11 Jul 2012
A Man, and a Plan, in AfricaTopics:
It seems poetic justice when someone named Bloom is involved in an exciting experiment that’s blossomed and bearing fruit. Jonathan Bloom (MBA 1972), for one, has good reasons to be smiling these days. Despite Washington’s contentious political environment, he’s employed at a US government foreign-aid organization, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), that actually enjoys broad bipartisan support. Everybody, it appears, can get behind the business-oriented MCC’s novel approach to development assistance, as it works to move Third World countries beyond subsistence toward genuine participation in the global economy. Best of all, the MCC is producing demonstrable results, including in Africa, where Bloom is the MCC’s West Africa deputy vice president.
Established by Congress in 2004, currently with an annual budget of about $900 million, the MCC (whose first CEO was Paul Applegarth [MBA 1972]) requires that partner countries qualify for funding by meeting a majority of 20 economic, governance, education, health, civil liberties, legal, and anti-corruption benchmarks. Importantly, determining a country’s standing on these criteria is judged not by the MCC but by outside parties such as the WHO and the Heritage Foundation. Once selected, partner countries must submit proposals indicating specifics about how they intend to invest the grants—ranging from close to $70 million to almost $700 million—to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable economic growth. Then, with MCC assistance, countries take the lead in designing and implementing programs, with both the MCC and the recipient country conducting regular and rigorous monitoring of finances and results. Transparency, accountability, and local buy-in and commitment are key ingredients.
“The MCC’s mission is to reduce poverty through economic growth, and it’s been very effective,” says Bloom, who has been with the MCC since 2004. Previously, he worked at the World Bank (for ten years) right after HBS, built his family’s New Jersey–based industrial distribution business over 15 years (to sell to a Fortune 50 company), and then as a consultant to family businesses and international investors. “We’ve witnessed countries mount concerted initiatives from the highest levels to improve their performance on MCC’s explicit selection criteria,” notes Bloom. “We’ve also seen African countries who have not yet qualified seeking advice from those who have. Most valuably, countries have made important legal, economic policy, and institutional reforms in an effort to qualify. One country greatly expanded women’s economic rights; another confronted powerful interest groups to cut longstanding corruption. And our stronger partners continue to improve.”
Bloom is responsible for MCC’s support for investment programs in West Africa. “The central role of country ownership in design and implementation has been a powerful model that’s been replicated for other development and investment programs,” Bloom explains. “For the MCC, private investment is clearly the ultimate engine of growth and therefore of poverty reduction. We explicitly select countries with institutions and policies that support private business and investment—not for ideological reasons, but because experience and research have shown those are the countries that offer the best prospects for growth and can best use the American taxpayer’s valuable dollars.”
Regarding Africa’s future, Bloom says, “Africa is geographically one continent with about one billion people and over 50 countries with radically different natural resources, cultures, and histories. Some countries will likely remain poor but a number are poised to grow dynamically. The growth ‘revolutions’ in Western Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, and in recent decades in parts of Latin America, East Asia, and China, were fueled in no small measure by the urban migration of undereducated and under-productive farmers seeking better opportunities. That’s exactly what is happening in some African countries. The continent will have some of the fastest-growing markets over the next several decades, building on the energy, skills, and aspirations of many of those people, offering a great opportunity for investors and businesses to ‘do well while doing good.’”
Asked about his HBS experience, Bloom says memorable professors for him were Keith Butters in first-year finance, Charlie Williams on banking, and Ray Goldberg around the “invention” of agribusiness. “But the single most useful course was Written Analysis of Cases (WAC) because it combined the need for crisp, cogent analysis, based on the limited evidence available, and coming to a decision within a strictly limited time—just like real life!”
A volunteer for his class's 40th Reunion planning committee, Bloom will have a chance to share additional HBS memories when the Class of 1972 meets on campus this October.
Class of MBA 1972, Section C
Class of MBA 1972, Section G