Ministers Reflect | Kaha Baindurashvili (MoF 2009-2011)

Ministers Reflect is a new interview series on “how to be effective in government”, following a model developed by the Institute for Government in London. The series seeks to capture – in former ministers’ own words – what it takes to be an effective government minister, what challenges they face, and what broader lessons their experiences may hold. The interview was conducted on 4 December 2020, by Hans Gutbrod, Irakli Asanishvili, and Guga Chomakhidze, all at Ilia State University. Nino Gabelashvili contributed to preparation and editing.

Today’s Guest: Kaha Baindurashvili was the Minister of Finance from 2009 to 2011. Prior to assuming this role, he served in various roles in government, including as Deputy Minister of Finance (2007-2009), as the head of the State Tax Department, and as an advisor to the Prime Minister (2004-2005). Mr. Baindurashvili holds a Master’s Degree in Economics from Williams College (2006). He is on Twitter @kbaindur

You had extensive experience in the Ministry of Finance, both as a deputy minister, as an advisor in government, and also in the Revenue Service. Thinking back to when you first started as an actual minister, what was your experience of coming into the cabinet like? Was there anything you still found surprising?

Kakha Baindurashvili: There were no major surprises when I became the minister after having been a deputy, perhaps for two major reasons.

One factor was extensive career experience. I started working in the Ministry of Finance from 2000 and moved up through the whole career chain within the institution. The ministry for me was almost like a second family. I had deep knowledge of the structure itself, of the people and functions on every level, from the specialist across mid manager to high manager, from different perspectives.

In between, for example when I worked as an advisor to the Prime Minister, I had an opportunity to look at the ministry from the outside as well. In that regard, my case might be different from political appointees that don’t come immediately from that same agency.

The second reason why there were not many surprises is that I was a member of the so-called “reformer team” before becoming the minister. Within this team there were not only the ministers, but also deputy ministers, and some heads of the departments. The overall reforms were coordinated by the Prime Minister, but there were different groups of people focusing on each reform. I was a member of the team that was working on economic reforms much before I became the minister. I was quite familiar with the whole set up.

The appointment was not expected, but in some ways it had its internal logic: the finance minister had taken the position of the prime minister, and I, as the first deputy minister, replaced him. It was like a one-step move for everyone in the command chain.

What were your initial priorities on entering office? What did you want to achieve? Did you have a strong set of priorities, or was the emphasis on continuity?

KB: Certainly both. In terms of continuity, all of the reforms were driven by the big idea of a “better Georgia”. Even when many reforms were highly decentralized among different Georgian government bodies, this was a core vision.

Within that vision, people had their own priorities. That is what makes a person not only a human being, but also a public servant, a professional, a politician – we are shaped by past career, past knowledge, and past experience.

As a public servant, a professional, a politician – we are shaped by our past career, past knowledge, past experience.

For me, one could say that I made public debt management and the tax administration the key priorities for myself, together with continuing other reforms.

Now you yourself had in-depth experience with tax administration since you had previously headed up the tax department. How had that come about?

I had been appointed to lead the tax department back in 2006. It perhaps illustrates how some appointments happened, at least back then. I had been studying in the United States and had graduated from Williams College with a master’s degree in economics. I came to Tbilisi in September 2006, to pack my things and gather documents and go back to Washington, D.C., as I already had been offered a job with the World Bank and was supposed to start working there. Before I left Tbilisi, I went to see Zurab Noghadeili, who at that time was prime minister and previously had been the finance minister. I went to him to say “hello and goodbye”. After saying hello, I was appointed head of tax department and began the next day. That’s how my career with the World Bank ended without being started.

I went to tell the Prime Minister “hello and goodbye”, but after saying “hello” I was appointed head of tax department.

It was an intense time, beyond just turnaround reforms. On the one hand, we were destroying and taking apart the existing system. On the other hand, we were building up the new one.

Thinking about the day-to-day reality of being a minister, how was most of your time spent?

KB: That’s a good question. One immediate difference in the day-to-day stuff is where you spend your time: as a deputy minister I was spending 70% of my time within the building of the Ministry of Finance. As a minister, I spent 70% of my time outside of the building of the Ministry of Finance. That’s something I experienced from day one.

As deputy minister, I was spending 70% of my time in the building, as a minister, I spent 70% of my time outside.

Another difference is the political part. Technically, deputy ministers by Georgian legislation are counted as political appointees. But in fact, they usually have little political responsibility, even if this can vary between ministries and contexts.

The minister is different. As soon as you are becoming the minister you feel the weight of political responsibility. That responsibility is translated into practical day-to-day experiences. For instance, you need to spend lots of time in the parliament, with the president, with the prime minister, the government delegations, receiving them, or going somewhere. Moreover, you have to be available to TV and media, of course, which is an integral part of the political responsibility.

The single biggest difference between the role of minister and deputy minister is political responsibility. They measure your achievements through a political paradigm, instead of measuring your success just by numerical outcomes.

Could you talk through an occasion where an unexpected event or crisis hit the department?

KB: We were dealing with crises all the time! [laughs] Between ourselves, we were joking and calling ourselves the crisis management team. That was under Nika Gilauri’s prime ministership. It was an accurate description, too, not just a joke, because we were going through multiple crises.

We were calling ourselves the crisis management team…it was an accurate description.

Regarding these critical crisis events, I had the advantage or luck that I was quite well-prepared. One of the reasons for our relative resilience was our prior experience. A crisis was almost a daily event in my previous positions, too.

One crisis I recall vividly was back in 2006, when I was appointed the head of tax departments. I was fresh to the position, as described before, having just returned from the US, when that crisis hit.

This crisis was a result of an artificial tax payment deadline, something that likely is a typical post-Soviet invention. We had a lot of such deadlines back then. People were supposed to pay on, say, November 1, as if that day had a particular meaning in the calendar. If they did not pay on time, they received a large fine. On this occasion, it was an old tax for transport vehicles, if I recall correctly.

On the day of that deadline, it was afternoon when I received reports that people were queuing in front of banks. At that time, we didn’t have any E-filing or E-payment. People were going to banks either with cash, or to personally sign printed transfer forms. Long queues had formed outside the banks.

In 2004 one of president’s major promises was to get rid of the queues. Of course it was bigger than just getting rid of the queues…we had to deliver the message of effective government.

If you remember, from the beginning of 2004 one of our president’s major public promises was to get rid of queues. He underlined this as a priority. Of course, it was bigger than getting rid of queues, but that is how it was translated for the general public, to deliver the message of effective government.

When I heard about the long queues outside the banks, I immediately sensed that something was going wrong. There was a chance this could end badly. By evening the situation was turning into a public disaster. People were still standing in the queues. There was no chance for them to pay this tax while potentially facing legal threats and fines for non-payment. The banks were closing, as their working hours were over.

This case was the first major management crisis I faced in my career. It took quite some will to settle that.

..and likely that was only one out of many crises?

KB: Many more crises, of course, followed throughout my career. Sometimes there were a few crises a day, especially around and after the 2008 war. During the war, for instance, we were managing the wheat import in Georgia in the Ministry of Finance. I was personally the deputy minister in charge of managing the fuel distribution in Georgia. Most of the fuel tanks and reservoirs were located in the Eastern parts while the fuel was coming from the West of the country. At the time, the Russian army was attacking and bombing Gori, compromising the east-west highway. The heads of the gasoline energy carriers and importers were sitting in the Ministry of Finance, and we were together just trying to come up with the logistical map of how to supply the gas stations with gas.

The war continued to have an impact, when I was promoted to the ministerial position, in early 2009. A major crisis happened almost immediately, by the end of spring Georgia had the highest foreign debt repayment due. The repayment was not just for state debt, but also for some major companies.

There was a huge sense of urgency: we need to do something because we were facing this big crisis, probably something Georgia had not had, financially, since perhaps 1998. Added to that, by spring of 2009, the public finance was literally at the point of collapse. It was not because of the management, but simply because of the GDP shock, due to the war.

Tax revenues were at a historical minimum. I had this dilemma that I was facing two realities. One was the shock. There was no way to collect taxes because there was no turnover, it was not because of tax administration. The companies were under huge stress. The second reality was that we needed to support the spending.

So how did you deal with that double challenge?

We had this understanding that unless we somehow either increase – or at minimum sustain – the specialty capital spending, we will face a starting recession. We thought that if we manage and sustain higher expenditure, especially on the capital side, we manage to rebound quickly without extended shock.

At the same time, we simply had this massive erosion of tax income. There were not many tools in my hands as any further increase of the tax burden was simply impossible. Businesses didn’t have much, it’s like in the current situation. If you increase the taxes for the businesses, they simply won’t pay because they can’t. While social spending was covered, we had problems financing other current operations.

[To deal with post-war shock,] we started to control all spending of other ministries… After some seven or eight days, we managed to communicate the message that finance had to be the main priority.

One thing we did, then, was to control all spending. We started doing things manually. The minister of finance had the right to exercise authority if he or she wants to control the daily expenditures of other ministries. I was receiving piles of papers, maybe over a thousand a day from all the agencies, from everyone, including the procurement of the cars, tables, pencil, paper, bulbs, or food, anything and everything. We were going through each and every expenditure in full detail and deciding either to allow or not to allow it, to reduce ongoing spending.

We did not have the illusion that this could have saved the budget overall, we are talking about maybe somewhere between one or four percent of the budget, it didn’t have a huge impact on the bigger picture. But after some seven or eight days, we managed to break the perception of other ministries, and to communicate the message that, hey guys, we are facing a crisis. Unless you restructure yourselves, unless you make yourselves more efficient, unless you start controlling your expenses far more wisely, and unless you make finance the main priority right now, we are certainly doomed. We managed to deliver that message.

From all these crises, what did you learn? What are some key lessons from these crises that could apply more broadly?

KB: Don’t be afraid and simply do your best. I guess that’s it, in short. I recently said this to a high-ranking Ukrainian civil servant, who also faced many challenges, on how to undertake reforms when there is this war with Russia. My answer was, just do your job.

[When in crisis] don’t be afraid and simply do your best. Think of your portfolio instead of thinking generally.

Think about your portfolio instead of thinking generally. When in your daily stuff you start thinking that, oh my God, I have the war, the internally displaced persons, there is a world crisis, or there is a world pandemic — there are so many things you can find that can become convenient excuses, and your mind will struggle to cope, so don’t focus on it.

Continue and keep going. Of course, you may not get the same result as you would have without the crisis or other interference. But do your job, based on your best judgments. That’s probably the advice I’d give to anyone. Someone else will take care of something which is not exactly related to your job.

You were involved in various kinds of major reforms. Among them, what do you feel were achievements particularly worth highlighting?

KB: I would divide this answer into two parts, one with concrete outcomes and the other with processes we changed.

In terms of concrete outcomes, I would emphasize the Eurobonds and the finalization of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) post-war program. Both allowed Georgia to come back and recover from the shocks of 2008.

With the issuance of Eurobonds, Georgia went back to the open financial market in 2010. [Note for readers: Eurobonds are debt instruments  denominated in a currency other than the home currency of the country for which it is issued.] Many observers were extremely skeptical about Georgia getting back to the international market. But Georgia came back and was accepted by investors and the world’s finance community.

In technical terms, the post-war Eurobonds issuance became better than the pre-war issuance, with the coupon rate and in terms of repayment. That was a success because it was not only a post-war situation for Georgia but also just after the world financial crisis.

At that time, in 2010, investment money was limited. Before 2008, many investors were quite reckless, buying all kinds of junk and we know how it ended. In that way, it was a big success that our 2010 issuance was better in technical terms than the Georgian Eurobonds of 2008.

The Eurobonds were for re-financing but also about confidence in Georgia. We had to refinance older bonds and had to attract money for that. It’s impossible to refinance with donor funding, as they don’t give you money to cover your commercial debt. We managed to cover that need.

[To reassure investors after the war,] we needed a quick win. Getting back to the open market was that assurance.

At the same time, the Eurobonds also were assurance and brought back investor confidence. For us, the foreign investment inflow was existential. Our economic model was designed around foreign investment inflows, and there was no time to restructure the whole model. We needed a quick win. Getting back to the open market was that assurance.

Another major success was the end of the IMF program. The IMF program was designed as a framework for the post-war /post-crisis situation. Finalizing that was the sign that Georgia was back on track, in many regards.

What about your achievements with processes and approach?

KB: With all these achievements, it’s important to talk about “we”, since I was in a team and that was a key part of it all.

Our main achievement was that we managed to implement a consumer-centric approach. Normally, the consumer-centric approach is more like a commercial strategy. It’s more what the private companies are following, at least in theory. But in our case in the Ministry of Finance, we had the same consumer-centric agenda.

Our main achievement was to implement a consumer-centric approach.

Most of the major political reforms, in terms of the legislative reforms, had been done in 2004-2006, such as cutting the number of taxes, and lowering them. But until 2009, we still didn’t have many breakthroughs in improving services. Even the Justice Houses or Public Service Hall (however you call it) weren’t ready. As you may remember, the famous Tbilisi one was finished only in 2011. All that was still starting up.

During my term, it became a priority that we needed to improve the processes. There was the feeling that the policy reforms are working: FDI was coming, the GDP was increasing. If I’m not wrong with the figure, I guess the FDI increased ten times compared to 2001. There was a huge increase.

Still, we had this notion that we needed better processes. We had many other stakeholders, too. FDI and all financial indicators were not a purpose in themselves, they served the bigger idea of the country’s general development. And there was still much to do.

Georgian companies were still doing their day-to-day tax operations mostly within the old bureaucratic system. We wanted to get rid of this, that was one aspect.

Fighting corruption was a second major aspect in that. There was a major crackdown on corruption, again back in 2005 and 2006. But by my time, I certainly had the feeling that it was neither very efficient nor sustainable to fight corruption through prosecution only.

What is the limitation of the prosecution approach to fighting corruption?

You can’t arrest a thousand tax or customs employees every year. Not even thinking about whether it is humane, no agency in the world can sustain this. Whether these employees are corrupt or not, they still possess institutional knowledge, especially with specific agencies, like tax or customs or police. Universities do not prepare their graduates for immediately becoming a customs officer at a certain checkpoint. That work requires lots of practice, lots of training, and institutional memory and practice.

You can’t arrest a thousand tax or customs employees every year [for corruption]. The best way is to create a sort of “firewall”.

In other words, arresting many employees completely drains the institutional capacities. Without such capacity, it is very hard to achieve goals. That’s why the thinking was that ICT was the real solution.

First of all, ICT can help to safeguard your staff. Corruption is a two-way business. Yes, there is racketeering in which citizens are forced to pay. But unfortunately, in the old days, we had many cases when tax or customs employees were offered money. That does not exempt them from the guilt, but what I’m trying to say is that it was a culturally engraved practice.

For that reason, the best to sustain the fight against corruption was some sort of a firewall, like a firewall on your PC which protects you from what nowadays in cyber security is often called “Dark IT”. That was our thinking, that we need to build this firewall to protect from these dark forces.

On other occasions, you have highlighted that ICT was only one part of a more comprehensive approach to infrastructure. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, we absolutely understood that concrete physical infrastructure, not only ICT was needed to resolve the issue. The younger generation will not have experienced this, but remember the old Georgian customs checkpoints? It’s easy to describe them: these were a few butkas [ramshackle huts] standing out in the middle of nowhere, without heating or other basic facilities.

How would anyone expect that a person with a salary equivalent of, let’s say, $200 or $300, can stand three days and nights in that total cold? And then you request this person to be clean in terms of corruption and to be professional. I don’t believe that any professional would spend time in such conditions.

The physical environment itself forced citizens and customs officer to resolve issues on the spot [through bribes]. Infrastructure didn’t accommodate whatever was written in the law.

Additionally, the environment itself forced citizens and the customs officer to resolve issues on the spot, as the infrastructure didn’t accommodate whatever was written in the law. Customs procedures are quite technical. You need some ICT, infrastructure and tools to execute the law. It’s impossible only with your mind or hands. When you don’t have a scanning machine, it simply makes work impossible. You can’t scan the container with your eyes, you can’t open all of the containers with hundreds or thousands coming in.

For that reason, you needed infrastructure improvements. We started building this infrastructure with the Sarpi checkpoint, which subsequently was widely recognized as good infrastructurally, correctly designed, and it also was the first attempt to make this single stop system work for crossing the border between Georgia and Turkey. With that, we also removed the double-checking and double-stopping on that border. Turkey was and is probably still one of the major strategic trade partners of Georgia and most of the goods are still coming and going through Turkey for us.

How did this innovative border checkpoint in Sarpi develop?

KB: In Turkey, it’s a different system in terms of the management of the customs checkpoint. They are under dual management of the customs department itself, and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) a kind of Turkish Chamber of Commerce.

I started the discussion with the head of TOBB, Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, who is still the president of TOBB. One day he came to Tbilisi and asked me to come to Turkey, to show me how it could be done. I flew to Trabzon, and from Trabzon we flew to Geneva with his plane. It took us two hours in total. And we went to the checkpoint at the France-Switzerland border.

We spent probably two or three hours there, understanding how it works on the ground. We came back to Ankara and that day we decided that we will have the same system in Batumi.

The design of the Sarpi checkpoint, the content design, happened on the model of that French-Swiss checkpoint.

That was not the first emulation of the Swiss experience by the way. The first was Batumi Airport, which was done several years before, also on the model of the Geneva airport. The Geneva Airport of Switzerland serves France and French citizens, and Batumi then served Turkish citizens, bringing additional business to the airport.

The design of the Sarpi checkpoint, the content design, happened on the model of that French-Swiss checkpoint. It is a good example of a consumer-centric approach.

Can you tell us a bit more about the shift to ICT systems, how you approached this?

KB: It would be too long to cover all the aspects of E-filing, and E-paying, and the E-budget. We implemented everything “E”, whatever was possible to make electronic.

We also implemented E-auctions. That process was driven by the same considerations. Again, we had inherited a broken system. Before 2004, when the relevant agencies (mainly the Department of Property) had to sell items, like seized property, they were selling it through a newspaper that they themselves published.

The whole print run of the newspaper publishing the auction for property was being bought out by the person interested in winning that auction. It was a disaster.

Usually, the print run of this newspaper wasn’t that big — and was immediately procured by the person interested in that one advertised property. The buyer of all the newspapers usually was the buyer of the property, too. [laughs] It was a disaster.

In response, we designed an E-auction system. My deputy was in charge of this process. We were discussing what to do. I said my best experience is with eBay and with Amazon. I don’t believe that we can come up with anything better than eBay. Just try to build for us a system like eBay, and that’s it.

The priorities were to be consumer-centric, to be sustainable, and to fight corruption. We were not coming up with things from thin air. That is why I would say it is not rocket science. If you have clear goals, you don’t need to generate so many new models. We are living in a digital era, it’s not difficult to find approaches that work.

What about the team? You stressed that working as a team played an essential role.

I definitely wanted to say a few words about the team. A good team is less an outcome but comes about through a process. That allowed us , for instance, to develop the Sarpi checkpoint, or the Tbilisi Economic Zone, the clearance area which still operates nowadays, the E-filing, E-taxes, E-budget, electronic foreign debt management, the electronic treasury, and all the other changes.

 If you would be following a classical implementation schedule or doing things one by one, probably all these reform would take 10-12 years. But we managed it basically within 1 ½ years, at maximum two years.

Key to success was teamwork and a decentralized approach to reforms.

Key to that success was teamwork and a decentralized approach. Each of my deputies were guiding the reforms under their corresponding departments. We were gathering to discuss key issues. Everything else was upon them. They each had a clear agenda to work on.

Rusudan Kemularia, now the head of OECD tax committee, at the time was my deputy and coordinating tax policy formation. She had a specific target point set. They had to write a new tax code, merging the tax and customs code. There was also another huge reform, which was important fiscally, but was less apparent for citizens. That reform was the abolishing of the so-called targeted tax amount. Previously, each tax department was given a specific target for collection, and that was totally abolished. Rusudan was tasked with this specific agenda.

My deputy coordinating the budget was working to making it more programmatic. Basically “programmatic” means that it’s more measurable, in terms of the outcomes. The foreign department and the deputy minister coordinating it was tasked to manage the foreign debt.

Each of them had a specific reform agenda. Daily operations probably were more on the shoulders of the middle management. And with deputy ministers in charge of their own reforms, we managed within a few months to launch numerous reforms, and finished most pretty much in 2011.

Next to this aspect of decentralization — what about the idea of governments by technocrats? Sometimes this is sold as a kind of solution for countries.

KB: Yes. I think it is rightfully understood in international politics that it’s easier to run reforms with a technocratic government, but one still needs to be careful with that term and the idea.

In Georgia, when the new government in 2004 took over, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania gathered a kind of technocratic government. We were young, all of us. In 2004, I was appointed Zhvania’s adviser. Irakli Chogovadze [later Minister of Economy]probably was the oldest member, the average age was less than 30years old.

By its definition, “technocratic” suggests that you’re less bound with political responsibilities and convictions, compared to politically-motivated peers. But it is a bit more complicated.

In young democracies, not being a party member does not mean you are not a politician. That should be taken into account when assessing whether the government is technocratic.

In young democracies, the party system is not as strong as it is in developed democracies. Being a non-party member doesn’t mean being a non-politician. In that regard, there is a huge difference between the developed and developing democracies. When someone tries to assess whether a government is technocratic or not, that should been taken into consideration.

Moreover, it matters who has power in the cabinet. The ministries themselves are different in terms of how much power the minister can exercise. You may have, let’s say, 80% of ministers who are technocrats but they can be outweighed by two ministers who are political nominees and exercise authority. In that way, what looks like a mostly technocratic government won’t act as a technocratic government anyway because it will be driven by the two senior ministers.

There’s a third factor, of development over time. You may appoint the technocratic government, and after some time you notice that your technocratic government has turned political. This, I think, is happening in many countries, unless you reshuffle or have good safeguards. One day you just wake up and you will see that these guys have become politicians rather than technocrats.

Without going into more of my time in government, these three factors were quite applicable to us, and I guess applicable internationally. When distinguishing technocrat or non-technocratic governments, these are some considerations to bear in mind.

How did you interact with international partners? What role do they play?

KB: With international partners, it’s most practical to divide them into separate parts, especially from the view of the Ministry of Finance.

The Ministry of Finance has very specific set of partners. An integral part of all activity is to have relations with the international financial institutions, the ones widely known such as the IMF, the World Bank, ADB, EBRD, EIB, KfW, DEG — not naming all here, there are a lot, it’s a big community.

In developing countries, international partners hold the biggest part of the country’s foreign debt. Your relationships with them are commitment-based relations, not just courtesy.

Especially for the developing countries, international partners hold the biggest part of the country’s foreign debt. Your relationships with them are commitment-based relations, not just courtesy. Maybe some 20% of my time as a minister was dedicated to the relations with IFIs and the international donor and support organizations.

Next to IFIs, we had a direct relationship to governments. We had these relationship with all strategic partners, such as the US Treasury, the French Treasury, the German finance ministry, and some others. I would be traveling there and seeing delegations. These are strategic partners, not only in terms of finance, but generally for the country.

We were also friendly with our neighbouring colleagues. To take some examples, I knew personally the finance minister of Armenia or the finance minister of Turkey, and beyond that key Turkish figures, as Turkey is a big country with many institutions.

Perhaps less visible is that we also talked to foreign investors and businesses. Normally the minister of finance is not a direct counterpart for investors, but I talked to them a lot. For us, foreign investment was existential, as I highlighted before. Our model was built on foreign investment to leverage it for economic growth.

For these foreign investors, taxation is a very important consideration in deciding whether to come to any country. Such tax feasibility is studied first-hand, and that is why we also talked to them directly and their interest in the financial ministries is quite understandable.

You have since had a career with different experiences, from supervisory roles, entrepreneurship across to academic research. How has that changed your perspective, especially when looking back?

KB: That kind of question comes up regularly. I don’t want to give you a cliché answer. There are, though, serious limitations of looking back in that way.

The decisions you take don’t really work copy-paste. You can’t think that you would have changed something just because you now have a look at it from another angle, let’s say as a researcher. That specific decision was within that specific frame, time and place. There are so many factors affecting that exact moment that you simply cannot replicate it, when looking back after many years.

 …so the point is that inside the Ministry, you realize things are complex, that actual situations are very contextual — and often very constrained? And people on the outside don’t always see that?

KB: Yes, absolutely. That said, I would not necessarily blame academics, or anyone else, for having a not-so-complex understanding of these issues. I have met scholars or businesspeople who had a far better understanding of the complexity of the reforms than some others working on the ground, including in the civil service. It’s a matter of personal perspective.

I would encourage young people that the key is to master yourself. Today, for instance, I have a webinar with 2,500 students discussing this shift from professions to skills taking place across the world. You could say there are three emerging skills now: learn how to learn, self-management, and design thinking.

For young people, there are three emerging skills now: learn how to learn, self-management, and design thinking.

Basically, if you master these three skills — design thinking, learn how to learn, and self-management — and add the right research techniques, you can gain deep insight even into issues of huge complexity.

As I said, it’s not rocket science. It is a matter of taking the right approach. If someone doesn’t see the complexity, it may be due to two reasons. One, they don’t want to see it, or for some other reasons just lack key information to capture this issue.

That is great as a concluding thought — any last words?

KB: I think it’s quite enough! I know from my own experience that human beings can’t really focus on too many things. My first job was as a journalist. I was in the second year of my bachelor studies but started my first job with the Prime News Agency (which doesn’t exist anymore). I learned that when you give too much information, then usually you erase yourself. Better stay focused!

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