Thursday, April 09, 2020


About Miriam Altman

My professional life has been focused on framing and implementing scalable high impact solutions to economic development challenges. After many years leading large organisations, I decided to take a “sabbatical”.  This period is focused on developing a number of civic and commercial projects and programmes. I shall write more about these as they unfold. They are all aimed at big public interest agendas.

I am a part-time Commissioner on the National Planning Commission in the Office of the Presidency, serving in its first term, from 2010 to 2015, and was reappointed for a second term in September 2015. This body was established to guide long term planning for South Africa.  The current work of the NPC focuses on driving implementation, with a special focus on governance and accountability that drives public sector performance. The NPC is also more deeply engaged in promoting a positively engaged active citizenry.

I am also a visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a non-resident Fellow at the Centre for Emerging Markets at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai.

Between June 2013 and April 2016, I was Head of Strategy and Regulatory Affairs for the Telkom Group.  Telkom is South Africa’s main fixed line telecommunications operator. It is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, with approximately one-third Government share ownership. Typical of such entities, Telkom was in fast decline, and was then disliked by all its stakeholders – government, the regulator, shareholders and customers. I was recruited by the new CEO and positioned to coordinate Telkom’s strategic repositioning and turnaround. The early success of this programme is reflected in its share value rising from $1.2 in May 2013 to $6.6 in August 2015.  Real improvements in company financials, regulatory matters, customer service and market repositioning are evident, as is Telkom’s emergence as Government’s lead broadband agency.  Improved governance, accountability and transparency were key ingredients in this turnaround.

Previously, I served as an Executive Director at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa from 2002 to 2012. The “Employment Scenarios” programme was the flagship at the HSRC. This drew leaders from government, the private sector, labour and academia together over a period of years to define a vision and practical strategies to address extremely high unemployment in South Africa. Many of the papers on this website were written during this period.

I am deeply committed to civic engagements, often as experiments to show how social innovations could impact on public sector delivery. To know more about current initiatives, I have created a dedicated section of this website which I will develop over time.

I have a long standing interest in digital education at the school level. What most excites me is that digital delivery offers a new channel to reach students directly and through schools. But globally there is little happening at scale to really move the dial in education outcomes. I am developing a range of commercial and public policy ideas to shift that dial!

Short Bio

Full CV

About this Website

This website offers easy access to a body of research created over a decade on employment, growth and poverty reduction.

There were two central motivations in creating this body of work. South Africa has amongst the highest rates of open unemployment and inequality in the world. First, a clearer evidence-based strategy to guide policy-makers and civil society was needed to address these twin challenges. Second, we sought to generate deeper and more nuanced economic thinking appropriate to a developing country. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a dominance of neoclassical and monetarist thought, which crowded out the discipline of development economics and more institutionalist, structural and political economy analysis. Developing economies have fledgling institutions and markets, emerging at different and uneven rates.  Economic analysis and policy making needs to be deeply reflective of this reality.

Between 2004 and 2011, I drove the production of a substantial body of research to support evidence-based policy making toward full employment. This work was based at the Human Sciences Research Council. Leaders from government, business, labour and academia were drawn together to guide this work and to enable its infusion into strategy and action. At its heart, we wanted to know whether policies were correctly targeted, balanced and bold enough to achieve Government’s employment and poverty targets. The top-line findings and scenarios were ultimately used in the National Development Plan.  This shows the benefit of long term investment in intellectual and think-tank effort towards big society-wide challenges.

I offer my own papers and publications, as well as those where I was commissioning editor of extensive work created with a wide group of experts. Many of the papers on this website were produced at the HSRC, but there are also publications from other periods. In total, over 300 papers and publications have been posted. I hope that making the papers and methodologies available will assist policy makers and researchers globally.

This website is also aimed at furthering debate, insights and ideas. So there will be other parts of the site, with a blog to promote debate, commentary on new publications, and information on organisations I support or am involved with.


There were many leaders and thinkers involved in the HSRC Employment Scenarios and related research. The researchers names are found on publications. There are too many to thank here. Overall, the body of work relied on extensive cooperation and co-creation. A significant commitment of time and energy was devoted by many in shaping and delivering this work, in relation to the research and many years of participation in dialogue.

I would like to thank the Human Sciences Research Council, and especially Mark Orkin and Olive Shisana, for their support in creating the space for this work on employment at the HSRC.

The research will also be posted on the South African National Treasury website at . Thanks are due to Andrew Donaldson at National Treasury for suggesting this idea. More specifically, I would like to thank Marie Kirsten and Janine Thorne for their assistance in preparing the papers for posting. Kerry-Lee Durrant was a great support in helping to catalogue the articles, and in preparing abstracts and key words. Nicholas Bester designed the website.

With my love of art, I share visuals of some of my favourite African artists, especially where they resonate with themes of this website. I would like to thank them for their inspiration.