In Kathmandu this week, I have just done a series of meetings for the excellent think-tank Samriddhi – The Prosperity Foundation. Rather like the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute in the pre-Thatcher era, Samriddhi rather have their work cut out in Nepal. It is largely socialist and poor (as if I needed to say that – the two go together so regularly), and any capitalism there is mostly regulated beyond endurance, or survives through crony deals with the overblown government and bureaucracy. Ho hum. Anyway, they asked me to talk about how to engage the private sector – the bit that isn't yet wholly corrupted by this statist system – in policy reform. Luckily I have the experience of Philip Salter to draw on. He is running The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN), a think-tank within the ASI think-tank. An here is his formula for engagement, which I cribbed mercilessly.
1. Most entrepreneurs are far too busy to engage in policy development. And the ones that aren't are usually pushing some agenda of their own. So don't expect to engage business people easily in policy work.
2. But you can form coalitions around particular issues. For instance, the UK's clampdown on immigration makes it hard for entrepreneurs to come to the UK, and for UK entrepreneurs to hire talent. We're working on that.
3. Policy folks need to be honest brokers between government and entrepreneurs. Most business people have no party allegiances: but they share a language of innovation, competition, disruption and progress. And that's free markets, isn't it? 4. TEN offers something practical to entrepreneurs: such as meetings where a really successful entrepreneur will talk about their successes - and importantly, their mistakes. That helps to build a really effective group of like-minded entrepreneurs.
6. Having built these networks, we can and do hold workshops between government and entrepreneurs, so there is direct communication.
7. Entrepreneurs do things. Government talks about things. So there is a cultural difference to overcome. With 40 years of experience, though, we can do that!
8. And having built this large network, we can now meaningfully survey entrepreneurs, providing governments with real evidence of policy obstacles that hold them back.
9. We also work closely with groups of MPs, like the All Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship, helping both sides to understand each other and plan future reform initiatives.
10. We succeed in all this because we have a long-term vision of what we want to achieve – basically, we want to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow an enterprise. Now that's a vision – not just for us, but for countries like Nepal, where so many folk, especially governments and bureaucrats, simply do not understand the creative genius of a free people.