The Year in Review: Highlights of 2015


What a year 2015 has been!

This year marks 25 years working as an independent advisor. Here’s my summary of some of the major highlights of the year.


1               New networks and linkages: Australasia Aid Conference

In February, I attended the Australasia Aid Conference at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. The Development Policy Centre is based at ANU and runs the conference, which has become an annual event. I enjoy the daily blog produced by the Development Policy Centre and it has been good to meet some of the names behind the excellent work this group does.

The conference was the second annual event of its kind, which sought to bring together researchers from across Australia, the Pacific and Asia who are working on aid and international development policy to share insights, promote collaboration, and help develop the research community. I enjoyed meeting a wide range of academics, public officials and development practitioners who are working in this field. I will be presenting a paper at the 2016 conference in February.


2               Research and development: Rapid Evidence Assessments on Business Environment Reform

I conducted two Rapid Evidence Assessments (REAs) on business environment reform in developing economies, one dealing with the impact of reforms on poverty reduction, the other with the impact of reforms on investment promotion. These reports were co-authored with Peter Fortune.

The studies provided a great opportunity to get on top of the current literature concerning business environment reform and its impact. Interestingly, there is still much to be done in this field, with a comparatively low number of primary research papers using rigorous research methods being published.

I enjoyed learning and implementing the REA methodology, which has enormous benefits in a wide range of fields. You can find some REA tools here.


3               Research and development: Sector-focused business environment reform

On behalf of the Donor Committee for Enterprise Development (DCED) I conducted a review of how donor agencies were supporting business environment reforms in specific sectors:

  • Pharmaceuticals sector: this case focused on the local production of essential medicines. This is interesting because the pharmaceuticals sector presents the challenges faced by an industry sector in which there is strong international competition. While there is a significant market for pharmaceutical products in most developing economies, this market is often dominated by multinational enterprises that are able to produce and import products at low costs. However, the local market for these products also presents a considerable opportunity for boosting local production capacities.
  • Renewable energy sector: this case specifically focused on the generation and distribution of ‘on-grid’ renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind and tidal power). This case presented the challenges of an entirely new industrial sector. Governments and their development partners support Industrial Policy and Business Environment Reform to encourage private investment into new technologies and business models. This requires a high degree of government coordination and integration across of range of policy portfolios.
  • Mining sector: this case focused on the development of small-scale suppliers to mining activities (i.e., backward linkages). Here, the interest was on how developing country governments can maximise the opportunities for local industry development that stems from large-scale resource projects.
  • Horticulture, specifically fruit and vegetables. This sector was of interest because of the significant role that agriculture plays in most developing economies. Sector development involves support and reforms to stimulate agri-business development, which includes building local capacity as well as improving the access local producers have to foreign markets.

The report will be released in early 2016 and published by the DCED. It is likely that an annex to the 2008 DCED guidelines on business environment reform (BER), Supporting Business Environment Reforms, will be published later in 2016 focusing on how donor and development agencies can support sector-based reforms.

I’ve had a long association with the DCED and its Business Environment Working Group. My thanks to the many DCED members and staff who I work with. Special thanks to: Farid Hegazy (chair of the working group), Lasse Møller (Danida), Juergen Reinhardt (UNIDO), Stefanie Springorum (GIZ), Tim Green (DFID), Fulvia Farinelli (UNCTAD), Jim Tanburn and Melina Heinrich-Fernandes.


4               Presentation: Illusions and Opportunities in Sustainability and Entrepreneurship

In April 2015, I gave a presentation at the Curtin University Sustainable Policy (CUSP) Institute on ‘Illusions and Opportunities in Sustainability and Entrepreneurship’. The CUSP Institute is an industry focused international research institute with a strong track record for making substantive contributions to government and industry both in Australia and internationally. Established in 2008, CUSP now has 20 academic staff and 85 PhD students and has an international reputation for providing rigorous independent assessments of sustainability related innovation policy and strategies. My presentation focused on the role of entrepreneurship in promoting green enterprises and low-carbon economies.

This year I also wrote a chapter for a book CUSP has curated on innovative and practical methods to achieve sustainability. My chapter deals with Enterprise Development for Sustainability. Looking forward to publication in 2016.


5               Presentation: Private sector development and the role of the State

Also in April, I gave a presentation to a Policy Seminar of the Sir Walter Murdoch School Public Policy and International Affairs at Murdoch University, Western Australia. The seminar sought to examine the role of the private sector in global development and the challenges posed to developing-country states and the donor and development agencies that support them. In 2002, the Monterrey Consensus highlighted the role of domestic and private finance in development. Where the capacity of developing-country governments is often overshadowed by the development challenges they face, governments are required to think more strategically about how they use of their own resources and the ways they can mobilise other resources. The private sector, whether through foreign or domestic investment, presents a potent resource for development, but this also brings dangers. This seminar considered the ways in which private investment is being mobilised for development and the questions this raises on the role of the state in development.

I have become a Visiting Fellow of the Sir Walter School of Public Policy and International Affairs and in 2016 will be running a Masters of Development Studies course on the role of the private sector in development. I have enjoyed working with Benjamin Reilly, Dean of the School, and Jane Hutchison.


6               Engagement: Leederville Connect

In January 2015, I was elected vice-chairperson of Leederville Connect –– a local residents’ and business association in the area I live and work. I coordinate the business development activities of the organisation, among other things, and while this is still in a very nascent stage, there are some exciting activities on the horizon.

The area benefits from a very progressive local government authority and a proactive mayor (John Carey). It is also a hub for the hospitality and retail sector and while businesses are generally doing well, there is much to be done to ensure Leederville maintains its urban identity and offers a quality of life to all who live, work and visit the area.

Thanks to all my colleagues, including David Galloway (chair), Nick Bond, Jethro Sercombe, Sue Eslick, Sophie Pontifex, Jimmy Murphy (now Councillor Jimmy!), Phil Cocker, Monica Sacroug, John Tomson, and David Doy (the council’s place manager).


7               New networks and linkages: EDA Steering Committee

Economic Development Australia (EDA) is the national professional body for economic development practitioners. Members are employed in local government, regional development agencies, Federal and State Government, private sector consultancies, community organisations and companies involved in economic development.

I have been a member of EDA for a few years and am an accredited practitioner. This year, I have joined with Steering Committee for Western Australia and look forward to working with the broad range of experienced economic development practitioners in the coming year, which will include the National Conference in 2016.


8               Development advice: Harakat

2015 was the last year in a seven-year programme of the Afghanistan Investment Climate Facility. Harakat is an independent, Afghan-managed non-profit organization that works with partners in the Afghan government, the private sector and civil society to identify key regulatory and institutional barriers to investment and doing business in Afghanistan. Harakat empowers its partners, through funding projects and offering technical assistance, to reduce or remove those barriers. Ultimately, by focusing on areas where there is a demonstrable demand, Harakat aims to improve the environment and make it easier for firms to invest and do business in Afghanistan.

I have been a board member for the last four years and have been very proud of the achievements of this organization. As the DFID grant that established Harakat concludes in 2015, it is likely that a new phase of the programme will commence in early 2016. We are all awaiting the official announcement of future support.

I’d like to publicly acknowledge my appreciation for the efforts of the other board members: Karim Khoja (Chair), Tamim Samee, Malalai Wassil, David Crichton, Khalil Sediq. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work of the secretariat and in particular, Naseem Akbar (CEO) and Chance Zilinga (Finance Officer).


9               Development advice: Indigenous Peoples’ Development: IBN

I’ve had an extensive involvement in indigenous economic development over the years. However, this work has waned a little while being in Africa. It has been a joy –– and challenge –– to reconnect with this important and vibrant body of work in Australia.

I was commissioned by IBN in the Western Australian Pilbara Region to undertake some innovative work on indigenous peoples’ development. IBN is an Aboriginal organisation established in 2001, which provides programs and services that aim to improve the health, education and prosperity of its Beneficiaries: the Yinhawangka, Banyjima and Nyiyaparli people. The Banyjima, Milyuranpa Banyjima, Minadhu and Nyiyaparli Aboriginal Corporations own IBN. I have been working with IBN to develop new, asset-based approaches to economic, social and cultural development. I look forward to a continuing engagement in 2016.


10            Development advice: COMESA fertiliser reforms

Improving agriculture productivity and sustainability is directly related to improving the livelihoods of millions of Africans and to reducing poverty. A critical part of addressing this challenge is to improve investment into appropriate fertilisers. Many African governments continue to heavily control fertiliser markets and squeeze out private investors.

I have been working with COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), ACTESA (Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa) and the AFAP (African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership) to promote the harmonisation of fertiliser policies, laws and regulations across the COMESA region so as to facilitate fertiliser trade across borders and regions. The goal of the programme is to enhance regional trade in fertiliser and food staples, food security and incomes (i.e., integrate farmers into national, regional and international markets so as to enhance farmers’ competitiveness). Its objective is to reduce non-tariff barriers to factor mobility.

In September 2015 I presented an update of this work at the First Annual Conference of the East and Southern Africa Fertiliser Trade Platform (ESAF), which has been established to be the region’s premier focal point for fertiliser trade discussions, policy initiatives, business-to-business networking and development work. It promises to be an interesting conference involving policy makers, investors, private sector fertiliser producers, blenders and distributors, and practitioners.

The ESAF is a partnership between the public sector (COMESA), private sector and civil society that have an interest in Africa’s agricultural growth and shared prosperity by increasing food security, reducing poverty and hunger, improving farmer productivity, use of low cost fertiliser, and increased incomes. Its vision is to provide a platform for public-private dialogue and action to scale-up the commercial supply and distribution of fertilizer in the region. It’s mission is to enhance crop production and rural incomes by increasing smallholder access to less costly, appropriate, quality fertilizers in a timely manner through the creation, growth and strengthening of medium-scale fertilizer and agribusiness enterprises that provide an alternative to traditional subsidy programs.

It has been a great pleasure to work with the AFAP this year. Special thanks to: Jason Scarpone (CEO), Richard Mkandawire (Vice President) and Ms. Maria Wanzala-Mlobela (Senior Fertilizer Expert).


11            Knowledge Management: Formalising the Informal Economy

For many years, I’ve been involved in policies and programmes that aim to address the problems and opportunities facing the informal economy. This year, the International Labour Organization in Geneva to asked me to synthesise a range of policies, practices and research that promote the formalisation of informal economies.

This work was a result of the International Labour Conference’s adoption of Recommendation 204, known as the “Recommendation Concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy”. My work sought to guide ILC Members in their efforts to facilitate the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to the formal economy, promote the creation, preservation and sustainability of enterprises and decent jobs in the formal economy, and prevent the ‘informalisation’ of formal economy jobs.

It was a joy to work with Farid Hegazy at the ILO on this who, as usual, was able to blend a good understanding of the topic with a political nous for what different constituents require.


12            Development advice: DFID Rwanda Annual Review

At the end of the year, I led an annual review of the Rwanda Investment Climate Reform Programme. The UK Government, through DFID, funds this programme, which is in its third phase, while the International Finance Corporation implements it in partnership with the Government of Rwanda.

It was fascinating to visit Rwanda again. This was my sixth visit in the last ten years. Rwanda shows many positive signs of growth and development that clearly benefit many Rwandans across the country. It was good to visit my close friend Jean-Pierre Sempabwa Gatarayiha, who has returned to Rwanda in recent years to reconnect with his family and get his architecture and construction company –– Pygma Construction –– underway. Jean-Pierre and his business partners are both foreign and local investors and their experiences in investing in Rwanda are illuminating. There are looming political challenges in Rwanda. The recent changes to the Constitution and the singularly dominant role of the President are issues of some concern.


13            New office

I’ve established a new (small) office on Oxford Street in Leederville. Close to home, close to great café’s, bars and restaurants, and close to the Perth CBD. I’m grateful to my hosts, key2creative who have been so welcoming and, well…, accommodating.


14            New company: Publicus

As a minor footnote to the year, I established a new company at the end of 2015. Publicus Pty. Ltd. will focus on public policy advice and research. “Publicus” is a Latin word meaning “the people”, or “belonging to the people, State or community”.

While much of my work focuses on developing the private sector, increasing private investment and harnessing the power of the private sector for development, I am specifically concerned with the role of government in all this. Public policy plays an important, indeed a central role, in the development of our societies, if we are to ensure development in inclusive and sustainable. I’m interested in how this role is changing and the kinds of tools governments can use to achieve these ends.


I’ll write more about the opportunities for 2016 soon. Needless to say, 2015 has been an exciting year and has established a firm base for facing new challenges and opportunities in the coming year.