The End of the Beginning

For such a tranquil airport, Tirana Nene Tereza has a dramatic setting. At 7am on a Saturday, awaiting a flight to Athens and on to London, the mountains that encircle the bright, modern terminal take on misty, mysterious quality in the morning sun. It’s the start of another hot summer day in Albania, and the end of an important first chapter in CID’s engagement with the government.

I am at the end of my second monthly visit to the country, visits that will continue over the next year as the Building State Capability program helps the Albanian government’s ‘Black Belt Teams’ – special implementation committees – drive delivery in priority growth sectors.

We are still in the early stages of a long engagement, but early August signaled the end for the 12 HKS interns who have been in Albania for the last few months embedded across the government, working side by side with civil servants and supporting ministers (as well as blogging here). It is a major transition point for the project, and more importantly for the government as many officials head into the customary August break.

The HKS interns have achieved a great deal. From education and agriculture, to electricity, extractives, finance, fason (manufacturing), industrial parks and more, they have spent time immersed in the challenges facing the country, and learning the challenges in moving the government’s agenda forwards. They have done vital research, analyzed policy and value chains, advised on implementation, helped coordinate the Black Belt Teams, and helped the government crystallize its agenda in many of its priority areas. They will come away with enormously valuable experiences, and will also have left an indelible mark on the ministries and colleagues with which they worked.

Their departure is a moment for pause, take stock, gather lessons learned and above all capitalize on the momentum they have generated. Each of the interns has helped both develop the strategic direction of their sector, and generate will and motivation to put strategies into action. This last part is always the difficult bit, to develop government bureaucracy – a bit like strengthening a muscle – to carry out the difficult, sometimes mundane, but ultimately transformative business of delivery.

And it is why the BBTs exist – to turn ideas and strategies into action. Working in four priority sectors for now – industrial zones, fason, agriculture and tourism – the teams match the right people with the right priority, and empower them to get things done. With they support of the Building State Capabilities Team from CID, the teams start with problems and develop solutions themselves. They learn as they go, iterating, muddling where necessary, but all the while developing ways of moving forwards that work in Albania. We are excited to see how much we can do in the next year together.

The first chapter of CID’s engagement is complete, and thanks to the interns and the many people involved in the project, tremendous work has been accomplished. The challenge now is to translate the analysis and policy development into concrete implementation plans, with clear steps and responsibilities, so that the teams can turn ideas into action. For our work with the Albanian government it is, to paraphrase Churchill, not the end, nor even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.

About the author: Peter Harrington is a Research Fellow with CID's Building State Capability program.

See also: Albania