Monday, March 31, 2014

Russian Roulette

When your standard marching orders are to grow the company's emerging market business, what's to be done with sudden political crises like those we've seen in Russia? Since Vladimir Putin decided to help himself to part of Ukraine, the Russian economy has seen $70 billion in capital flight (slightly more than all of 2013), leading to stagnant growth and fears of inflation. Investors and business managers are less concerned with a few Black Sea ports than they are with precedents like annexing ethnic enclaves and shutting off oil spigots to Ukraine or Europe.

Seasoned emerging-market veterans will see the rising tension between Russia and the West for what it is - part of the cost of doing business in a market with inherent political risks. As the Russian oligarchy and its pugnacious leader engage in riskier behavior, executives in tech, pharma, and a number of other industries might decide to make their big moves elsewhere. However, it's worth noting that business growth in Russia (and other politically risky emerging markets) has been fairly robust for almost 20 years, and though the oil-and-gas gravy train may be slowing, most of the other engines are on track: the middle class is growing, demand for consumer products and services is soaring, and there's room for growth in many industries.

With the exception of a few industries, business leaders who worry about getting in bed with robber barons have a few mitigating factors to consider. Technology has a democratizing effect, education and healthcare help the masses, financial services spread the wealth, and agriculture puts food on the table. By focusing on trends, not on the crisis, companies can identify long-term opportunities that merit the complex navigation through political storms. There will be opportunities in Russia after Crimea, in India after the elections, in Brazil when the debt bubble bursts. When choosing the "wait and see" approach, don't stop asking the man on the street what he's going to do with all that hard-earned cash when the dust settles.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Shift to Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda

From November 2013 to February 2014, Richard Heeks at ICT4D published a series of nuanced and well-cited analyses of the process and likely outcomes of the post-2015 development agenda. His 4-part investigation included a graphic history of the creation of MDGs, a review of post-MDG events, textual analysis of the documents resulting from those events, and a comparison of new agenda items to the outgoing goals and objectives. For anyone in the development community, or even private sector players who understand how the global development agenda can influence public policies and expenditures, Heeks' concise analysis is worth a read.
Heeks argues that the development agenda dynamics "reflect real-world change," responding to the shifting roles of aid and the private sector, the rising tide of domestic and international migration, the supremacy of services over manufacturing, and the ubiquity of mobile devices. According to his early analysis, three issues will increase in importance after 2015:
  1. Environment and Sustainability
  2. Migration
  3. Open and Inclusive Development
These three issues are likely to cut across industry-specific initiatives, requiring "systems thinking" as the development community moves from strategy to implementation.

Systems thinking means the development community will need to understand not just an isolated issue, but how that issue (and programs designed to address it) impacts and is impacted by other elements in the ecosystem. When choosing partners, organizations may want to consider how those partners and their incentives will shift dynamically over time. In effect, no matter where the compass points when the post-2015 course is set, thorough ecosystem assessment, dynamic business modeling, and understanding links between different solutions can help organizations implement more sustainable programs and measure holistically their impact over time.