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There was high excitement in the classroom of Tower 3 on the central London campus of the London School of Economics and Political Science recently when 27 students, divided into groups, acted out their roles as directors of five fishing companies. Their backstory had been to work together to make as much money as possible, but having failed to agree on fishing quotas, four years later all five companies were losing money. So, what had gone wrong?
“In business the first move is very important,” opined one participant. What was really needed was trust and information voiced another – “And we need a written agreement”.
Such simulations are the bread and butter of many executive programmes. The difference in this case was that the programme was not designed for a mega corporation but for the Vietnamese government.
The Economics for Foreign Policy programme, specified by the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mofa) and financed by the United Nations Development Programme, was designed by LSE Enterprise, a wholly owned subsidiary of the LSE. The programme is aimed at mid-career officials from the ministries of finance and planning and investment, the central bank and the national assembly, among others, but also included high-flying participants as young as 25.
For Trinh Thi Tuyet Mai, one of the 15 women on the programme, the course was perfect training for the skills she needs in her job in the multilateral trade policy department, where her responsibilities include handling environmental issues. “I go to Geneva five times a year on the Doha negotiations (of the World Trade Organisation) and for UN meetings,” she says. “Economic diplomacy is highly relevant.”
Although Vietnam only joined the WTO in 2007, many of the course participants have lived, worked or studied overseas. Tran Quoc Khanh, director of the economic diplomacy division at Mofa, was a student at Ena in Paris, the public administration school and alma mater of many of France’s presidents and prime ministers, and also worked in Geneva. He says that the UK company visits that follow the six-day LSE programme will be particularly useful.
“One of our important tasks is to create favourable conditions (for business),” says Mr Khanh. “We need to know what they (businesses) need from us. We need to hear from them.”
Vietnam, with its population of more than 85m, is growing rapidly and is one of the Civets countries (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa).
“It’s the first time I’ve been to a country that you can see developing with your own eyes,” says Stefan Liller, head of the UNDP unit in Hanoi. The programme, he says, is about “building the capacity of the government to engage globally.”
For Yury Bikbaev, LSE director of the Economics for Foreign Policy programme and a native of St Petersburg, the changes in the country are evident in a different way. When he first went to Vietnam, he says, there were people of influence there to whom he spoke in Russian.
These days, the language of choice for high-potential executives and government officials alike is English and all programme participants are proficient in the language.
LSE has carved out a niche for itself in training government officials, most notably in the UK and Taiwan. It draws on faculty from four schools: international relations, government, management and economics.
“We occupy the unique place in a social sciences university,” says Mr Bikbaev. “Increasingly we address strategy issues for government.”
This is the second programme that LSE has run for the Vietnamese government and, says Mr Khanh, the current programme is deemed a pilot, with a plan to run two programmes a year. More senior Vietnamese politicians attend a programme at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
For Simon Flemington, chief executive of LSE Enterprise, the programme brings additional benefits. “From our point of view we get personal satisfaction in working with developing countries with which we don’t usually engage.
“Listening to them you hear how the patterns of power and respect are shared to deliver decisions.”