News Column

Think Tanks in Business and Governance

June 8, 2014

Gerald Mpyisi

THERE ARE many striking comparisons between the management of a company and a country. Just like a CEO is accountable to the shareholders under the guidance of the company policy and the board of directors, similarly a leader is accountable to the citizens under the guidance of the constitution and the legislature.

A great CEO creates profits for the shareholders by ensuring an effective management team and a working environment in which employees feel valued and enjoy working in. The welfare of his staff is the CEO's business. A celebrated leader generates profits for the citizens in the form of sound social and economic policies and strategies that provide citizens with peace and security, readily available and affordable social amenities and a thriving economy that generates jobs and hope for the youth by putting in place an effective and accountable government. The welfare of the citizens is the leader's business.

At the heart of every successful company is a think tank responsible for formulating the company's strategies such as new products and services, how to deal with competition, impact of globalisation, new markets etc. These are the strategies that great CEOs rely on in making their decisions. This unit is the company's heart and brain. This is where the real planning of a company or government is based. While smart and great CEOs do exist, their achievements and success at the helm of companies depend largely on the ideas developed within the company's Think Tank.

The members of a think tank, especially in governments, are eminent individuals with impeccable qualifications (not necessarily academic) in various disciplines and proven track record in managing successful business enterprises. When recruiting the qualities desired are an analytical mind, an independent mindset, a team player spirit and an all round knowledge of globalisation and its impact on social, economic and political trends. People working in think tanks are well remunerated in order to think for the company or government and the ideas they churn out are expected to fetch substantial returns for the company or country. Before the ideas are implemented they will have undergone several brainstorming sessions and stringent hypothetical analysis. Their advice is not simply theoretical but must have a 90 percent chance of success on being implemented. Think tanks are not brought together on when-is-needed basis. They are employed on permanent basis.

Just like great CEOs, illustrious leaders rely to a great extent on think tanks and advisory councils on all important decisions in areas such as the economy, foreign policy, peace and security, among others. Nearly all great speeches by leaders are researched and written by a team of experts.

While there are a few leaders who seem to have been gifted with leadership skills (like a gentleman we all know) the majority who ultimately become celebrated leaders are those who identify and select teams of the best minds and experience to help them formulate and implement appropriate national polices and programs. Theodore Roosevelt once said that 'the best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it'; and quoting Isaac Newton - 'If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of others'.

During the recent AfDB annual meeting here in Kigali almost in every session the challenges facing African leaders were brought to the fore and surprisingly by past and sitting heads of state among other leaders. In the session "Leadership for the Africa We Want" everyone on the panel castigated African leaders for all sorts of reasons. The headline of the 'Annual Meetings' daily of day 3 of the AfDB meeting read - "Africa's Leaders on Trial: Guilty as Charged?' Indeed President Kagame accentuated the African leadership challenges when he pointed out the apparent disconnect between what our leaders say and what they do.

My take on what was well articulated in the AfDB meeting is that most African leaders tend to ignore advice from well meaning and patriotic citizens for personal reasons among them fear of being told the situation as it real is. Instead of surrounding themselves with honest, highly regarded and independent think tanks, they instead prefer the advice, or no advice at all, of close individuals whose standing with regard to independence of mind, sincerity and character leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite all the challenges that were highlighted during the meeting there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future of our continent. Judging by the amount of narrative and ongoing conversations in local and international media on "Africa Rising", the infrastructure development taking place in many countries, the improvement in agriculture, the opening up of borders, talk of a visa-free Africa to ease movement of people and goods, the wise exploitation of our natural resources, and the projected GDP growth of more than 6 percent in most countries one can't help but be hopeful. I am.

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Source: AllAfrica

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