George Washington University School of Business (GWSB) Professor of Practice Danny Leipziger is the managing director of The Growth Dialogue, founded a decade ago to disseminate new ideas about sustainable and shared economic growth in developing countries through high visibility events, publication of policy research and its advisory services. Leipziger, who joined the GWSB faculty in 2009 after a lengthy career at the World Bank, where his final position there was vice president for poverty reduction and economic management, has a long history of advising governments across the globe on economic policies for many decades.
Recently, Leipziger and The Growth Dialogue team that won a six-figure contract from the World Bank to assist Vietnam's Ministry of Planning and Investments was in Hanoi for 10 days advising on Vietnam's new spatial masterplan 2022-2030.
GW Today asked him to discuss the experience.
Q: How did The Growth Dialogue team become involved with Vietnam’s new spatial masterplan, and what was the team’s role in assisting the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investments (MPI)?
A: I have been involved in the economic reforms in Vietnam since 1990, when they embraced market-oriented reforms with the help of the World Bank, and I have maintained contacts there. It was the World Bank that was asked by MPI to find a team of experts to advise them on their draft plan before submitting it to the National Assembly in October. In response, we organized a number of policy seminars in May and June, and then fielded a team of five experts to go to Hanoi and work further with MPI and other ministries on this 2022-2030 plan.
Q: What was your approach and some of your key findings?
A: We looked at the internal consistency of the plan, its financing and alignment with other economic policies of government. We also tried to identify both missing elements as well as areas of potential risk. We provided lessons from other countries, including China, Korea and Malaysia, who have undertaken similar planning exercises. One area where we encouraged further work was on the resilience of infrastructure investments since Vietnam is among the most vulnerable countries with respect to climate change.
Q: What are some of the key components of the spatial masterplan? What does the country hope to accomplish with its implementation?
A: Vietnam, having grown prodigiously over the past two decades, aims to be a high-income economy by 2045, and it is seeking to find growth drivers to achieve this as well as prioritizing the needed infrastructure investments to support this goal. It hopes to continue to support its two major growth poles (Hanoi-Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh City) as well as the fertile Mekong River Delta through greater connectivity, both inside the country and to reach its export markets. Deciding which investments will be undertaken by the central government, which by provinces and which by the private sector is critical for the plan’s success.
Q: With your consultancy including 10 days in Hanoi with leaders of the Vietnam Ministry of Planning and Investments, how did being in person for those discussions change the dynamics and outcomes of the project?
A: Even using translation, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations. Our team was able to answer specific questions posed by the MPI minister and others, and we were able to share our views with the very influential Central Economic Commission as well as with the vice chairman of the National Assembly that will need to approve the plan. Building rapport based on mutual respect and trust helps in delivering policy messages, even tough ones.
Q: GW Global MBA students each year participate in the Consulting Abroad Program – preparing in advance and then working in country with the client. How similar was the structure of your consultancy to what GW students experience?
A: The concept is the same although our team members each had an average of about 30 years of experience working on these issues in the East Asia region. Counterparts, whether in government or the private sector, size up those giving advice, and they decide pretty quickly whether this is going to be fruitful. So being prepared, being authoritative without lecturing and listening to what the client is really asking are some key takeaways.
Q: What are some trends or themes of this Vietnamese Spatial Masterplan that you will bring back into the classroom as you teach GW international business students?
A: When teaching about emerging market success stories, we often draw on Korea, Thailand and Malaysia and then China for countries that have managed to develop at a sustained fast clip. Vietnam is the most recent entrant to that club of economic over-achievers, and it is still striving. Did you know that Vietnam with a per capita income of just $3,700 is already producing electric vehicles? This is an economy to watch.