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Training Cases on Think-Tank Governance

13. Februar 2018 - 13:18

Training Cases on Think-Tank Governance





I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the governance day of the Winter School for Think-Tankers, designed for young think-tank leaders, and organised in Geneva by On Think-Tanks, in collaboration with partners (Figure 1).

We divided the time into two parts: first, a discussion of the expectations Boards have of the staff of think-tanks, and vice-versa; and second, work on four practical cases, covering (a) Board renewal and constructing a diverse, representative and high-functioning Board; (b) Writing the strategy; (c) Linking the Business Plan to the strategy and to financial management; and (d) The risk register and managing crisis.

I am sharing the case studies in case they are of help to others. It is important to emphasise that no reference is intended to any individuals or to any or the organisations with which I have been associated over the years: these are intended to be generic cases, reflecting common problems.

There are many reference materials available on all the issues touched on here, including writing terms of reference for think-tank Boards. A quick search on the internet threw up some that seem useful and are listed at the end. It would be interesting to know about others’ favourite resources.

Board renewal and constructing a diverse, representative and high-functioning Board

The office was closed and everyone had left, but in one corner of the building a light still burned. Cecilia wanted to go home to her family, it was pizza night, and she had hardly seen the children all week. But there was a Board meeting coming up, and as Director of the think-tank, it was preying on her mind.

It wasn’t that the Board was unhelpful, or unkind. It wasn’t even that they were incompetent: most of them were reasonably au fait with the work of the think-tank. Actually, that was not surprising, because most of them had been Members of the Board for at least a decade. One or two had been members since its Foundation. But were they really a high-performing board? When Cecilia thought about her expectations, she had to conclude they were not. And as for diversity, well, that was another story.

Cecilia might have expected the Chair to act on Board renewal, but she knew that wasn’t going to happen. With a sigh, she realised that she would have to take the lead. She needed to remind herself what the statutes said; they would probably need revision. She also needed to work out what kind of Board she really wanted. That was the real challenge. There was a pad of paper on the desk in front of her. She pulled off a page, and wrote a heading:  ‘Board membership: what the think-tank needs’.

It was too late to do more. She thought of the pizza and her mouth began to water. Margarita, she wondered? Or Quattro staggioni? It was time to go home. Cecilia rose, stretched, and switched off the light.

Writing the strategy

The office was closed and everyone had left, but in one corner of the building a light still burned. Cecilia wanted to go home to her family, it was pizza night, and she had hardly seen the children all week. But there was a Board meeting coming up, and as Director of the think-tank, it was preying on her mind.

The training course she had been on had been useful. There was a difference, she had learned, between ‘managing’ and ‘leading’. Managing was about day-to-day delivery, making sure that outputs were delivered and the think-tank did not go bust. Leading, she now knew, was partly about setting a course for the future. But what should that course be? And how could she involve the Board? They had many ideas, she knew that only too well from the Board meetings she had attended. Some of their ideas, she knew that too, were even quite sensible. Don’t ask about the others!

There would obviously have to be a process, even a negotiation. Perhaps the starting point could be a table of contents. What should a strategy cover, actually? Cecilia pulled a pad across the desk and began to write. She started with the heading, carefully underlined for emphasis: Think-tank strategy – Table of Contents.

But it was late. She thought of the pizza and her mouth began to water. Margarita, she wondered? Or Quattro staggioni? It was time to go home. Cecilia rose, stretched, and switched off the light.

Linking the Business Plan to the strategy and to financial management

The office was closed and everyone had left, but in one corner of the building a light still burned. Max wanted to go home to his family, it was pizza night, and he had hardly seen the children all week. But there was a Board meeting coming up, and, as Chair of the think-tank Board, it was preying on his mind.

The finances had always been insecure, but next year looked especially difficult, what with the change of Government and the constant demand for short-term consultancy work. He could foresee real problems in the coming year: jobs at risk, the quality of work declining, and influence and impact evaporating. What was the point of all that work they had done on strategy if it couldn’t be delivered?

Max knew he would have to prepare the ground carefully, working with the Director, Cecilia. She was an academic by training, committed and enthusiastic, but not, like him, from a business background.  Max gazed at the ceiling and considered. Would a Business Plan help to focus the mind, he wondered? And could he and the other members of the Board use it to set targets. Key Performance Indicators perhaps. That seemed like a good idea. He reached for a sheet of paper, and wrote himself a heading: ‘Think-Tank Business Plan: Key Performance Indicators.

It was too late to do more. He thought of the pizza and his mouth began to water. Margarita, he wondered? Or Quattro staggioni? It was time to go home. Max rose, stretched, and switched off the light.

The risk register and managing crisis

The office was closed and everyone had left, but in one corner of the building a light still burned. Max wanted to go home to his family, it was pizza night, and he had hardly seen the children all week. But there was a Board meeting coming up, and, as Chair of the think-tank Board, it was preying on his mind.

Just that morning, he had seen on the TV a story about an organisation being hacked and its server used to spread fake news.  OMG, he had thought, that could have been us. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, what with the shaky finances and the stack of problems he knew was building up inside the house. Of course, he was only the Chair of the Board, not the Chief Executive. That was Cecilia. But still, his reputation was on the line.

The Board, he thought, had probably better prepare a risk register. Some risks, he knew, were more likely than others; and some more damaging. That suggested two axes, likelihood and impact. He drew them idly on a sheet of paper. Did Cecilia already have this proforma in her files? And what did she have on it? He thought ‘I should probably have a go, then at least I will know what headings to look for’.

But it was too late to do more. He thought of the pizza and his mouth began to water. Margarita, he wondered? Or Quattro staggioni? It was time to go home. Max rose, stretched, and switched off the light.


Board TOR:

Board competences and skills audit:


Writing a strategy

Business Plan

Risk management

Kategorien: english

Two opinion pieces on the EU development agenda in 2018

13. Februar 2018 - 12:50

Two opinion pieces on the EU development agenda in 2018




These two pieces were first published on the website of the European Think-Tanks Group, see here and here for the full text. Extracts follow.


Paddling below the surface: framing EU development policy in 2018

Jean Claude Juncker seems to have reached a plane of serene optimism – at least that seemed to be the message of his State of the Union speech, delivered in September 2017: ‘The wind is back’, he said, ‘in Europe’s sails’.

Whether the serenity or the optimism will have survived the events since September is moot. Never mind the trials and tribulations of Brexit. What about the inconclusive outcome of the German election? The entry of a far right party into Government in Austria? The launch of conflicting visions by EU leaders? The problems in Poland? And the multiplicity of external crises facing the EU? Jean Claude Junker might be forgiven for dreaming about the end of his mandate, at the end of 2019.

In fact, serene on the surface or not, there is some energetic paddling below the surface to be done before the moment of retirement.

. . .

To be blunt: there is an easy option and a hard one.

The easy option is to focus on individual SDGs and design programmes accordingly. An SDG on gender? We can have a programme on that. Primary education? By all means. Malnutrition? Health care? Education? Tick. Tick. Tick.

But the easy option misses the point, or at least a point. What do European leaders say about the tectonic forces which will reshape the world economy? How can rising in-country inequality be not just excoriated, but explained? How can deep decarbonisation be achieved without putting livelihoods at risk? How can the root causes of conflict and forced migration be resolved, for good? And what role can development cooperation play in answering these questions?

Faced by these questions, serenity is not enough. Even more serious paddling is required.

*   *   *


Setting a framework for the next EU financial framework

The current EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework, or MFF, lasts for seven years and runs until the end of 2020. Discussions have already begun about the next one.

Can we agree straight away on two problems?

First, seven years is too long, especially when the detail is agreed one or two years before the planning period even starts. EU ministers will find themselves in 2018 and 2019 discussing a framework that might run until the end of 2027. This is at a time when the world faces great uncertainties, and when the EU itself is making great decisions, still unsettled, about its future. 2027 feels like a distant horizon, the very long run. And as Keynes famously remarked, ‘in the long run, we are all dead’.

Secondly, it makes even less sense to have a financial framework cycle which is entirely unrelated to the parliamentary and political cycle of the EU. The current MFF was finally decided at the end of 2013, before the European Parliament elections of 2014, and the appointment later that year of the Juncker Commission. It will expire after the 2019 repeat of the same process. So, the Commissioners and the Parliament inherit a framework designed and approved by their predecessors – and fix one which will bind their successors.

These problems are easy to solve. The elections take place in 2019 and the new Commission starts later the same year, for a five year term. They will inherit a framework which runs for one further year, and could take that year to agree a new five-year framework, running from 2021 to 2025. Their successors repeat the process, and so on ad infinitum.

Adopting that simple solution would mean we could postpone the detailed negotiation until early in 2020. We could use the time till then to have a political discussion about the overall size and shape of future spending, in the context of the 2019 elections. Indeed, those questions might well be at the heart of the political debate, as they are in national elections in all the Member States.

Unfortunately, we may not be lucky enough to be offered the logical option. In that case, a different work programme will be required, namely to look at options for the long term.

. . .

 So, what is the comparative advantage of the EU institutions in this area, the Unique Selling Point?

That is a question we have thought about in the European Think Tanks Group, and also one addressed in core EU documents, like the Global Strategy and the European Consensus on Development. Economies of scale in financing are on our list, but also: the political weight of 27 countries acting together; the ability to link diplomacy, defence, trade, and aid; and the reduction in transactions costs achieved by pooling. The EU institutions also offer at least the potential of specialist expertise, for example in infrastructure, or in blending loans and grants through the European Investment Bank. And there is a history of political and institutional partnerships with different parts of the developing world, which facilitate political accountability: the recent AU-EU Summit is an example.

Thus, there is certainly a case for EU external action to feature prominently in the next financial framework – probably more prominently, given the state of the world, than in the present MFF.

However, we think a debate is needed on the purposes and orientations of the external action budget.

. . .

 It will be important to avoid the external budget being captured by those who wish to ‘instrumentalise’ it for EU domestic purposes, especially controlling unplanned migration, or for security.

Image: Copyright: <a href=''>hanschr / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Kategorien: english

Jobs in Africa: the role of a forward-looking food industry

11. Dezember 2017 - 8:22

Jobs in Africa: the role of a forward-looking food industry




Introducing a conundrum

The food industry offers great hope to African countries in need of jobs, but also presents the same countries, and their consumers, with risks. Consider the two syllogisms in Box 1, and ask what happens if they are both true. Probably, they are both true, up to a point. So, this is the conundrum food policy needs to solve. It can do so, combining the insights of a progressive industrial policy with those of the ‘new food policy’. A powerful framework can be discerned, for application globally and at country level.

Box 1

Food processing and manufacturing as a solution to the Africa jobs crisis

It is a commonplace to say that Africa needs jobs, and will need more in the future. It can be problematic to generalise about ‘Africa’, and the term ‘jobs’ needs to be approached with care in countries where the informal sector is the dominant source of livelihoods. But caveats aside, it remains true that Africa has a young and fast-growing population seeking work. The World Bank reports that ‘half of the population is under 25 years of age. Each year between 2015 and 2035, there will be half a million more 15-year-olds than the year before.’

Furthermore, the same report argues, even rapid growth in industrial wage and salary jobs will not absorb the growing labour force, because growth starts from such a low base: over the next decade, ‘the share of industrial wage jobs in total employment will rise only from 3 to 4.5 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa’.

This assumes that employment growth will continue. Recent work by the World Bank on technical change in manufacturing throws even that avenue of partial escape into doubt: see my review of the Report, ‘Trouble in the Making’. Two ‘stylised facts’ from that report are that

  • ‘The manufacturing shares of both total value added and employment are peaking at lower levels and at lower levels of per capita income than in the past; and
  • Few lower-income countries outside of Asia have a revealed comparative advantage in anything but labour-intensive tradables or commodity-based regional processing—although not all have passed even these thresholds.’

And this is before automation and the use of robots really kicks in on a large scale.

Thus, it is not surprising that youth employment has become subject to alarming commentary about a shortfall of 50 million jobs in Africa by 2040,  nor that it has become a political priority, for example at the recent AU-EU Summit, which had youth employment as its principal focus.

Now, I argued in my review of Trouble in the Making that the linkages between agriculture and agro-industry were poorly conceptualised, and that there might be more potential in the food industry than is implied by the rather dismissive phrase ‘commodity-based regional processing’. A similar lacuna can be inferred in a recent book on structural change in developing economies, edited by McMillan, Rodrik and Sepuldeva. In this case, the main potential for economy-wide growth is seen as being shaped by the speed with which resources can be transferred from the ‘traditional’ sectors (=agriculture) to the ‘modern’ sectors (=manufacturing).

Of course, it is true, as frequently observed, that just because a country has a comparative advantage in producing, say, cocoa, it does not necessarily offer the conditions for a successful competitive industry producing chocolate. Nevertheless, and especially given rapid urbanisation and changing food tastes, it is logical to think that food processing and manufacturing can help create jobs in Africa.

That is certainly the case in developed countries. In the UK, for example, 3.9 million people are employed in the agri-food sector, accounting for 13% of all jobs in the economy. Of these, only about 400,000 are in farming and fishing or in upstream industries.   Thus, only about one job in every ten in the agri-food industry is related to primary production. Killer fact: even as long ago as 2000, there were apparently more people in the UK working on the production lines that produced packaged sandwiches for sale in supermarkets than there were working in agriculture. The sandwich industry is worth £8bn per year. Two companies produce half of total output, as many as one billion sandwiches between them.

Industrialisation of the food industry is not untypical. Figure 1 below, again from the World Bank, shows that the share of food manufacturing and food services grows rapidly as per capita income increases.

Figure 1


For a specific example, see Vietnam, where

‘the GDP share of primary agriculture is expected to decline over the coming two decades, perhaps by 0.5 percent per annum. By the early 2030s, primary agriculture will then account for some 8–9 percent of Vietnam’s GDP. However, agro-industry, together with food distribution and logistical (and other) services could account for nearly double this share (15 percent of GDP). This means that the agro-food complex will still account for one-fourth of total GDP.’

Given this context, it is natural that the food industry should be a focus of discussion about economic development and jobs in poor countries. Indeed: UNIDO has a programme called 3ADI (the African Agribusiness and Agro-Industry Development Initiative), part of a wider programme on agribusiness and rural entrepreneurship development) - and see a book from 2011, edited by Kandeh Yumkellah, on Agribusiness for Africa's Prosperity; FAO has just published work on agro-inustry for development (see e.g. here and here); AGRA made the business of smallholder-led value chains the theme of its 2017 African Agriculture Status Report; and the World Bank has recently publsihed a monograph on Shaping the Food System to Deliver Jobs. IFPRI has made important contributions to the debate, for example in successive Global Food Policy Reports; for Africa, see especially work led by Ousmane Badiane (see e.g. here)


Each of these institutions has its own approach, but they share a concern for both an enabling framework and sector specific interventions to create productive and job-generating value chains. For example, the World Bank jobs report has a summary of its policy prescriptions, as in Figure 2. AGRA has a specific focus on small farm transitions. And so on. All are optimistic.

Figure 2

Spectrum of Action Areas in the Food System to Deliver More Jobs




Winners and losers in an industrialised food system

So, what is the problem?

First, there are issues related to industry structure, especially concentration and the concentration of power, both nationally and globally. This is a recurrent theme of critics like Tim Lang in Food Wars, or of the Fair Trade movement, or as in the Oxfam campaign, Behind the Brands, which scores the ten largest global food businesses on the quality of their supply chains.

The largest food companies are, indeed, very large. In the UK, for example, one supermarket chain, Tesco, has a turnover of over £50bn per year (admittedly not all on food) and has a 28% share of the UK grocery market. On the other hand, the most recent enquiry into the grocery sector by competition authorities in the UK, in 2008, found that competition is ‘effective and delivers good outcomes for consumers’, albeit with problems in the relationship between supermarkets and their suppliers.

For the future, this industry is as susceptible as others to the labour-displacing impact of technical change and increases in scale: Google Inside the Factory, a series of TV programmes available on Youtube, to be amazed by the sophistication and high level of supply chain integration of food manufacturing in the UK; or see these articles on the use of robots in production (here, here, here and here) or distribution (here).

Second, though, it is important to ask whether the food industry serves consumers and society more generally. Obviously, the term ‘food industry’ covers a wide range of enterprises, from cafes, restaurants and street food outlets, through to giant food manufacturing plants.  Some actors are no doubt unexceptionable, and it is certainly true that individual companies are giving higher priority than before to social and environmental issues.  Tesco, to continue with the same example, and without necessarily endorsing the adequacy of their performance, report regularly on a range of commitments: Figure 3 is from the latest corporate responsibility report.

The industry as a whole, however, attracts criticism: too many food miles; too much packaging; too many additives; too much sugar, salt and saturated fat; poor food hygiene; poor health and safety for workers in the factories; too much waste; and prices which are too high for the value of food provided. Again, there is a literature: see, for example, the work of Felicity Lawrence (here and here) or Joanna Blythman (here and here). On sugar, see the work of Robert Lustig (e.g. here). On the interaction between the food system and power and inequality in developing countries, see Naomi Hossain in the latest IFPRI Global Hunger Index Report.

Thus, there are risks in promoting a ‘modern’ food processing and distribution sector.

In the best case, many jobs will be created up and down the value chain, with benefits to consumers in the shape of cheap, safe, and nutritious food, and with companies adhering to high standards of corporate social responsibility. A steady or even rising share of GDP, even as agriculture falls, contributing tax revenues and foreign exchange . . . nine jobs off the farm for every one on the farm (plus others in ancillary industries like packaging) . . .  food diversification to support changing tastes in urbanising economies . . . secure and equitable supply chains . . . stable prices, for producers and consumers . . . high standards of food safety . . . lower waste . . . protection of the environment . . . and high levels of transparency and accountability.

In the worst case, there is a Faustian pact. The jobs are there, but the food industry acts as a force which drives inequality and food poverty, damages health, destroys the environment, and reinforces corporate power. Is this outcome more likely in poorer countries where governance may be weak, regulatory capture more likely, the food industry just beginning to emerge, and the new food policy perhaps less well understood?

Figure 3

Summary of Tesco social and environmental commitments




A progressive food policy for the food industry

The hope must be that industrial policy and food policy can between them create the conditions to avoid the Faustian pact.

As far as industrial policy is concerned, I have recently proposed the elements of a progressive industrial policy, in the context of how to manage the simultaneous disruptive change associated with new technology, climate action, and the globalisation backlash – a challenge described as ‘Taming Cerberus’. This attempts to go beyond a market-oriented set of solutions, to focus also on the role of Government in fostering innovation and in supporting workers through transition. Political mobilisation also features. The key elements are:

  • Green growth as an opportunity.
  • Urbanisation creating new, local markets.
  • Regional integration.
  • Exploitation of linkages between agriculture and non-agriculture.
  • Active industrial policy, pragmatic but ambitious.
  • Strong Government leadership, including for innovation.
  • Political mobilisation.
  • Ruthless targeting of vested interests and elimination of regulatory capture.
  • High standards of accountability for corporate social responsibility.
  • Social policy to underpin transition and protect losers.
  • A relentless focus on implementation and results.
  • And an emphasis on speed.

In terms of food policy, the context is provided by earlier work on Food Policy Old and New, dating back to 2003 (Figure 4), supplemented by more recent thinking from 2015 on Next Generation Food Policy Research. The latter concluded (inter alia) as follows:

‘Future food policy (research) will need to:

  • Provide ‘more of the same’, to maintain progress in reducing hunger via careful research and policy analysis.
  • Respond to the multifaceted nature of the new global goals, emphasising such issues as equity and responsible consumption and production.
  • Recognise the importance of food not just as a source of nutrients, but also as a medium of social exchange, an essential component of cultural and social capital.
  • Build policy on an ethical foundation which takes account of food rights, but also the need for redistribution of power and resources to tackle multiple inequalities at global, national, local and household levels.
  • Take account of the rapid change in global food systems and build a ‘new’ food policy for a globalised and urbanised world in which food processing and manufacturing play an ever-larger role;
  • Find the right balance between policies to tackle chronic and transitory problems, focusing both on longer-term malnutrition and on the immediate humanitarian crises caused by weather shocks or conflict.
  • Put sustainability at the heart of food policy, aiming in particular for deep decarbonisation of the entire food system, and putting in place policies to manage the dislocations which will inevitably occur.
  • Invest in understanding how to foster innovation, in agriculture but also more widely, in such a way as to promote overall goals of growth, equity and sustainability.
  • Build a capacity to understand the politics of food policy reform as a routine component of all research and policy analysis, equipping policy-makers with the confidence to make the case for change.’

Figure 4

Food Policy Old and New


These are mostly familiar points, of course, from the authors cited earlier. They do, however, provide a food policy ‘gloss’ on new industrial policy: reinforcing the points about ethics and power; demanding a focus which is global in scope, especially as regards the operations of the private sector; and encouraging policy makers to think about the politics of policy change (on this see IFPRI’s kaleidoscope model).

The next challenge will be how to apply these insights at country level. For example, the World Bank Vietnam report, cited earlier, touches on many relevant issues. It has ‘Thematic Sheets’ on innovations systems, agribusiness incubation, payment for ecosystem services, contract farming, agro-based clusters, and food safety governance, all topics highly relevant to the new food policy (Figure 5). As an agricultural report, it perhaps has less on industrial concentration and consumer issues than a comprehensive report might provide. There is only one reference, in a footnote, to malnutrition, and just one to ‘plate waste’. There are, however, several references to the bargaining power of small farmers in the value chain. Definitely, this is an example on which to build.

Figure 5

Thematic Sheets in the World Bank report:

Transforming Vietnamese Agriculture: Gaining More from Less


There was great enthusiasm in the late 1980s for national food security strategies, especially but not only in Africa. It seems to me the time has come to revisit the issue with a new, broader focus on the contribution the food sector can make to contemporary development challenges.


Copyright: <a href=''>aurielaki / 123RF Stock Photo</a>  

Kategorien: english