Thank You, Interns - Now the Work Continues

By Tim O'Brien

The Center for International Development’s thirteen master’s level interns (Team Albania 2015) are returning to Cambridge this week to start the final year of their studies. In Tirana, they have left behind not only their reports and recommendations but living projects that are now tangible instruments for Albania’s economic transition. They take with them fond memories, lessons both large and small, and experiences in governance that will soon become learning tools for the larger community at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Growth Lab interns and fellows in crowd at conferenceThe lasting contribution of the interns’ work this summer can be best explained through the words of Prime Minister Edi Rama. At a July conference where the interns presented their work to the public, entitled “Sustaining Albania’s Economic Development: Growth Opportunities and Challenges,” Prime Minister Rama described the economic transition that his government is working to achieve and the vision behind its partnership with CID. He identified Albania’s previous economic model, quite accurately, as unsustainable, with previous growth relying too heavily on remittances and construction rather than on increases in knowledge and productivity. Further, he described it as non-inclusive and stated that development must mean more than just higher incomes for some people. He described the fundamental economic challenge for his government as supporting a transition to new sources of sustainable growth, and its partnership with CID as critical for both identifying these sources and figuring out how to support them in practice.

The Prime Minister specifically mentioned five sectors of central importance—energy, oil and minerals, agriculture and rural development, tourism, and manufacturing—all of which were areas of focus for one or more of this year’s interns. In energy, for example, he acknowledged CID’s role in helping Albania emerge from an energy crisis and move forward in a process of building “solid pillars” on which to sustain growth. This year’s interns contributed to the process by suggesting steps that would close the investment gap in electricity distribution, namely through efficiencies in public generation that could amount to $70 million annually and restructuring electricity tariffs in a way that is both fair and feasible. The team also provided technical analyses that will help the Ministry of Energy and Industry continue its transition to a market-oriented energy system with strong links to the rest of Europe.

On agriculture and rural development, the interns provided insightful research into the opportunities and constraints for Albania in aquaculture products, with a particular focus on high-value mussels. In doing so, the team brought together previously dispersed ideas from varied stakeholders and arrived at a unifying vision that could be used to strengthen collaboration across the sector. On tourism, the interns provided new analysis into why Albanian tourism remains “the best kept secret in Europe” and recommendations for addressing several underlying constraints to adaptive policymaking, which, if followed, could be major steps toward unleashing the sector’s potential to generate growth. On manufacturing and industrial development more broadly, the interns worked on several fronts. They worked with the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Entrepreneurship and the Albanian Investment Development Agency (AIDA) on preparing for the auction of Albania’s first Technical and Economic Development Areas (TEDAs); assessing current foreign direct investments and improving the setting for future ones; and studying whether conditions are right for the creation of an Albanian development bank.

The interns also worked on several other cross-cutting issues to support the transition to sustainable growth. Regarding fiscal matters, the interns worked closely with the Ministry of Finance to study policy instruments that would improve tax collection and budgetary planning. Looking outward, the interns worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on issues that are economic as much as they are diplomatic. They studied the progress and evolution over time of regional integration projects, and they worked with local and international stakeholders to understand how Albania might better connect with its large diaspora to support domestic development. If the five sectors mentioned by the Prime Minister are those where “solid pillars” are being built, then efforts such as these are strengthening the foundation that holds the pillars in place.

The contributions by the interns, or “young experts” in the words of the Prime Minister, made for an especially productive summer. But CID’s collaboration with the Government of Albania will continue in full force. The project just celebrated the approval of a new grant by the Open Society Foundations, which will guarantee its continuation for the next two years, and CID remains especially committed to helping the Albanian government maintain macro-stability, improve sector-specific productivity and continue on its path to deeper regional integration.

See also: Albania