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This entry in the Faculty Spotlight feature comes from Bhaskar Chakravorti, Fletcher’s Senior Associate Dean of International Business and Finance, and the founding Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is the author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change. He currently teaches Strategy and Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business and Strategic Management, a module offered during the August pre-session attended by all students in the Master of International Business program. Dean Chakravorti here describes his real-world business education and his perspective on contextual intelligence that resulted.
From 1994 to 1995, I was traveling across Africa, exploring interest among various governments and telecommunications service companies in investment in the continent’s first undersea fiber-optic network. This would be a breakthrough communication technology, with the power of connecting an excluded and fragmented continent with itself, with the world, and to this newly emerging phenomenon — that none of us quite understood at the time — called the Internet.
Given its economic heft, South Africa was among my first ports of call. Those were exciting times for the country. The ANC had just assumed power and Nelson Mandela had made history as the country’s first black president. The world was suddenly considering how to connect to this hitherto isolated country and embracing a potential economic and political powerhouse.
I made what I thought was a brilliant presentation to senior bureaucrats and technologists. In my view, I had quite convincingly made the case for South Africa to be the key anchor for a fiber-optic ring that would encircle the continent with branches taking off toward other continents.
Turns out, my case wasn’t as rock solid as I had imagined. A senior minister took me aside the next day and asked if we could scrap the plans for a ring around Africa and just do a single cable that linked South Africa to …. Malaysia. That’s it. Just Malaysia. But that makes no business sense whatsoever, I protested. The minister explained that Mandela had visited Malaysia the previous year and had struck up a close friendship with Prime Minister Mahathir. The two had agreed on cooperation on many fronts. Most significantly, Malaysia had pledged help in providing voter education to South Africa, a country where nearly 18 million out of the 20 million citizens would cast their ballots for the first time, with half of the 18 million illiterate. And now, post-election, it was critical that the bonds be strengthened further.
“But consider the economics,” I continued. “A single link to Malaysia would be frightfully expensive and would not have the traffic to justify it. You would forgo the chance to connect with the rest of Africa.”
The minister politely, but firmly, let me know that while I seemed smart enough, I was not as clever as I thought I was. “You do not argue with Nelson Mandela,” he said.
Trained as an economist, this was my first small step toward an appreciation for contextual intelligence. The linear logic of business and all its analysis could not — and should not — ignore the momentum of emerging geopolitical alliances. Malaysia was already among the first of South Africa’s allies; there was a stronger relationship to be built. Mandela had personally asked for this cable as a symbol and a conduit.
Still frustrated, I walked the corridors of South Africa Telkom and ran into the old guard. These were engineers and network planners; surely, they understood economics and net present value analysis. I told them my story. They agreed that the Mandela proposal was nonsense. What was needed was a fiber-optic link directly connecting South Africa to Northern Europe. “What about connectivity to the rest of Africa?” I asked.
“Who cares about the rest of Africa?” was the universal opinion.
This was my second lesson in contextual intelligence. The old guard was all white. They were frightened about what was going to come next as their secluded reality had come to an end. While their argument was couched in business terms (after all, Northern Europe was where the business would be), their real reason was history: They desperately wanted a conduit back to the old days and to some semblance of a world that they had known all their lives. They were ready to make a “business” argument that was, in reality, an agenda that harkened back to a colonial legacy.
Yes, I was there at a true inflection point, armed with the finest analysis possible, elaborate layers of spreadsheets, and well-crafted presentations. However, real decisions are based on myriad other factors. In this case, there was, first, a big future envisioned by a master politician — and already a living legend — who could imagine the unimaginable. And second, there was a past that, while it had become politically irrelevant, still had the technocratic expertise to exert a pull in an opposite direction. If South Africa was to develop, it could not afford to ignore the technocrats entirely.
I redid the analysis. We modeled-in the geo-political assumptions, accounted for different connectivity scenarios and their socio-political ramifications as well as economic impact. We resumed the debate in a more holistic manner. Context is, indeed, king. You should embrace it, understand it, and make it central to your business model analysis; most importantly, you should not ignore or fight it.
I have taken this lesson to heart, so much so that I now run Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. Many students arrive at Fletcher with deep life experience that guides their understanding of centrality of context, but they aim to strengthen their business skills. Others have rich business and technical skills, and they seek to develop their contextual intelligence. Together, we are building a new approach to international business, one that factors in how business decisions connect with non-business factors, such as politics, history, and the human condition.
Today’s Faculty Spotlight introduction comes from a member of a select subset of the Fletcher faculty: professors who also graduated from Fletcher, where Kelly Sims Gallagher received both her MALD and PhD. Prof. Gallagher currently teaches Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy and Innovation for Sustainable Prosperity, and she directs the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.
My favorite moment from my years as a student at Fletcher (many years ago now) occurred during my Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China class. Our deliberate Professor Alan Wachman embarked on his lecture on the Korean War, but got no further than about five minutes into the lecture when a hand was raised. “Yes, General?” he asked. My fellow classmate, a retired Korean general in the MALD program, slowly rose to his feet and announced, “I was there.” He then proceeded to give his own reflections on the war in general, and China’s role specifically. It was a classic Fletcher moment where (1) the global perspective is naturally provided in the classroom, (2) everyone was riveted by the moment, (3) history vividly sprang to life, and (4) the class took on a life of its own.
As a current professor, I try to foster and cultivate such moments in my own classes. Let me provide a couple of examples. In my Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy class, we do a simulation of the international climate negotiations every year, right before the annual conference of parties. Most years, we have actual climate negotiators in the class, but they never get to represent their own countries — instead, I put them into their primary adversary’s role. Most recently, I had an actual Chinese negotiator play the role of the Special Envoy for Climate Change in the United States. He set an amazing tone and forcefully argued his positions until one moment when the color in his face rose until he was bright red with emotion. We all watched with appreciation as he managed to develop an argument that he certainly violently disagreed with personally. Not only did he learn a great deal from being able to sit in the shoes of his opponent, but the rest of the class could not help but appreciate the duality of his situation. Students also got to hear during the debrief about what “really happens” in those informal negotiations in the middle of the night.
In my class this semester on Innovation for Sustainable Prosperity, we have two engineers who have actually worked on technology development, one patent expert, former Intel and Shell employees, an economist, and a dozen others from at least eight different countries who have all engaged in the innovation process somehow, somewhere. This spring, our class has been invited by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to contribute background briefs on the role of technology in delivering sustainable development for the upcoming first-ever Global Sustainable Development Report. As we march through the theory, we will simultaneously study case studies, and uncover and evaluate the empirical evidence about how innovation can contribute to sustainable prosperity.
Classes at Fletcher don’t stagnate; they are dynamically evolving every day, enriched by professors and students working together in a spirit of engaged, respectful inquiry.
Today’s post in our Faculty Spotlight series comes from Joel P. Trachtman, Professor of International Law, who describes his special perspective on his field. Prof. Trachtman currently teaches International Law in International Relations, International Business Transactions, International Investment Law, International Financial and Fiscal Law, and Legal and Institutional Aspects of International Trade.
I first became interested in international law in 1975, when, as a student at the London School of Economics, I had the opportunity to study with Rosalyn Higgins, who later served as a judge on the World Court. After my undergraduate studies, I studied international law and then practiced for nine years in New York and in Hong Kong before joining the Fletcher faculty.
It is great to be a law professor at Fletcher, where law is one of several areas of international public policy study. While the disciplines of history and political science specialize in the study of how and why governments take particular actions, and economics specializes in the study of the consequences of government and private sector actions, law specializes in the implementation and interaction of government policies, and in how businesses interact with governments.
My research has two streams: (i) economic analysis of international law and (ii) international trade law.
First, I have been one of the early adopters of economic methods in the study of international law. The field of law and economics has revolutionized legal study during the past 30 years, but it took a bit longer to get to international law. My 2008 book, The Economic Structure of International Law (Harvard University Press), explored and consolidated some of the ways in which economic analysis helps us to understand the causes and effects of international legal rules, using tools from price theory, public choice, transaction cost economics, and game theory. I’ve been at Fletcher since 1989, and have now been thoroughly Fletcher-ized, so as to see international public policy and business problems as multidimensional issues, requiring interdisciplinary analysis. My 2013 book, The Future of International Law: Global Government (Cambridge University Press), extended this way of thinking to look at changes in globalization, democratization, demography, and technology in order to suggest the ways that these changes would result in increasing demands for international legal solutions to international cooperation problems. That book won the International Studies Association’s prize for best book on international law for 2013.
By placing international law in a social scientific context, I am able to explain it better, and critique it better, in the classroom. Traditional legal analysis and scholarship looks only for consistency and internal logic. A social science-based legal scholarship examines more broadly the links between social ends and legal means, and demands intellectual rigor in critiquing legal rules. For example, my courses in international trade law and international investment law begin with a careful analysis of the economics and political economy, and an analysis of the economic and political roles of law, in these fields.
My second stream of research is international trade law. This is an area of international law in which economics and politics are extremely important. One focus of my work within international trade law has been on the relationship between trade liberalization and national regulatory autonomy. This is the central issue of globalization: how can we attain greater integration for efficiency, while maintaining the maximum ability to achieve local public policy goals? I recently wrote a short paper on this topic for inclusion in a book of recommendations for trade ministries on how to proceed in WTO negotiations after the December 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference and the rather modest agreement it produced. My paper was entitled “Unleashing Recognition in International Trade,” and was included in an e-book entitled Building on Bali: A Work Programme for the WTO, edited by Simon Evenett and Alejandro Jara, former deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization.
I enjoy making the tools of legal analysis and argument available to Fletcher students, and showing how these tools complement and incorporate social scientific and historical argumentation. Based on my experience revealing and explaining these analytical tools and arguments to students at Fletcher for the past 25 years, I recently published a book that succinctly explains how lawyers analyze and argue. It is entitled The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win.
Our next profile by a Fletcher professor comes from Alex de Waal, who is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at the Fletcher School. In addition to directing the World Peace Foundation, Prof. de Waal currently teaches Conflict in Africa.
An occupational hazard of my job as Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation is that, when I introduce myself, people tend to snicker. In the twenty-first century, apparently, advocates of “world peace” seem to be beauty queens or practitioners of levitation. It wasn’t always so. A hundred years ago, when the World Peace Foundation was established, there was a strong movement for world peace, in America and many other countries. It was perfectly respectable for political leaders to espouse resolving all disputes between nations by negotiation and law, not by force. Fifty years ago, in his commencement address to the American University, President John F. Kennedy chose the theme of world peace, “a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived — yet it is the most important topic on earth.” Our goal at the World Peace Foundation is to make world peace once again a regular topic of public discourse, and an accepted goal of public policy.
I came to the World Peace Foundation after twenty-five years of working as a reflective practitioner, mostly in Africa. I was an advocate for and critic of humanitarian action in famine, an exponent of human rights but a critic of some of the activities pursued in the name of human rights, and most recently an advisor to mediation efforts in Sudan. I was recurrently troubled by the way in which many international efforts to end suffering and promote human wellbeing ended up having unintended and adverse consequences. And I was determined that critically analytic social science, grounded in the lived realities of people in these difficult places, could help remedy these shortcomings.
Political leaders and senior officials in governments and international agencies are rarely critical thinkers — they are simply too busy responding to the next problem to be reflective, analytical and creative. Some years ago, I began to suspect that the key to solving the most intractable public policy problems is not to influence decision makers — who will adjust their actions only at the margin anyway — but to invest in building intellectual capital among young professionals and students, who will go on to change the world. And in turn, I realized that the best way to attract the best students to the problems that concerned me, such as war and famine, is to make these subjects intellectually challenging — to fasten onto the most fascinating debates and dilemmas, and to have the courage of theorizing a complicated reality.
The World Peace Foundation and I joined The Fletcher School at the same time, in 2011. In my twin roles as foundation director and professor, I have been trying to put this philosophy into practice. I teach a class, “Conflict in Africa,” in which I try to make the subject intellectually exciting as well as relevant to the real issues of the day. (For better or worse, the case studies I select seem to hit the news just as they come up in the class schedule.) I also continue with my work as a practitioner, especially with the African Union’s peace and security initiatives. The World Peace Foundation, meanwhile, has a growing array of research and advocacy topics, including the “how mass atrocities end” program (led by WPF Research Director, Prof. Bridget Conley-Zilkic), our “African peace archive” that documents the inner workings of mediation processes, research on the “political marketplace” and “political entrepreneurship,” and a new project on corruption and the global arms business. I see this all as a contribution to making it possible to talk seriously about peace, not just in specific places, but in the whole world.
The next post in our Faculty Spotlight series comes from Miguel E. Basáñez, adjunct professor and director of the Judiciary Reform Program, who describes his path to Fletcher. Prof. Basáñez currently teaches Culture, Human Values and Development, in addition to directing the Judiciary Reform Program, which is generally offered in the summer.
Prospective Fletcher students are nearly always afflicted with a severe case of wanderlust, and have usually racked up an impressive record of traveling, working, and studying abroad. As such, I’m sure that all of you have experienced the collision of different values, beliefs, and ways of life that we call “culture shock.” My own experiences with culture shock — primarily as a Mexican graduate student in Great Britain in the 1970s — were so powerful that they never left me, and indeed inspired me to make the study of cultural values the basis of my academic career.
After many years in government and running my own public polling firm, I came to Fletcher, where I research human values and teach the seminar “Culture, Human Values and Development.” In my course, we seek to answer some of the deepest questions around culture: Is it even possible to talk about national cultures? How can cultures be studied and measured? How do particular cultural traits impact the development of economic, political, and social systems? Should policymakers seek to influence people’s values and beliefs, and if so, how can it be done? Fletcher’s great diversity is a huge advantage in these discussions, as even in a small seminar we usually have students from many different parts of the world, and they bring new and valuable perspectives to the conversation. In fact, sometimes I think I’ve learned more from my students than they have from me!
As an outgrowth of my work on culture, I’ve also started to do work on judicial reform, since a country’s legal system is both a cause and a consequence of its culture. I currently direct the Fletcher Judiciary Reform Program, which brings policymakers and professionals to our school for executive training programs on how best to manage the transition from an inquisitorial to an adversarial justice system. To date, we have trained almost 200 Mexican professionals, judges, and lawyers in week-long crash courses in comparative law. In addition, the program does research and puts on events related to security, rule of law, and prosperity in Latin America, such as immigration reform and promotion of innovation.
There are opportunities for Fletcher students to be involved with each of these programs, and I continue to be impressed by their dedication, intelligence, and intellectual curiosity. Fletcher students have so much to offer, and mentoring them is one of the best parts of my work.
In the second Faculty Spotlight post, Michael Glennon, professor of international law, describes the origins of his interest in international relations and how it has developed at Fletcher. Prof. Glennon currently teaches The International Legal Order, Public International Law, and Foreign Relations and National Security Law.
My interest in international law and relations was probably sparked long ago by the Vietnam War. I interned for three summers for a member of Congress who was a leading critic of the war, and afterwards, arguments in law school about the scope of the presidential war power convinced me that this was an area in which I wanted to work. Most of what I’ve done professionally has related in one way or another to seeking to understand how the use of force can be subjected to the rule of law.
I’ve found, at Fletcher, the ideal place to continue that study. In the end, this question is not purely legal — it raises interdisciplinary issues that fall within the expertise of numerous Fletcher students and faculty colleagues. Virtually all my written work has benefited from their advice and counsel — and in the case of students, from their research assistance. Fletcher students make for a great sounding board. An article I’ve just completed on national security law benefited hugely from comments conveyed over pizza by a group of students. They were thorough, insightful, worldly-wise and candid — just the reality check that every author needs before committing to print. Recent congressional testimony turned into an article co-authored jointly with my Fletcher research assistant.
When I first arrived at Fletcher ten years ago, a colleague pointed out that no matter what an instructor talks about in class, there’s almost always a student in the room who knows more about it. I’ve found that it’s the rare class that doesn’t produce some insight that ultimately influences my own thinking. It’s this synergy between faculty and students, striving together to understand, that energizes Fletcher’s intellectual community. It’s enriching to be a part of it.
In the first of our new series of posts by members of the faculty, Michael Klein, William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, tells us about his experience at the U.S. Treasury and how it has shaped his teaching and scholarship since he returned. Prof. Klein currently teaches International Finance, International Economic Policy Analysis, Finance, Growth and Business Cycles, and Quantitative Methods.
In March 2010 I received, completely by surprise, an email from the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Treasury asking me whether I would be interested in serving as Chief Economist in the Office of International Affairs. This was a novel opportunity for me. I had served as a visiting scholar at a number of institutions (the International Monetary Fund, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, and the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, New York, and San Francisco), but had spent my entire career in academia. I was excited by the prospect of using the skills and knowledge that I have developed through teaching and scholarship in a government position. I was also curious to see how policy was developed and executed. And, not inconsequentially, I was happy and proud to serve my country.
The eighteen months that I spent at Treasury were a very exciting time; it was a period during which there was a halting recovery from the Great Recession in the United States, a re-evaluation of the international monetary system (especially with regards to the use of capital controls), an on-going crisis in the euro-area, and international tensions over exchange rates (during this time, the Finance Minister of Brazil declared that the United States was engaged in “currency wars” and there was continuing controversy about the renminbi/dollar exchange rate). I analyzed these issues, as well as many others, writing memos that drew on my research and teaching experience. I also participated in high-level meetings with officials from other countries. My time at Treasury was one of the high marks of my professional career.
Since returning to Fletcher in the autumn of 2012, I have been able to draw on my experiences at Treasury in a variety of ways. I developed a new course, International Economic Policy Analysis, which teaches students to use economics and statistical skills and frameworks in a practical policy setting. My teaching in two other courses, International Finance and Finance, Growth and Business Cycles, has been enriched by my interaction with policy and experiences in government. And the trajectory of my research was also influenced by my time at Treasury; over the past two years, I have focused on the topic of capital controls, a subject that I became interested in while working in Washington. My research on this topic now includes a 2012 article for the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, another article that was presented at the IMF’s Annual Research Conference in November 2013 and will be published in the IMF’s flagship research journal, and a third that is currently under review.
Like other Fletcher faculty members, I am able to draw on scholarship as well as policy experience to provide students with an education that is both deeply informed by theory and scholarship and well-grounded in practical, real-world experience and concerns.
Throughout the years, I’ve asked Fletcher professors to contribute to the blog in many, mostly minor, ways. For example, they’ve provided reading recommendations, both books related to their classes and, occasionally, lighter selections. They’ve also been good sports when we have cornered them in the Hall of Flags. And other times, without asking them to put in any effort, I’ve written about their work.
Last November, I contacted faculty members with a request — an assignment, if we’re being honest about it. I asked them to write a short post on one of several topics designed to tell readers more about the professors’ interests. Those who have written so far have done exactly what I would have hoped, which is to approach the topics from many different angles. I have the first of the posts, by Prof. Michael Klein, set to run tomorrow, and I’ll plan one or two each week through the next few months. I hope you’ll agree that, added together, the new series shines the spotlight on a diverse and interesting collection of people.
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