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John Edge - Change will not occur in public sector services without everybody being involved
John Edge at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
John Edge - Change will not occur in public sector services without everybody being involved
Oscar Tollast 

John Edge, the co-founder, and chairman of a public-private partnership called ID2020, came to Salzburg Global Seminar to provide an entrepreneur’s perspective to the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table - In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel under Changing Dynamics? At the Session, Edge wanted to explore the opportunities for applying private sector innovation, entrepreneurial strategies and tactics to public sector transformation.

In Edge’s mind, the public sector “by nature” does not transform as quickly as the private sector. Speaking to Salzburg Global prior to the Session, he said, “There are very good questions to why that’s the case… One of the challenges is how do you explain to your public that you have taken a risk and failed? [The way] the public sector can and do breakthrough transformation is inhibited by [its] ability to take risks.”

If the public sector is unable to take risks, it is unable to change quickly. One way to resolve this, according to Edge, is to look at how new public-private organizations could be created, which take on the requirements of the public sector’s mission but also have the ability to take risks in the way a private sector company does. As things stand, Edge said the compensation models within the public sector do not incentivize risk taking.  

As governments come to terms with the rapid pace of the digital revolution, Edge put forward an alternative proposal: “You look at it and go, ‘Well, everyone’s got a mobile phone in their hand – give or take – so that’s infrastructure that’s already out there. So, why do we have to go through the government to get new services?’ Maybe we should be building new services that citizens want and asking the government to integrate or let those services run in a free market. It’s a very good question.”

Edge said he had asked himself what the role of government was and, for the time being, had settled on an answer from the Greek philosopher Plato: “Plato goes with [the theory that] the government’s job is the distribution of scarce resources. That’s about as good as I’ve found. That can make perfect sense to me. If you’ve got a population and you only have a limited amount of resources, then if it is the strongest resource, you’re going to have a tale of the weak who get nothing and that creates inequality in society. Inequality in society creates problems. That’s where you end up in war.” Edge said if it came down to the distribution of scarce resources, then the question concerned whether the model of government was up to the distribution of said resources.

Speaking ahead of the Session, Edge discussed what he hoped to learn from his fellow participants. “There’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “It’s important to come to these forums to get an understanding and insight into how the world’s currently working now. It’s all good and well to come up with a model for change but if you don’t have context on what’s going on in the current environment then you won’t get effective outcomes.”

Recently, Edge has been working with the U.K. government through a private sector start-up, which has built a system for the distribution of digital cash. Commenting on this project, Edge said, “That is at a fraction of the cost. It’s more accessible and provides better services for citizens. That is a good example of building a new way of doing things using digital technologies.” By doing something new and efficient, you are affecting something older and less efficient, Edge believes, adding that the challenge of improving the public sector is to make the incumbent people feel incentivized to make it happen.

In his position at ID2020, Edge is looking to solve a problem that affects more than one billion people – the lack of an official recognized identity, which is especially vital for accessing online public services. He said, “I founded ID2020 because I saw a technology emerging – or a set of technologies emerging – that indicated they could be very useful in the provision of identities for vulnerable children – specifically stateless vulnerable children. The idea that if you happen to be not born in a state, how do you get a birth certificate when there’s no one to issue it to you? Yet, if you look at refugee camps, everybody’s got a phone. If everybody’s got a phone but no one’s got a birth certificate, there’s something in that.”

With ID2020, Edge hypothesized creating an alliance similar to Gavi – the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. He said, “If we have 1.2 billion people without [an official] identity, the chances are that the current way of doing things has a problem. [We’re] creating a specific organization to look at improving the efficiency of a public sector gathering of organizations to get a better outcome. Gavi has proven it – and there are a number of others – and that’s what ID2020 is aiming to do for identity.”

In addition to his work with ID2020, Edge is the co-chair and founder of the Whitechapel Think Tank, through which the Bank of England, the U.K. government, regulators, and the private sector have come together to collaborate on the potential for blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. Edge said, “The outcome of that was the U.K. managed to establish itself – for a time – the leading player in this space because the government understood it to be a transformative technology quicker than other governments did.” The purpose of the forum was to enable stakeholders to feel comfortable to ask the question: what is this?

Discussing the benefits of these forums involving different sectors, Edge said, “I think that it is valuable at the start to make sure that topics don’t get killed. It becomes challenging when you talk about actually getting stuff done because you run straight into the blocks of, ‘Why would we do this? What’s the upside? Why should I take this risk?’”

For the past three years, Edge has been focused on bringing private sector innovation and an entrepreneurial approach to the public sector, something which Edge describes as “darn difficult, to say the least.” However, our approach toward this moving forward is what might make all the difference. He said, “We can either look at it negatively and say society is going to break, or positively in that there’s a whole new model of technology-led services on the way and maybe we could look at what roles the public sector plays and [ask] do they need to be playing all those roles?”

As the Public Sector Strategy Round Table goes forward as the new Public Sector Strategy Network, Salzburg Global Seminar, its partners and Fellows will continue to address these fundamental questions – and develop coherent answers.


John Edge attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Wanja Michuki - Learning can be acquired by bringing different sets of actors together
Wanja Michuki at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Wanja Michuki - Learning can be acquired by bringing different sets of actors together
Oscar Tollast 

Wanja Michuki’s main interest lies in coaching leaders. It’s an interest not too dissimilar to the mission of Salzburg Global Seminar: to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern. It made her attendance at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table - In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? - even more appropriate. For two days, the managing director of Be Bold Consulting and Advisory Ltd was one of 28 participants exploring public sector leadership and innovation for national governments.

Michuki, based in Kenya, came to be at Salzburg after a chance meeting with apolitical at the Women in Public Service Project. She said, “This is how I came to be here because apolitical partnered with Salzburg Global Seminar this year in public service. When [Salzburg Global] reached out to me, I said, ‘This is fantastic.’ What a relevant conversation to what I had now also extended into my business, which is coaching.”

Be Bold Consulting and Advisory Ltd is an independent financial consulting and executive coaching firm based in Nairobi. Fulfillment has a strong influence on the advice she provides. Michuki said, “I strongly believe that if you live life on purpose, if you are clear about your values, and you make decisions that are congruent with your values, and this defines your purpose, what it is that you do and also brings purpose, then you are fulfilled in what you do, which is your experience in the time that you are here.”

In Michuki’s opinion, a lot of executive leaders are not thinking about their values. She said, “There are a lot of things then that can take place where people are just so focused on the outcome that it’s not like, ‘What’s my value in this process? What are my values?’” Michuki indicated at a time where complex environments are prevalent - both at a local and global level - it is even more important for people to be clear about their values so they are able to navigate through the challenges that come their way.

“Something that’s been emphasized here is the importance of collaboration across sectors that may not seem to be related – that the learning [which] can be acquired through just bringing together different sets of actors is huge,” said Michuki. Other participants, who highlighted their experiences and provided anecdotes for people to learn from, had a “very profound impact” on Michuki. She said, “For me, it was a mind shift about the level of complexity that we’re dealing with. It’s globally but it’s everywhere because we’re so interconnected.”

During the session, Michuki and others were challenged about the future we might be stepping into. It’s something she’ll have to consider when dealing with her clients and the advice she provides. She said, “What I’m taking away - and something that I’m going to reflect on a little bit more - is how to present these issues in front of decision-makers and manage the anxiety that these issues [bring].

“This will be part of my coaching journey with the people that I work with. It raises a lot of internal fear. How do you deal with these issues? Presenting these issues - also presenting the fact that there are these types of forums for people to work through these issues - I think that’s what I’m going to be taking back.”

Michuki has had a varied career. She is a former trade, investment, and multilateral diplomat, having served in the government of Kenya for six years. Before this, she was an entrepreneur in New York City, where she founded and ran The Highland Tea Company. Her career began in finance and led her to work for Barclays and Merrill Lynch. During this time, she became a chartered financial analyst. When asked whether this was the career path she expected to follow when at school, she replied, “Definitely not,” before laughing to herself. She added, “It’s interesting. I sort of look at where I am now in my journey and everything that I’ve done before makes sense.”

While Michuki’s main interest is to coach leaders, she’s inspired by the belief to make a positive difference. She said, “It’s knowing that I’m using the best of my skills in what I do. I’m using the best of my skills. What I’ve also learned is that it’s important for me to enjoy what I’m doing. Where I am now, I’ve gone through so many experiences - both positive and negative - to sort of have clarity around that to know what my values are. Just coming back to, again, that, ‘Why is coaching also important to me?’ I know what my values are. I have a sense of purpose. It gives my life fantastic meaning. I’m fulfilled.” 


Wanja Michuki attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Nitika Agarwal - Public sector challenges are a web of interconnected issues
Nitika Agarwal in conversation at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Nitika Agarwal - Public sector challenges are a web of interconnected issues
Oscar Tollast 

In her role as apolitical’s chief operating officer, Nitika Agarwal has a special focus on growth through partnerships. Her responsibilities include thinking about how the platform and its network can best serve public servants all over the world. As a participant of the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table - In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? - Agarwal was provided the opportunity to speak to these officials face-to-face and make observations on how to reach better solutions.

Speaking to Salzburg Global during the session, Agarwal recognized the value of having different voices represented. She said, “This is a very unique forum where it is grounded in the belief that exchanges between peers - across different sectors - but working toward common public sector challenges are valuable and can lead to change in the public sector.”

Agarwal believes there are many dimensions that need to be taken into account when thinking about a specific problem, which really highlights the complexity of the challenges facing the public sector. Reflecting on the conversations between participants, she said, “It really reinforces the point that you can’t think about these things in a silo because public sector challenges are essentially a web of interconnected issues.”

When asked what these challenges included, Agarwal replied, “Where do you start?” She mentioned the changing nature of work, expanding populations, and climate change as examples but refrained from listing them all. She said, “What is fundamental to addressing any of those [challenges] is the capability of the public sector and its capability to change, and that is one of the most difficult things in organizations which have been established for so long.” Once you implement change management in an organization, then you can begin to tackle everything else.

Ahead of the two-day program, Agarwal said she was looking for a set of valuable and enduring connections with people who were trying to tackle many of the same challenges apolitical is thinking about. Midway through the session, she told Salzburg Global, “It’s been completely fascinating to see what people get when they’re in a room of peers coming from diverse backgrounds because it is really instructive in helping us figure out how we can continue to serve those needs beyond a two-day seminar.”

Before joining apolitical, Agarwal served as a senior policy advisor at the UK Treasury where she performed a number of roles. This included advising ministers on financial sector reform and EU budget issues. She also represented the UK in EU negotiations and acted as chief of staff for the UK Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels.

Commenting on her career path, Agarwal said, “I was kind of obsessed with the issues of social justice from a very young age, which drove me to really want to understand the systems which drive certain outcomes, which sometimes feel very unfair. That led me to work in governments to try and understand how that works. How do you run a country?

“Having been in government for several years, I realized that so many other sectors have their place to play in the overall ecosystem of creating change and felt that if I was to understand how change is driven across all of those sectors, I needed to be part of it in another place. That’s what led me to apolitical, which is really thinking about how to facilitate the collaboration between sectors to help systemic change happen.” 


Nitika Agarwal attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Mona Hammami - We hope to establish a Public Sector Network
Mona Hammani at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Mona Hammami - We hope to establish a Public Sector Network
Nicole Bogart and Oscar Tollast 

Mona Hammami returned to Salzburg Global Seminar with two objectives in mind. Taking part in the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table – In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? – Hammami sought to establish a network of cross-government entities at the center of governments who had the ability to see different portfolios – and to look for solutions to some of the challenges the government in the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi is facing experiencing.

Hammami, a director from the office of strategic affairs at the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, previously came to Schloss Leopoldskron, the venue for the 2017 Round Table and home of Salzburg Global Seminar, in 2015 for Salzburg Global’s June Board Meeting. It was there that Hammami first became aware of the institution’s potential to act as a host and facilitator.

An agreement was later reached where Salzburg Global, for the first time, would act as a politically and geographically neutral host for a meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table, working in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House.

Here, at the sixth meeting of the Round Table, Hammami and her colleagues searched for further answers on how governments could react to changing dynamics – both on the policy side and on the technical side. Hammami said: “We wanted to be able to get different parties without having preconceived opinions. That is exactly where we are right now, and that’s why we wanted to bring the Round Table here.”

In her position at the office of strategic affairs, Hammami is responsible for analyzing social and economic developments, globally and locally, in addition to drafting publications and white papers to influence policymaking. Discussing the role of the office further, she said, “We’re sort of the executive office in a way. The idea behind the office is that it is an internal consultancy for His Highness that also plays the role of a think-tank, and at the same time, we’re the arm that creates functions and incubates them and let them grow on his behalf.”

During this year’s Round Table, participants discussed policymaking and the machinery of government. Hammami said, “That is a core business for us because we as a government entity are struggling to figure out how we become super agile. How do we transform ourselves to deal with many of these issues?” One area Hammami described as “very, very thin” was higher education. She said, “It’s the one area we’re struggling with – and I think every country is struggling with – but also one which has major effects on many other portfolios such as the future of work.”

While education is core to some of the concerns and challenges being faced, governments are also having to come to terms with the rapid pace of technological change. A citizen’s ability to communicate with, engage with, and criticize their government has completely transformed. Social media enables citizens to express themselves and provides opportunities for governments to receive feedback. Hammami said, “That’s one area we’re grappling a lot with – to what extent to allow this sort of expression which could backfire on you as a government if you open up too much. What is the right level of engagement? What’s the right level of feedback? What’s the right level of listening? That’s another area we see as a government but also: how do we allow for collaboration by using those digital platforms?”

Discussing the next steps for the Public Sector Strategy Round Table, Hammami said, “I think where we go next from here is establishing what we would hope to call – rather than a Public Sector Round Table – a Public Sector Network. [This is a network] we hopefully can expand a bit more but also have some form of commitment from the partners of this for the future, both in terms of the path leadership but also in terms of the ability to partner together cross-borders for bigger causes – helping governments figure out things.”


Mona Hammami attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Lisa Witter - The more we humanize governments, the better we will be at supporting them
Lisa Witter at the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Lisa Witter - The more we humanize governments, the better we will be at supporting them
Oscar Tollast 

At a time when challenges for governments – and the complexities surrounding them – appear to be growing exponentially, one could be forgiven for being wary or overawed when deciding where to begin to solve them. This does not apply to Lisa Witter, co-founder and executive chairman of apolitical. Indeed, it is something she thrives on. Attending the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table – In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? – she told Salzburg Global, “I’m a bit epicurean in that I really try to enjoy everything I do. I think one thing I’m really committed to is enjoying it when it is hard as well, which is something I think I share as a former person working in government. I like the hard stuff.”

At apolitical, Witter and her team look to serve people in government, find ways to solve problems faster and bring people together from all over the world. Apolitical provides an online platform for public servants to find ideas, people, and partners to solve the hardest challenges facing our societies. Witter said, “We are trying to bring a bit of a different sensibility – trying to bring both behavioral science and the best of technology to solving problems. It’s happened in every other sector from TripAdvisor for travel, from Bloomberg terminals for finance, so why shouldn’t that same peer-to-peer beautiful technology platform happen for the public sector?”

Designing apolitical involved asking potential users what they needed and what they thought the platform should look like. Witter said, “Some of the things they asked us [included], ‘Make it beautiful and more delightful.’ ‘Make it simple and really easy to use.’ ‘Make it look and feel like news so that it has a sense of urgency and salience.’ ‘Tell me how long it is going to take to read it.’ ‘Help me connect to the people behind it.’” Witter said apolitical wasn’t in the habit of building silos, and the technology has enabled them to show how policies connect and impact different parts of people’s lives. This, in turn, improves policymaking.

Apolitical first became involved with the Public Sector Strategy Round Table in 2016. It has invited people from around the world to take part in the conversation, all of whom keen to design an agenda to meet the needs of governments. It has used its online platform to share ideas and allow participants to remain connected. Witter said, “We also offer them what we call a concierge service. We support them by answering questions around policy like, ‘I need to find someone who’s an expert in blockchain and government.’ Or one question last year was, ‘What other governments are using cloud computing?’ We were able to connect them to someone else so their governments can consider it.”

In line with this, Witter describes apolitical as “bridge builders with impact” – something which is not just connecting one-to-one, but something which is connecting many to many others. She said, “There are some geopolitical things which I think have made us more prescient between Brexit, Trump, [and] rising populism. People are looking for what’s working – people of all types of political parties. This isn’t just for one party. It’s for everyone.”

Apolitical was recently listed as one of 100 companies considered to have the most potential to influence, change or create new global markets. Witter, however, doesn’t see the platform as disruptive. She said, “We see us as building a platform to help government disrupt itself by being more efficient about finding ideas. You would never in the private sector bring an idea in front of your board or CEO and not have done some due diligence around it. We hope this is both an inspiration platform for people in government but also a due diligence platform that they can find other people and be able to say, ‘Hey, you did that there, we want to do this here. Help me do it.’”

Apolitical has covered more than 800 stories looking at what is happening in different governments. These trends included tech connectivity, intense citizen engagement, big data, policy labs and design thinking, partnership procurement, and behavioral insights. “Partnerships have always been important in government, but we could hear today that as tax dollars go down, and problems get more complex, governments need more and more to partner with the private sector – especially the start-up world,” explained Witter. “Start-ups are often innovating around the edges and that’s where a government is needing partners, which has a whole domino effect on how we do procurement. I definitely brought up this procurement point because I think every country is struggling with procurement.”

Witter said the caliber of people attending the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table reflected well on Salzburg Global, but it also reflected well on public service in general. She said, “There’s sort of a feeling that the best and brightest go into business and they don’t go into government but if you were sitting in that room today, you would think the best and brightest went into government, which gives me a sense of relief that we have such smart minds.” Witter said she was hoping to focus much more on the solutions, not just diagnosing the problems.

Every government is at a different place when it comes to innovation. Governments can be better supported, Witter believes, once they are more humanized. She said, “I think the more we humanize government, the better we will be at supporting governments. It’s not the government’s job to solve the problem. We are citizens and we have to be in a collaboration with them to do that.”


Lisa Witter attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Liis Kasemets - So many countries are searching for solutions for quite similar problems
Liis Kasemets on the Schloss Terrace during the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Liis Kasemets - So many countries are searching for solutions for quite similar problems
Nicole Bogart and Oscar Tollast 

When it comes to good governance, Estonia is often held up as an innovative example for other countries to follow. As the e-estonia.com government website declares: “We have built a digital society and so can you.” So it was natural choice that a public sector representative of the small Baltic country be invited to take part in the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round TableIn the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?

That representative was Liis Kasemets, the senior advisor on governance at the Government Office of Estonia. As part of a team, she is responsible for developing and coordinating the system and principles of good governance in the government decision-making process, fostering the quality and openness of policy-making, and encouraging civic engagement and regulatory impact assessment. She said, “Our task is to translate the political agenda into an actionable government program which means that we have to cover quite a lot of issues and try to take into account the longer perspective as well.”

Her main focus, however, is fostering good governance, which includes raising the standard of the policymaking process. She said, “This also [concerns] the broader and longer perspectives, as well as the everyday workings of the government. [This involves] institutionalizing or rooting deeper into everyday workings of the government: the impact analysis, the good engagement practices, and instituting it well into the government decision-making process.” Hearing what other participants had said about long-term issues piqued her interest.

The feeling has been mutual, with other participants equally interested to hear about Estonia’s experiences and its growing reputation for efficiency when it comes to practices in e-governance. Discussing its origins, Kasemets said, “It was, in the beginning, quite a conscious political choice to go along with it. One of the reasons behind it was that we saw a great efficiency gain in that – time-wise and in financial terms. Also, while we do it, we can see greater transparency and openness for the citizen. In this sense, we kind of gain two things at the same time. So, maybe this is one of the reasons why we have stuck to that, trying to develop it further.”

Kasemets said as Estonia’s population is lower than others, the government has been able to interlink and keep the citizens at the center of the work which takes place. She said, “Of course, this remains to be judged by the citizens whether we are good at it or not, but this is something we would strive for. Maybe this is one of the reasons behind this e-governance as well.”

Despite this openness and transparency, Kasemets highlighted a few challenges the government is facing. She said, “One of the main things is that we have a population that is aging and decreasing… Our working population is annually decreasing by one percent. This is quite a noticeable decrease. This is one of the main challenges of how to create a better tomorrow for our citizens. We also have to look at the economy and the prospects for people to really have fulfilling lives to uplift their well-being continuously.” In order to provide good opportunities for its citizens and attract new ideas, Kasemets suggested the Estonian government has to keep up with the pace of development.

During the two-day program, there was an opportunity for a free flow of ideas from people with different backgrounds, a positive outcome noted by many of the participants, including Kasemets. She said, “I think that when you put into a session people with so different backgrounds and so different experiences, this is where we can create innovative or new solutions to the things that we seek solutions for.

“At the moment, globally, so many countries are searching for solutions for quite similar problems. We’re all tackling the same things but how can we do it better. This vibrant environment is very good to seek out whether we can find some of the solutions we can try out.”


Liis Kasemets attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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Paula Acosta - The “tremendous challenge” of implementing peace, fighting fires and thinking long-term
Paula Acosta in conversation at the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table
Paula Acosta - The “tremendous challenge” of implementing peace, fighting fires and thinking long-term
Nicole Bogart and Oscar Tollast 

In June 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel group, signed a ceasefire and disarmament agreement, a forerunner to a peace deal that was later signed in September. This formally brought to an end more than 50 years of armed conflict. One month later, voters were asked whether the peace deal should be approved. In a surprising turn of events, this deal was rejected by the people, some of whom believed the conditions to be too favorable toward FARC. The agreement was revised and signed again in November. In June this year, FARC formally ended their existence as an armed group.

This is one of the myriad challenges the Colombian government has had to face, but the implementation of this agreement is “only one issue,” according to Paula Acosta, director for government and strategic areas in the Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. Acosta is responsible for monitoring the strategic goals of the president and the cross-cutting coordination of his regional strategic initiatives. While she described the implementation as a “tremendous challenge,” she also recognized there were other areas which required attention.

Acosta made this observation while attending the sixth Public Sector Strategy Round Table – In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? Speaking to Salzburg Global Seminar during the session, she said, “I believe once you’re in government, you get to focus on the day-to-day. I see this [session] as a great opportunity to actually be able to look a little bit ahead. That’s also part of what public servants are supposed to do. It’s not only attending the fire that’s in front of them.”

The implementation of the peace agreement with FARC has already begun. Acosta said, “The main priority today in Colombia is to actually implement the agreement and to continue with all of the other policies. Although [the peace agreement] is probably the most important issue, it is only one issue. Then you have to keep on governing all of the other sectors and all of the other programs.”

Acosta said this was a “very hard balance” as it presented a question of how you distribute resources. Gaining credibility to the implementation of the agreement is as important as being able to sign the agreement itself. While the implementation began more than seven months ago, Acosta said it was too soon to draw any lessons from the process.

The main focus remains on keeping the government running. Acosta said, “Peace is such a big issue in Colombia. We have this over 50-year conflict, so everyone wants to work in peace, but it’s not the only thing.” Acosta said Colombia’s main cities had faced the “truths of the conflict” for many, many years but the government had to maintain its focus on running all of the other departments. She said, “Finding that balance, it is I think the main challenge that I have to help to coordinate because it is a network for many different parts within the government.”

The discussions at Salzburg Global provided participants the opportunity to hear of similar, and different problems faced by the public sector in other countries.

Acosta said, “There are a number of different countries here but most of the representatives come from very developed countries that pose a set of questions that we usually do not formulate ourselves.”

Remaining part of the network was “the most important thing,” according to Acosta, and to fully understand the consequences and the deep causes of the challenges being faced by the public sector, more time would be needed than just one – albeit very fruitful – weekend in Salzburg.


Paula Acosta attended the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?”. This meeting was convened by Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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