Explaining Development-in-a-Box™

Stephen DeAngelis

September 05, 2007

This blog is being posted on both my web site and Thomas Barnett’s Weblog. It is an effort to explain more fully the concept of Development-in-a-Box™. We hope this blog helps readers better understand what we mean when we mention the Development-in-a-Box approach.

First we’d like to clarify the name. We have noted before that some pundits believe the name is a bit too flippant — that it trivializes the difficulties involved in fostering development and that it doesn’t reflect the fact that each nation’s situation is unique. We don’t ignore such criticism, but we have given the name a lot of thought over the past couple of years. Because Development-in-a-Box is a new and complex approach to sustainable development, we needed a name that could serve as shorthand for what we are trying to accomplish. Since the centerpiece of the approach is adapting internationally recognized standards and best practices to local conditions to jump start development, we couldn’t find another name that emphasized both development and standardization as well as the term Development-in-a-Box.

Development-in-a-Box began as a discussion between the two of us about how we could integrate our two world views. I started Enterra Solutions to help transform organizations (which include nation states, governmental agencies and corporations) into highly agile and adaptable enterprises that are systemically able to adjust to rapidly changing security, compliance and performance stimuli within the context of globalization. Globalization also frames Tom’s strategic security vision, which focuses on connecting the disconnected parts of the globe (the Gap) as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Besides recognizing the importance of globalization, both visions share an understanding of the importance of trust and how adhering to accepted rules can help generate it. Countries are welcomed as full contributing members of the global economy when they can be trusted by the rest of the developed world (the Core). Trust is not something that can be given, it must be earned. But there are shortcuts available that can help garner trust where there is no history upon which to draw. Those shortcuts are contained in the standards and best practices used by the Core. It makes no sense for each emerging market country to reinvent these standards and practices. They can be imported as “in the box” solutions and, when necessary, adapted to local conditions. Because they don’t have to be reinvented or discovered in each new situation, valuable time is saved and precious resources aren’t squandered.

Some critics believe that Development-in-the-Box is patronizing at best and warmed over colonialism at worst — but they are wrong. Colonialism was about exploiting natural resources to bolster manufacturing at home. Development-in-a-Box is about fostering economic progress in emerging markets. It does this by helping countries establish the basic standards necessary to attract foreign direct investment and become a trusted international partner. Development-in-a-Box is about generating sustainable capabilities and interfaces not dictating content. It is about improving quality and transparency in any area where an emerging market country desires to transact international commerce. Which areas they pursue and how those paths unfold are idiosyncratic — how they must connect with others working in the same sector is not. By adopting the internationally recognized standards and best practices, emerging market countries can gain trust quickly even when they have no history of trust upon which to build. The current manufacturing challenges faced by China in the toy industry, for example, could have been avoided had a Development-in-a-Box approach been taken.

This approach doesn’t intend to step on the toes of those already engaged in relief and development. They are providing valuable work and their heroic efforts must continue. Development-in-a-Box offers them a way to better coordinate their efforts with others in a larger community of practice building on lessons learned in the past. The beauty of communities of practice is that they are voluntary groups. Since no one “leads” the effort, organizations can opt in and opt out as their interests coincide with the interests of others. And because it is a leaderless community, no organization need fear that joining the community of practice means that it is buying in to someone else’s agenda. What keeps the group together is good will and shared objectives. Communities of practice also help refine the approach by sharing new lessons learned. They form the critical feedback loop that makes any process sustainable and valuable.

Development-in-a-Box is not a humanitarian assistance program, although traditional development programs often lay the foundations upon which subsequent development efforts build. Development-in-a-Box also doesn’t ignore the special knowledge of those working locally; it provides a framework in which such knowledge can be more usefully applied. It doesn’t try to impose an outside solution on an emerging economy but it helps reduce the number of roadblocks that could otherwise slow economic progress. Most importantly, Development-in-a-Box helps set in place the trust framework necessary to attract foreign direct investment — which is the key to achieving sustainable economic growth. In every emerging market country currently developing a sustainable middle class, it is being done primarily through private investment.

There are pre-conditions that help move the Development-in-a-Box approach along more quickly. The most important pre-condition is security. Foreign direct investment is a coward. It shies away from any scenario where a return on investment is unlikely. In addition to security, Development-in-a-Box works best where a visionary and competent government is in place. If both those conditions are present, then a literate and hardworking populace can be added to the mix. With those three pieces in place, Development-in-a-Box has the best chance of working most effectively. So how does the process work?

For emerging market countries seeking to understand and find a systemic means of complying with the rules of engagement necessary to be a new and integrating member of the international community, Development-in-a-Box offers a way forward. As I have written before, Development-in-a-Box is a highly flexible framework for post-conflict reconstruction and development as well as for enabling emerging market countries that are not in a post-conflict or post-failed state environment. The process is often initially supported by the international community or a single developed economic power (as in Iraq), but it can be used by any group whose programs aim to serve as a catalyst for attracting private sector investment. Development-in-a-Box involves a four-step flexible framework:

  • First, it creates a wireframe for understanding the internationally recognized best practices and standards for compliance, security, and management efficiency that are requirements for any emerging market country to integrate into the global economy. These standards and best practices create transparency and trust.
  • Second, it delivers standardized, pre-configured technology and management solutions that can be adapted to meet the specific historical, socio-economic, cultural and other unique requirements of that nation or region. This highly adaptive solution allows a country to jump start itself in the industry segments on which it is focusing.
  • Third, it embeds the business logic, or electronic rules sets, that constitute the best ways of operating an organization into its information and management systems. That is, it automates internationally recognized best practices into pre-configured business processes in order to reduce human errors, improve effectiveness, and generate trust in those processes both locally and internationally. The business processes are then kept compliant with changing requirements much like anti-virus software keeps a computer updated to rapidly changing virus threats.
  • Finally, beginning in the first stages, local personnel are trained, educated and function as apprentices who learn the international practices and standards of that industry sector –- allowing them to have the capability transferred to their operation after a multi-year training period. These apprentices, along with country based subject matter experts, are brought in at the first stage to assist with the customization of the catalog of best practices for the specific needs of that country.

Supporting this effort is a public information campaign that attempts to educate the population as to critical components of economic development. Let me give you a glimpse of how these pieces fit together in a notional emerging market country that is ready to take the next step forward.

The country has stabilized and its expatriate citizens begin returning or start investing in the country. Buildings start to go up, other infrastructure investments begin to emerge, but key economic pieces are missing. Some low price consumer products begin to appear like fast food and toiletries. Mobile phone service was one of the fist utilities to gain purchase in the new economy, but it was not accompanied by a high speed, broadband network that is essential for economic trade.

The country wants to take the next step, but there is no reason that it has to reinvent how to develop and install the necessary infrastructure. For broadband service, for example, it can adopt standards and practices, such as those used in Asia and Europe, to ensure that once it is up and running it is world class. This system is essential to ensure that international business transactions can take place.

Business transactions also require a national banking system to process these transactions and handle foreign direct investment. People simply can’t run around the country carrying satchels full of hard currency. Banking transactions are also necessary to handle e-commerce, collect taxes, and ensure that payrolls are efficiently handled. For example, more than 1,400 business processes exist that are core and common to every global retail bank. Globalization has rapidly created these as standards and best practices that all banks subscribe to and there is no need for the country to stumble through a mistake-ridden, learn-as-you-go process when such a system can be put in place without the local government having to reinvent it. Local businesses, that have no history or expertise in connecting with the global economy, need a way to ensure their products meet world standards. They need a way to market their products and support customers once contracts have been signed. To meet their needs, business support offices and business-to-business exchanges can be created to meet local requirements but using accepted standards and practices. Job training and mentoring programs can be established using the best techniques currently available.

Bolstering all these activities are public education programs explaining why it is important to get health checkups, keep children in school, obtain job training, trust the banking system, and so forth. Development-in-a-Box is a way to get an entire nation pulling together to raise its standard of living and quality of life. It helps further the national dream rather than imposing a preferred international scheme.

As you can see, Development-in-a-Box can be adapted to any situation and can focus on any economic sector desired by the country being helped. Although it provides great solutions that can help jump start industry sectors, it doesn’t dictate what those sectors are. Development-in-a-Box involves the best standards and practices available, but it doesn’t provide cookie cutter solutions that force those being helped down a road they don’t want to travel. The decisions about content and direction remain in the hands of local leaders, Development-in-a-Box simply help them get down that road a little quicker.