Understanding Project Management in Developing Countries

Hernan Levy shares his experiences working at World Bank with students in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program.

What is the best solution to fix a constantly overcrowded port where loaded ships routinely are stuck at sea for long periods of time waiting to dock?

To answer this question, more questions need to be asked. Why is the dock overcrowded? Is it because the dock space is limited, or is it because of congested storage areas or a lack of trucks and/or railroad cars to take loads away? Or Is the port charging too little for storage, so freight owners feel no pressure to remove their imported materials?

These are the types of questions Hernan Levy spent 25 years asking while working at the World Bank, an organization aimed at ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity in a sustainable way. 

Levy spent his career helping to target the World Bank's assistance program and make it as useful as possible to help developing countries reduce poverty. He would have his hands on all aspects of a project, from initial identification and preparation to final appraisal and implementation. 

"In my last years with the Bank, I was often asked to focus on the evaluation of projects once completed," Levy said, "which gave me very good insights into what went right and what would need to be improved in future projects."

Since 2012, Levy's shared those insights with students as a guest lecturer in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program. The individual talks have changed, but the overall message has remained constant: Project management in an emerging economy is vastly different from project management in a developed country.

“My topic touches on a variety of themes where significant differences exist between emerging economies and industrialized countries, such as legal systems, engineering quality, and corruption,” he said. 

In developing countries in particular, it's important to understand how these external components might influence the existing infrastructure, such as transportation, energy, or water. 

"For a Bank team, the first challenge is to understand the origin of what appears to be the need for new investments," he said. "In developing regions, inefficient management of infrastructure facilities is more common than in industrialized countries."

He stresses these differences to MPM students to prepare them in case they end up taking a project management job that lands them in a developing country. He views this advice as complimentary content to an already well-established and well-regarded program.

"MPM has acquired a great reputation worldwide," Levy said. "I have seen the program of courses in MPM, as well as some of the professors and lecturers, and they seem to be of very high quality and well tailored to the needs for training in project management."

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