The "Black Belts" of Government Innovation

The Economic Growth in Albania project is focused on establishing mechanisms and practices within the public sector that will improve the government’s ability to develop and implement effective growth strategies. Many of the key growth sectors in Albania require coordination and implementation within and across several ministries, which can lead to delays and bottlenecks. CID has therefore worked with the government to establish “Black Belt Teams” aimed at facilitating problem identification and finding solutions.

The Black Belt Teams (BBTs), modeled after Toyota, are strategically formed to bring together diverse actors of an organization or a network of organizations to analyze problems and strategize solutions. The BBT structure allows civil servants to address issues in a more flexible manner, allowing for adaptation and iteration in the search for solutions. “The BBTs take people who know the system and processes and provide them with a vehicle where they can innovate and operate in a way they are not accustomed to,” says Brad Cunningham, CID Research Fellow.

In Albania, the first BBT was formed with the Ministry of Trade, Economic Development and Entrepreneurship to work on the “Fason,” or manufacturing, sector. Textile and footwear manufacturing made up 32 percent of the country’s exports in 2013 and employs approximately 6,000 people (of whom 95 percent are women). Until now the industry has mainly relied on its strategic location next to Italy’s large fashion industry and its comparatively cheap labor cost to stay competitive. To ensure the sustainability of the sector and the ongoing employment it provides, the government is working to encourage growth and the development of new technologies.

With leadership from the Deputy Minister for Trade, Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, the manufacturing sector BBT includes representatives from within the Ministry as well as the Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA), the National Employment Service (NES) and the Institute of Statistics (INSTAT). The BBT has been actively working to implement measures proposed in an incentive package developed earlier in the year in consultation with the private sector. The package includes fiscal and non-fiscal measures to promote growth, investment and technological improvements within the sector.

One of the measures included in the package is the establishment of a technology fund. “The financial capacity of private actors within this sector is low and small manufacturers often do not have the revenue to invest in technology and quality improvements,” explains Hanieh Mohammedi, an HKS Master’s student working with the BBT on the development of this fund. Estimated at 2.5 million USD for the first year, the fund will allow manufacturers to apply for government funding for new machinery, technological improvements or training and capacity development.   

With high unemployment rates throughout the country, the sustainability of the manufacturing sector is a key concern for the Ministry of Trade, Economic Development and Entrepreneurship, as well as other members of the BBT, such as the National Employment Service. Competing textile manufacturers worldwide are forcing Albania to take a proactive approach to remain internationally competitive. By working through the BBT, the ministry and government agencies have been able to identify obstacles to productivity improvements, such as lack of modern machinery and training, and develop effective mechanisms for tackling these obstacles.

Visit our Building State Capability website to learn more about Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation.

About the author: Karen Vanderwillik is a summer intern for the Economic Growth in Albania project.

See also: Albania