01 Mar 2017

Ask the Expert: Capital Architect

Building a dynamic private sector economy from scratch
Re: Jaime Fortuno (MBA 1988); Stott Starr (MBA 1966); Jacob Navon (MBA 1984); Suleiman Yakasai (PLDA 22)


Brunell spent five years helping Vietnam transition to a market economy, instituting government transparency measures and a national competitiveness index. (© Whitehotpix/ZUMAPRESS.com)

David Brunell (MBA 1962) is a master at making markets. For 25 years, he has transformed emerging economies from state control to free enterprise in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe—more than 20 countries in all, including Zambia, Vietnam, and, most recently, Myanmar. “Reforming economic infrastructure and privatizing state corporations are rarely linear or simple tasks,” Brunell notes. “It’s more orchestral, symphonic, and elegantly complex.”

With high-profile transitions in Cuba, Ukraine, and Iran grabbing headlines—and more bubbling up around the globe—we asked Brunell to answer your questions and briefly break down what it takes to build market economies in the modern era.

How should a government communicate with and motivate its citizens to make them agents of change to a market-driven economy?
—Jaime Fortuño (MBA 1988)


Brunell offers an inside look at Myanmar’s historic transition on our new Skydeck podcast

BRUNELL: Human motivation for supporting or catalyzing change only comes from within. We can’t “make” people’s behavior or “mandate” mindset. Citizens must have reason to care, want, and believe in the change agenda—and to trust the process and people leading it. Government leadership needs to formulate (and commit to) engagement mechanisms for economic governance—which builds citizen confidence in their role as partners. To ingrain legitimacy in Zambia, for instance, a cabinet-level executive Privatization Agency was created under a board with equal representation of government, business, and social leadership. Similarly, we mandated that respected Zambian private or civil sector leaders chair all negotiating transaction teams.

What consideration do you give to the spiritual and ethical components of building a national economy?
—Stottler Starr (MBA 1966)

BRUNELL: Very high consideration. Spiritual and ethical factors are often viewed as separate “silos,” but these core values pervasively shape, bind, and energize the economic culture. Long-term policy and growth must emanate from—and reflect—the aspirations, character, spirit, and cultural DNA of all stakeholders. This means that the “process” of economic governance is as vital to success as the policy—and requires prioritizing things like stakeholder engagement, meaningful participation, openness and transparency, and common interest over special interests and corrupt practices.

There are many examples of economic troubles correlating with ethical and spiritual lapses, including Zimbabwe, where prolonged violations of human rights and citizen participation have rendered the masses economically impotent. Several national economies in the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Middle East have been gutted over opposing spiritual identities and ethical codes.

Ethics and spirit are all too often overlooked and underestimated in our digital-driven, metrics-defined, “quant” world—yet they are at the heart of it all.

When regimes turn to being more totalitarian on the political front, the urge to take greater command and control of the underlying econ omy frequently follows. Does this current global environment make it harder for Myanmar to achieve its transition?
—Jacob Navon (MBA 1984)

BRUNELL: To the contrary, Myanmar’s transition is made easier by current international trends—including the world’s increasingly integrated trading system, higher transnational standards of finance and investment, acknowledged failures of command economies, and heightened concern for human rights, among others.

Locally, Myanmar was facing a debilitating and protracted isolation; degrading infrastructure; a restless, uneducated, and ill-equipped population; and exhausted resources. The military leaders considered the daunting prospects of simmering border and ethnic instability, continued castigation, an imprisoned and widely revered charismatic leader open to reconciliation, and the possibilities of Chinese dominance versus global or Western engagement. The regime’s sober assessment tipped the choice for negotiated political reconciliation, global engagement, and democratic economic governance.

Nigeria is moving away from oil, and agriculture is the main alter native because it contributes 60 percent of the GDP. Are there any lessons from other countries that have gone through this? How can Nigeria revive its economy through agriculture?
—Suleiman Yakasai (PLDA 22, 2016)

BRUNELL: Nigeria typifies the problem of the “resource curse”—with seemingly intractable challenges and complex approaches. There isn’t a lack of ideas: Countless reports sit on shelves gathering dust. Making change happen is ultimately a multifaceted “people” challenge, process, and solution. As in the corporate world, the difference makers are the intangibles: galvanizing vision, empowering leadership, shared value creation, strategic execution, and beneficial stakeholder participation.

Successfully replacing the oil resource curse requires several factors, including unwavering political will, market and trade focus, and access to finance—all complemented by technical assistance and training. That aid can be provided by myriad organizations, ranging from development agencies and agriculture companies to impact investors and venture capitalists.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1962, Section D

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