Not Just Another Covid Course

Not Just Another Covid Course

New Executive Course from EPoD Examines Innovative Policy Tools for African Economies In Response to COVID Shock

By: Amelia Knudson

The prolonged COVID-19 health crisis is forcing governments to make critical and difficult economic policy choices, and for many governments these decisions rest on top of a myriad of other economic challenges.

Cape Town, South Africa

In the African context, the public health crisis was not as severe as in North America and Europe, but the economic effects have been relatively more devastating. Furthermore, the economic and health crises have not only exacerbated existing economic and health problems, but they have damaged significant development gains in health, education, and poverty reduction made over the last two decades. Under this set of circumstances, and with limited resources, how can policy makers decide where to invest for inclusive growth under deteriorating conditions?


To support policy makers on the African continent to confront these decisions, Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education, Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) at the Center for International Development, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) collaborated on a new course for the bank’s Country Economists. The new course was designed to equip policy makers with an analytical framework to address the complex challenges that have surfaced in the economic repercussions of Covid and to aid in the recovery. These challenges require evidence-based policy that is iterative, adaptive, and draws on a range of innovative economic policy solutions.

A primary focus of this course was forging a broader dialogue between policy and economics, fortifying knowledge of the tools necessary to have an effective post-Covid analysis and sustained dialogue. The course therefore focused on a multidimensional curriculum that included fiscal and macro policy, trade, tax and resource mobilization, labor markets, and social protection systems, led by EPoD Faculty Director Rema Hanna.

To help participants apply the new policy information, the course selected a problem-oriented framework that lends a structured approach to solving issues from any policy context: EPoD’s Smart Policy Design and Implementation (SPDI) framework. The SPDI framework gave AfDB’s economists a powerful tool that they can employ in their country contexts when advising governments on policy; the framework is highly localized and informed by evidence, allowing economists to utilize it with any type of policy challenges they encounter. In this way, the course was not just a Covid response course, but a capacity building initiative for economic policy in the medium-long term as African economies recover and aim to foster inclusive growth.

“SPDI is a framework to step back, examine, and think through the problem, potential solutions, and to reexamine hypotheses. We use this broader framework to think about policy in a deeper, more problem-based way, as opposed to a solutions-based approach that is common in many governments.”

EPoD Faculty Director, Rema Hanna


To work on bridging the gap between policy and economics, nine faculty instructors with a wide range of expertise were carefully selected. Faculty presented the theory and evidence for various policies to fight the economic effects of Covid and rebuild economies in a sustainable, inclusive way. Topics ranged from growth models to tax collection, from active labor market policies to social protection systems strengthening. In addition to Rema Hanna, the distinguished lecturers included Dani Rodrik, Asim Khwaja, Matt Andrews, Karen Dynan, Rob Lawrence, Anders Jensen, Bruno Crepon, and Hakeem Belo-Osagie. Interactive lectures drove discussion on the potential outcomes for employing different policy tools in different scenarios. The discussions were relevant to many of the contexts in Africa: challenges of borrowing constraints, unemployment, stagnant trade, and increased poverty as a result of Covid-19.

AfDB Faculty

Responding to COVID-19 requires evidence-based policy that’s iterative and adaptive, principles that are integral to the application of the SPDI framework. CID Faculty Director Asim I. Khwaja presented the SPDI framework to the participants and gave advice for how to implement SPDI, “One solution does not fit all. You have to craft it for the localized context.” With that in mind, Harvard PhD students led groups of AfDB participants through this framework, using a shared challenge related to their work on Covid response or other economic challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Groups engaged critically with the problem, drawing on evidence where it was available to craft a potential solution that they could take back to their country teams for iteration.

Professor Hanna notes that “SPDI is a framework to step back, examine, and think through the problem, potential solutions, and to reexamine hypotheses. We use this broader framework to think about policy in a deeper, more problem-based way, as opposed to a solutions-based approach that is common in many governments.” The group work provided a tangible exercise on how to use this framework, with several participants noting that they'll continue to use it after the course in their roles as Country Economists.

Overall, the new program provided a unique opportunity for faculty to interface directly with policy actors and engage on timely challenges for African governments and the economists that advise them. The course was well received by the Bank, who asserted in their press release that “the economic collapse caused by the pandemic demands innovative responses to transform African economies.”

Ongoing engagements like this allow us to share our knowledge with policymakers and also to learn from all the work they're doing, and hopefully, ultimately make an impact in the coordinated policy response to recover and heal economies from the COVID-19 crisis.

Asim Khwaja giving presentation during webinar

Screenshot of Asim I. Khwaja speaking during the course.