Milena Harito is a French and Albanian citizen whose professional achievements, which cross sectors and international boundaries, have led her to receive the insignia "Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur", by the French Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau earlier this year. In this interview, Milena shared with us more about her work on public services delivery, digital transformation, and her thoughts on women leadership. Curious yet? Read our interview to learn more!
You have dual citizenship. How would you describe your relationship with France and Albania?
Living in two cultures has both its challenges and its advantages. I came to France when I was 25 and spent about half of my life in Albania and the other half in France, so I really feel both French and Albanian.
Having dual citizenship offers you a unique opportunity not only to live in and understand two different cultures, but also to open yourself up to the whole world and grow as a person!
Dual citizenship also comes with some issues. You always miss your country of origin and you must make considerable efforts to integrate into a new culture. But it is worth the effort as belonging to two cultures represent an incredible assent, especially in a globalized world!
Having dual citizenship offers you a unique opportunity
not only to live in and understand two different cultures,
but also to open yourself up to the whole world and grow as a person!
Prior to your political engagement, you held different research and managerial positions at Orange France for more than a decade. In what ways did your private sector background help you succeed in politics?
Coming from the private sector, you are used to working in a very practical and results-oriented way. In contrast, you are not familiar with the codes and rules of politics. Indeed, politics is less about results and more about perceptions, relations, connections, and sometimes manipulation.
However, my private sector experience was very useful as it gave me the necessary resilience to implement reforms. Public administration systems are still weak in the Balkan countries. When you are a minister there, you do not receive the same kind of support from good civil servants and experts as you do in France, for example. In other words, you must be very committed and hard-working to get things done!
In September 2013, you were appointed Minister of Innovation and Public Administration. Could you tell us more about your job and the reforms you managed to achieve?
As Minister of Innovation and Public Administration, I oversaw the implementation of important reforms with the goal of modernizing the country: the public administration civil service reform and the improvement of the quality and efficiency of our public services.
One of the reforms I led involved the recruitment and the career advancement of civil servants, one of the conditions of the process of integration into the European Union (EU). With the support of the Prime Minister we managed to vote a new legal framework and create a general competition for civil servants, which is crucial to ensure the country’s stability even when political parties change. We also partnered with ENA, the French National School of Administration, to work on the creation of the Albanian school of Public Administration, which is still in its initial phase.
I also successfully led a reform to improve the delivery of public services. Surprising as this may seem, the concept of customer care did not exist in the public service. We thus created a series of rules and procedures to introduce the customer care principles. A central agency has been created to ensure that those principles were applied by the public administration everywhere in the country. The reform has successfully improved standards, procedures, and the organization of service delivery. It has fostered a customer-care culture in the Albanian public administration and contributed to our fight against corruption. Our achievements have even been featured in a case study published by Harvard University.
Our reform fostered a customer-care culture in the Albanian public administration
and contributed to our fight against corruption.
From September 2017 to May 2018 you served as Prime Minister Advisor on Regional Economic Area of Western Balkans. You now work as an independent consultant in this field. What does your work involve?
Last year, the Prime Minister asked me to assist him with a project on regional cooperation in the Balkans.
The project was led by the European Commission and the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and aimed at establishing a regional economic area. In short, we tried to establish a common approach to trade, investment, and mobility of professionals. I also managed to bring a fourth dimension, the digital dimension, into this action plan, and create a common digital agenda.
The region is comprised of six small countries that are still in the accession process for joining the European Union. In many ways, these countries have very similar problems, including but not limited to the history of war, nepotism, and instability in public administration. Our Prime Minister had a very important role in bringing more cooperation to the Balkans. It was the first Prime Minister who visited Serbia in more than 67 ears! Aleksander Vucic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, also played an important role in the process of fostering cooperation among the countries in the region. I can say with confidence that this was a beginning of a new era for the regional cooperation in the Balkans, and I was lucky to have had a chance to be part of it.
I can say with confidence that this was a beginning of a new era
for the regional cooperation in the Balkans,
and I was lucky to have had a chance to be part of it.
How would you describe your personal vision of digital transformation in the public sector?
There are many issues in the digital transformation. Some studies show that in the EU countries round 60% of digital projects fail. It is enormous.
This is partly due to many people assuming that when a process is digitalized, it will automatically solve all issues. On the contrary, digitalization can potentially make problems even worse because there are fewer people that manage the process!
In the process of digital transformation, it is essential to first clearly state the problems you want to solve. This cannot be done by a computer scientist. You need people who know their organizations very well and are motivated to solve problems and then use digital transformation as an instrument. They do not necessarily have to be engineers. Engineers are the ones who are going to implement the project but not the people who understand the inside structures and processes. The people who lead digital transformation of their institutions are called Chief Information Officers (CIOs) or Chief Digital Officers (CDOs).
Unfortunately, these are the people we lack the most in both the public and the private sector, for example even the municipalities in France lack them. This is why achieving a successful digital transformation is difficult.
Digitalization can potentially make problems even worse
because there are fewer people that manage the process!
What are the main challenges women face in politics?
During the communist era, most women were working in the Balkan countries. This was a key factor of emancipation. Yet, in these countries, men were traditionally the ones who went outside and discuss business while women were expected to take care of their families.
I feel that men in executive position have some sort of a coalition that is governed by special rules and codes of communication. I strongly believe that women need a similar kind of coalition. This is one of the reasons I decided to join the European Network of Women In Leadership!
I feel that men in the highest position have some sort of a coalition
that is governed by special rules and codes of communication.
I strongly believe that women need a similar kind of coalition.
To learn more about Milena, have a look at her biography!