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April 2011

Should State Banks Continue to Play a Role in the Middle East and North Africa?

Roberto Rocha's picture

In the past three decades the role of state-owned banks has been sharply reduced in most emerging economies. This reflects a general disappointment with their financial performance and contribution to financial and economic development, especially in countries where they dominated the banking system. But despite their loss of market share, state banks still play a substantial role in many regions, especially in East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia (figure 1).

Figure 1 Share of state banks in total assets by region, various years, 1970–2005
(percent)

 

The arguments put forward to justify the continuing presence of state banks have included market failures (resulting from asymmetric information and poor enforcement of contracts) that restrict access to credit; the provision of essential financial services in remote areas (where supply may be restricted by large fixed costs); and the provision of countercyclical finance to prevent an excessive contraction of credit during a financial crisis. These arguments may well justify policy interventions in many countries, although it does not necessarily follow that state banks are the optimal intervention. Moreover, even where the presence of state banks may be justified, policy makers still face the challenge of ensuring clear mandates and sound governance structures in order to minimize political interference and avoid large financial losses.

Where Do Women Work?

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

The economic empowerment of women is gaining prominence in the development agenda. It is reflected in Millennium Development Goal 3 and will be the focus of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012. Expanding women’s access to income generating opportunities is a key part of this objective. An important starting point is to understand where women work.

Two figures based on data from household and labor force surveys in 137 low- and middle-income countries help answer this question. Figure 1, focused only on women, reports the shares active in different types of employment. Figure 2, focused on the nonagricultural labor force (male and female), reports the share of workers in each employment category who are women. Thus the first shows the distribution of women across types of work, and the second the differences in the rates at which men and women are active in the same type of employment.

New Ideas in Business Growth

Miriam Bruhn's picture

My colleague Bilal Zia and I organized a conference on New Ideas in Business Growth: Financial Literacy, Firm Dynamics and Entrepreneurial Environment that took place at the World Bank last Wednesday. The conference brought together researchers and policy makers in the area of private sector development to share new findings about the types of policy interventions that are effective at promoting business growth. We decided to focus the discussion on three topics that have recently received increased attention from both a research and a policy angle: 1) business and financial literacy training 2) the business environment and 3) corporate governance and firm dynamics. The selection of these three topics also raised a larger question in my mind—should the research community spend so much of its effort on microenterprises, when larger firms may have much higher growth potential? That’s a question I’ll return to at the end of the post.

In recent years, many governments, international institutions, and NGOs around the world have been providing business and financial literacy training for entrepreneurs. However, so far, we know relatively little about the impact of this training on business performance and growth. In an effort to contribute to filling this knowledge gap, Bilal and I conducted a randomized control trial in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where we collaborated with a microfinance institution and an NGO to provide business and financial literacy training to young entrepreneurs.