The SPP blog sat down with alumnus Rajkumar Singh to chat about his career since leaving the MPA in 2012 and his reflections on working with and for governments around the world.
First, a bit of background
Raj is Indian born, was raised in Kuwait and has lived and worked in 10 different countries. He has advised four African governments on extractive sector governance and management (in Liberia, with the Overseas Development Institute Fellowship Scheme, and Tanzania, with Natural Resource Governance Institute), infrastructure financing (in Nigeria, with Adam Smith International/DFID) and private sector development (in Kenya, with the World Bank Group). Currently he is a member of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) Rwanda team advising the CEO of Rwanda Mines, Petroleum & Gas Board (RMB) Hon. Francis Gatare on investment promotion, sector strategy and capacity building. Raj’s life-time goal is to have an obituary in the Economist.
Could you share some reflections about the best way to influence governments to make change?
First you have to define the relevant issues. It’s important to listen, observe and develop local context around the problem you’re working with the government to solve. Try to develop an understanding of the objectives, goals and drivers of the key players, the economics as well as the politics, corroborate your emerging ideas with a wide variety of stakeholders, and keep in mind that one person’s view is never the whole story.
Once you have conceptualised the issue, you need to develop the solution together with government. Talk to people to come up with a range of options based on the resources available, the political context, and a thorough evidence-base. You should think of your role as framing the possible solutions for the decision-maker in ways that will facilitate prioritisation around the most important information.
You should also keep implementation in mind. You won’t be there forever, so you need to give some thought to who will champion your ideas and solutions after you’ve moved on.
What does ‘governance’ mean in your line of work, and how do you help governments develop their governance capacity?
For the Tony Blair Institute, governance is not just about transparency or accountability. We think of it as the quality of government, the capacity to effectively deliver change within a country or sector. In my work I approach governance as a ‘value chain’ of influence. I help the government to connect the dots from heads of state all way down to the front line of delivery. My work helps connect people at every single level to push the particular reform we’re driving.
An important component of this is sensitivity to change and volatility. For example, changes in the political landscape, the economy, or the global market for a commodity can radically and suddenly alter assumptions and change priorities. We’re able to help governments and leaders remain adaptive and responsive to change based on the ‘value-chain’ approach to governance capacity.
What skills that you learnt during the MPA have been most useful to you?
It’s not necessarily a particular skill but a way of thinking that has been most valuable to me. The MPA teaches you to focus on understanding the assumptions behind claims. It focuses your thinking on questioning and testing the underlying drivers of outcomes.
While I don’t run regressions on a daily basis, the conceptual framework behind the regression function is a great way to approach complex problems. It’s really useful to be able to identify the dependent variable you are interested in, consider what independent variable is impacting the outcome you’re interested in, and what you need to control for to think clearly about it. This style of thinking can be applied in a wide range of contexts.