HBS Prof Working On Libya’s Economy

Porter says economy “pretty much needs universal reform”

In Libya, Michael Porter is becoming a household name.

Porter, the Lawrence University professor at the Harvard Business School, just returned from Libya where he is the chief consultant on economic reforms.

Porter said that five years ago, the Qaddafis—Libya’s ruling family—contacted him and asked him to help modernize the economy.

Despite the Qaddafis’ offer, Porter’s involvement remained minimal until a year and a half ago when he oversaw an initial assessment of the situation.

“I don’t do much of the work myself, the consulting firms do that,” Porter said.

Until Libya’s leadership renounced terrorism in 2003, the United States had no official diplomatic relationship to the country. Relations were fully restored last May.

Porter said that since Libya is a country that “pretty much needs universal reform,” several consulting firms have tackled the different issues affecting the stagnating Libyan economy.

Boston’s Monitor Group, which Porter co-founded, is one of the consulting firms involved in reviving the energy, trade, construction, and tourism industries.

Meanwhile, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company has been working on the partial privatization of Libya’s Central Bank.

“Those of us involved are trying to be patient, take the long view,” Porter said.

With the help of international organizations, consulting firms, and scholars, Libya is planning economic and governmental reform.

Many obstacles—in the form of red tape—still exist to entrepreneurs in Libya, according to an article in BusinessWeek. The article also said that the reformers hope to encourage foreign investment.

“A country in a tense relationship with the U.S. has settled all the international disputes, has renounced weapons of mass destruction, and invited outside inspectors,” Porter said. “We must help these people, they are on the right track.”

And Porter is not the only Harvard professor involved in the reform efforts, as he has helped bring other figures from the University to the country.

University Distinguished Service Professor Joseph S. Nye paid Libya a visit at Porter’s urging. Nye traveled to Libya two weeks ago and met with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadaffi to discuss opening the society to globalization.

“It is encouraging that he seems to have changed his approach,” Nye said. “He was very opposed to Al-Quaeda and he was very strong in his condemnation and that is good news.”

Other Western scholars participating in the discussion and advising include Malkin Professor of Public Policy Robert D. Putnam, as well as Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University, Nye said.

The involvement of the Harvard professors has been an individual enterprise and effort, not on behalf of the institution, Porter said.

—Staff writer Daniela Nemerenco can be reached at