I have been requested to give my perspectives on the importance of leadership driving key building blocks to sustainable development. This topic is quite involved given that the year 2016 is also the first year of the 15-year life-cycle of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This topic reminds me of the words of an American politician, Marco Rubio, who said: “Leadership can not be measured in a poll or even in the result of an election. It can only be truly seen with the benefit of time. From the perspective of 20 years, not 20 days”.
Economic Growth vis-à-vis Economic Development
Let me get going by pointing out that economic development is not only about achieving a high rate of GDP growth. In fact, World Bank’s 2016 World Development Indicators use a database of more than 1,300 time series to measure the state of development of countries using indicators on the environment, the economy, state policies and market performance, as well as global links. Similarly, the 2030 Agenda for SDGs is represented by 17 goals and 169 targets.
Whereas economic growth is a phenomenon of market productivity and a rise in GDP, economic development is a policy intervention targeted at the economic and social well-being of all people. Therefore, economic development can also characterise the sustained, concerted actions by policymakers and communities that promote the improvement of people’s lives through economic, social, political, and technological change. It is a transformation that certainly requires incomes to grow, but it is also about reducing poverty and inequality, building critical human and infrastructural capital, enhancing competitiveness, and safeguarding environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy, amongst other initiatives. In addition, economic growth and development both depend on distributive policies, which mean the way society deals with vested interests of advantaged groups and social inequalities in their country. This element of inclusiveness is perhaps the most important factor in a sustained development process, and we are rudely reminded of this important fact in an increasingly uncertain global environment. We must be people-centred in crafting our developmental policies otherwise they will not stand the test of time. In this regard, national ownership and leadership take centre stage in a people-centred development model and I will elaborate more on this in the remainder of my intervention.
Strong Leadership A Prerequisite
While economic development cannot be achieved through strong political leadership alone, and certainly not by only one political leader, however, strong political leadership is one vital element in economic development. In 2005, the World Bank Task Force on Capacity Development in Africa came to the conclusion that “political leadership is the primary driver of capacity development”. Leadership will enhance governance and capacity building, while good governance and capacity building will, in turn, facilitate the emergence of new and better leaders.
Today’s leadership requires an in-depth understanding that our destiny as an emerging market economy is linked to leadership capabilities. The economic challenges we face, as well as the untapped opportunities, require a higher level of energy and a new set of insights from leaders.
With the regional economies registering sub-optimal growth, the need to develop strong managers and leaders who are prepared to deal with complexities in this uncertain terrain has become more urgent. The role of good leadership and management is a key ingredient for sustainable development, growth and prosperity of our region.
We are living in tough times, and the need to acutely improve leadership and management capabilities and to help create more ambitious, resilient organisations has become more urgent. We need leaders who are able to respond to the current economic slowdown and tackle challenges head-on. We need strong and capable leaders with an innate ability to exploit new business opportunities and improve business efficiency. With the understanding that executive leadership is critical for organisational acceleration, it goes without saying that it is, therefore, essential that business schools and businesses collaborate to create executive education programmes, which will equip managers with the right skills and tools to flourish and lead organisations into the future and contribute towards growth and social welfare.
As mentioned before, economists have designed numerous theories of what are the key drivers of economic development and the factors are expanding by the day. However, let me focus on four high-level policy approaches that successful countries have adopted to achieve rapid economic development:
a) Safeguarding political, social and economic stability – Without doubt, stability is perhaps the most important factor for economic development. The creation of that stable basis for development to kick off requires effective institution building. This involves crafting an institutional infrastructure for strategic planning, as well as monitoring and evaluation to measure progress with implementation. The problem is that we sometimes lack these institutions, or the leadership is hesitant to reform existing institutions. However, knowing the nature of the problem helps to specify the nature of the trade-offs necessary to move nations onto an appropriate reform path.
b) Creating a learning and innovative economy – A learning economy values skills, ideas and technology, and lays the foundations for domestic innovation, which, in turn, is necessary for long-term sustainability based on total factor productivity. Workers without adequate education do not have the skills to take on high-productivity jobs or to adopt new technologies to increase the productivity in the jobs they have. This requires educational reforms on primary, secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels, encouraging research by universities and private sector, and harnessing of digital information using state-of-the-art information and communication technology (ICT).
c) Stimulating entrepreneurship and organisational efficiency – Entrepreneurship must be complemented by strong managerial skills to keep the businesses going and to make the best use of existing as well as leading technologies. Protecting the rule of law and enforceable contracts and combating corruption create incentives to invest, to start up new enterprises, and to expand existing enterprises with high productivity jobs. This, in turn, stimulates new capital formation and entrepreneurial activity.
d) Promoting competition and openness – Trade openness (as opposed to protectionism) is associated with higher growth and the adoption of new technologies. State monopolies, excessive regulations and standards, labour market rules affecting entry and exit of enterprises, and financial market constraints, can dampen competition if they are not carefully designed or controlled. We also need to create a conducive investment regime and improve our capacity for domestic revenue generation and expanding the tax base.
Let me conclude my brief submission on the topic of the importance of leadership driving key building blocks to sustainable development, with a citation of the great statesman, Nelson Mandela. He said: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”.
Enhanced Transparency And Accountability
Namibia’s development aspirations, development outcomes and strategies to be pursued are clearly outlined in our Vision 2030, our 5-year national development plans, and lately the Harambee Prosperity Plan. We are also obliged to follow up at national, regional and global levels on progress made in meeting the SDG goals and targets over the coming 15 years. Progress in meeting our overall strategic goals and targets is regularly assessed through Performance Agreements for Ministers and Political Office Holders. I believe our approach is highly transparent, since all documents pertaining to our planning, monitoring and evaluation processes are accessible to the public, while it also holds public office bearers accountable.
If women are to share in the growth of our economy, the issue of gender equity will have to be more firmly integrated into all Government national plans, policies and strategies. But, the integration of gender equity into our plans alone cannot ensure and/or guarantee that women will share in the growing economies of our region. The integration of gender equity should be complemented by the enthusiasm and diligent commitment of all relevant stakeholders and, in particular, women entrepreneurs and technologically literate women (or techno girls).
I firmly believe that women’s empowerment and economic development are closely interrelated. On the one hand, development itself will bring about women’s empowerment. Empowering women, on the other hand, will bring about changes in decision making, which will have a direct impact on development. Inequity and inequalities stand in the way of many nations reaching their full potential. Inclusion and equity are good things in their own right, but they also have significant development spin-offs in offering the opportunity to overall success. If, for example, the female half of the population doesn’t have the same opportunities as male counterparts do, that is not only opportunity denied to women to meet their full potential, but actually to the whole nation.
Let me conclude with the inspiring wisdom of Kofi Annan who said: “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
This is an edited extract from the paper by Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila at the Fifth Gender and Media Summit under the theme ‘Empowering Women in and through the Media – Providing a Voice for Gender Equality’, in Windhoek on 17 August.