Episode 2: Mohamed Hejres

BSC Director Salimah Samji interviews Implementing Public Policy (IPP) alum, Mohamed Hejres, to hear more about how he is utilizing what he learned in the IPP program as he works to resolve public problems.

Mohamed Hejres is a senior manager at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), leading the policy advocacy department. Before that, Mohamed led investor experience and government affairs to support the overall business environment in Bahrain, including the establishment of new businesses, advocating private sector needs and views to the government, and providing support in developing government policies. One of Mohamed's main roles is to identify regulation and procedural gaps that create hurdles for local and foreign investors. To learn more about Mohamed's IPP journey, read his BSC blog post, Jumping the Wall, as well as Practice Makes Purpose, which he wrote alongside his fellow CoP moderators. 

For more information on Harvard Kennedy School's Implementing Public Policy (IPP) program, visit the website, read about the PDIA approach, and access the PDIA toolkit.



Salimah Samji Hello and welcome to the second episode of the Practice of Resolving Public Problems podcast series. My name is Salimah Samji and I'm the Director of Building State Capability at the Harvard Center for International Development. This new series on the practice of resolving public problems features interviews with alums of our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) executive program at the Harvard Kennedy School. The episodes will focus on how our alums are using the PDIA tools and approach in designing and implementing public policy. We hope you enjoy them. 

Salimah Samji Today, I'm speaking with Mohamed Hejres, who is a senior manager at the Bahrain Economic Development Board, leading the policy advocacy department. Before that, Mohamed led investor experience and government affairs to support the overall business environment in Bahrain, including the establishment of new businesses, advocating private sector needs and views to the government, and providing support in developing government policies. One of Mohamed's main roles is to identify regulation and procedural gaps that create hurdles for local and foreign investors. Mohamed completed our IPP program in December 2019 and was one of our first moderators of our IPP community of practice. Welcome, Mohamed. 

Mohamed Hejres Thank you, Salimah. Happy to be with you. 

Salimah Samji So let's get started, Mohamed. It's been almost two years since you completed the IPP program. What do you still remember as being useful to you? 

Mohamed Hejres Thank you, Salimah. I actually use a number of tools that this program has provided. The fishbone diagram has played a major role in my development, in developing my policies that I oversee in the last two years, as well as been part of my team's way of doing things. More importantly as well, I use the Triple A. Triple A was also something that I shared with the whole organization because I do believe that no matter what, Triple A is actually a matter of communication, your requirements, whether you're doing policy or otherwise. So this is two main things that I took from the IPP course in 2019. 

Salimah Samji I wonder, Mohamed, if you could share a little more about what is it about the Triple A that is really important to you. And for our listeners who are not familiar with our PDIA approach, the Triple A is three A's: authority, acceptance, and ability that we use as a heuristic after we use the fishbone diagram to identify entry points. Thank you, Mohamed. 

Mohamed Hejres Thank you, Salimah. Triple A's, I think you cannot move an A without another. You always need to have the acceptance. Then you need to have the ability because without ability, nothing really can happen. And most importantly, if there is no authority, the whole Triple A will not come into place. So without understanding the three A's (ability, acceptance and authority) you will not be able to take any of your policies forward. However, if you know ability and acceptance, you can buy in authority. You can buy in different organization or different individuals that you need to bring within that Triple A to meet your expectation, or your policy views in the future. 

Salimah Samji You mentioned how your teams are also using the fishbone diagrams, etc. Can you share some examples of how you've been sharing this material of what you've learned in the program with others? 

Mohamed Hejres Sure. Perhaps a few examples, actually, if you want. I was blessed with having a policy advocacy department dedicated to address policy hurdles and caps, as you mentioned earlier. So we built that department on the concept of PDIA actually. We had tool component for understanding the problem, which is having to construct and deconstruct the problem through a fishbone, et cetera. So it's actually as chapter six from your book. 

Salimah Samji That's right. 

Mohamed Hejres It's grabbing the problem. So the most important part of it is actually grabbing the problem. And then, this is what we practiced. My department, we start looking on, how do we grab the problems? We set a priority standard. And then we set a matrix to evaluate each problem where we broke it down into a number of more problems. And this was the main main aspect that I used in the team and the team actually is using now. So any problem will break it down, we fishbone it, and then we look into solutions and adaptations, et cetera. Then we use the Triple A. So in all our function of processes in the department, we utilize the Triple A, and understanding whether we approach this or not within that matrix. This is one example how we could use it and and even the programs we utilized the Triple A, for example, and a communication course. I did construct a course that was built on the Triple A. How I do communicate with senior level and how could junior level communicate senior level and other way around and how you could utilize your communication in the right way. So those are the two examples that come into my mind now.

Salimah Samji So, Mohamed, you know, you came to the IPP program, you had this like big training experience and then you went back. Your institution didn't change, but you changed. What was one of the first things you did to be able to share that change or to start the steps of change happening in your organization? 

Mohamed Hejres I think this is one of the most important things that I did in the last two years because after a week I absorbed all the teachings, all the the feedback I actually went through again, the Building State Capability book and adjusted it to where I want to go. And then the first thing I did as I went to the talent management in my organization. I told them, we need to put a program where psychological safety is part of our behavior in the EDB or in the Economic Development Board. Where we, whomever want to add into the organization or add value or an opinion, they would have the safety not to be judged. Because this is one of the things that we learned through that one week: It's important to say what you think. It's important to have everything on your fishbone, right? So say what you want, do not feel undermined or underappreciated, or that someone will judge you. So this is something that worked with the talent management in addressing this problem, and they are very, very kind that they want to throw a number of programs and it's part of our culture now in the organizations, which I'm so proud of. 

Salimah Samji That's wonderful to hear. It really is the importance of having that psychological safety and being able to express your opinions is really an amazing space to have, and having an organization that has that culture can really change the way you do your work. That's very exciting to hear. You were one of our first moderators of the IPP community of practice. What does that community mean to you? 

Mohamed Hejres It is actually my psychological safety. That's community of practice is my psychological safety, because I go back with ideas to the team. I could say what I think, and I have individuals that would take time off their busy schedules and sit with me and talk about, yeah, Mohamad, he could do this better, he can do that. And I do the same for them. So that is a community of practice. And during COVID 19, they've been a support to everyone and that community of practice. Even the newcomers in 2020, we could see how they expanded their efforts into helping others. And we have a lot of success stories that we are proud of and sharing with each other. And it is and somehow or some way, a way to have more safety, more understanding, and always a great shoulder to lean on when in need. 

Salimah Samji And now we have some rapid fire questions for you that we're asking all of our participants on this podcast and the first one is what are you currently reading? 

Mohamed Hejres I'm reading actually Misbehaving by Richard Thyler, one of the best minds, in my opinion. Because he's talking about behavioral economics, something that I'm quite keen on, something maybe forseeing the future, which I would recommend everyone to read it. 

Salimah Samji And what's your favorite part of the PDIA process? 

Mohamed Hejres Fishbone deconstructing, constructing must be one of the best processes, but however, my Triple A is the key, especially when you're working with government. Triple A is your key because authority, ability, acceptance. If you give this, your policy is done. 

Salimah Samji And my final rapid fire question, what advice do you have for people trying to work on public problems? 

Mohamed Hejres The first thing is to be patient. Be patient, be strategic. Communicate. Build a team that you can trust and give the chance for that team to shine with you. 

Salimah Samji I love the last point that you ended on, which is and let your team shine with you, I think that is a very powerful and inspirational ending to the advice for people working on public problems. You don't have to do this alone. You can have a team and you can all shine together. Thank you very much for joining us and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us today, Mohamed. It's been a real pleasure. 

Mohamed Hejres Thank you, Salimah, for having me and happy to help at any time. 

Salimah Samji Thank you for listening to our podcast today. If you liked it, please check out our website BSC Dot CID Dot Harvard Dot Edu. Or follow us on social media at HarvardBSC. You can also find links and other information under the description of this podcast.