human capital priorities requires a multi-sectoral approach necessitating government to work collaboratively across ministries. These were key points of discussion when 25 currently serving ministers of education, health, finance and economic planning who are all “alumni” of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program gathered in Addis Ababa. Although the logic for cross-government collaboration such as greater budget efficiency and higher-level impact may seem self-evident, institutionalizing a collaborative approach within and across government ministries is challenging. In examining the experience of multiple countries, including Ethiopia, Brazil, Ghana and Bangladesh, ministers recognized the fundamental importance of ministerial initiative in initializing collaborative partnerships and sustained leadership in ensuring effective implementation of the initiative. Experience shows success depends on a shared, actionable plan, shared budget, and clear lines of responsibility and accountability.
Why Human Capital?
Africa has the largest and fastest growing youth population of any region in the world. The potential upside of this demographic phenomenon is a so-called demographic dividend of accelerated economic growth driven by a large productive and economically active population. The reality is only about 55% of the potential human capital is “developed” i.e. is sufficiently educated and healthy to usefully contribute to economic productivity. The table below reflects the key human capital development indicators for countries participating in the Addis Roundtable.
Dividend or Deadweight?
In order to optimize prospects of a demographic dividend Ministers were encouraged to concentrate on getting the fundamentals right. Evidence of the combination of highest return investments for human capital development is well established.
The more challenging question is why governments struggle to achieve these goals. The Roundtable posited that a critical part of the problem is the traditional silo-bureaucratic structure of government. The ideal is a whole-government cross-sectoral strategy coordinating human capital development across all parts of government. But even without that, Ministers were able to appreciate the clear benefits of multi-ministry collaboration, which they themselves could initiate and lead, most notably higher returns from pooled budget resources and potential greater impact from the combined effort of multiple agencies. The main part of the Roundtable involved each Minister identifying collaborative opportunities that could help accelerate progress in their key ‘legacy’ goals, and developing a country specific action plan for initiating these opportunities. Ministers left the Roundtable re-energized and re-committed to their central mission. One Minister said, “The pairing of operational Ministers with their Finance Ministers, with expectations that they would buy into goals and take equal ownership has been very helpful.” Another noted, “The program, as usual, was quite thoughtful, creative and
helpful. Bringing together Human Development and finance and planning ministers has a much higher return on effort.”