Automation is heralding a renewed race between education and technology. However, the ability of workers to compete with automation is handicapped by the poor performance of education systems in most developing countries. This will prevent many from benefiting from the high returns to schooling.
Schooling quality is low
The quality of schooling is not keeping pace, essentially serving a break on the potential of “human capital” (the skills, knowledge, and innovation that people accumulate). As countries continue to struggle to equip students with basic cognitive skills- the core skills the brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, and reason- new demands are being placed.
Welcome to the “10 Candid Career Questions” series, introducing you to the infrastructure and PPP professionals who do the deals, analyze the data, and strategize on the next big thing. Each of them followed a different path into infra and/or PPP practice, and this series offers an inside look at their backgrounds, motivations, and choices. Each blogger receives the same 15 questions and answers 10 or more that tell their career story candidly and without jargon. We believe you’ll be as surprised and inspired as we were.
Life is shifting fast for coastal communities in West Africa. In some areas, coastlines are eroding as much as 10 meters per year. Stronger storms and rising seas are wiping out homes, roads and buildings that have served as landmarks for generations.
I was recently in West Africa to witness the effects of coastal erosion. To understand what’s going on, we took a three-country road trip, traveling from Benin’s capital Cotonou, along the coast to Lomé in Togo and then to Keta and Accra in Ghana. These three countries, among the hardest hit by coastal erosion, offer a snapshot of what is happening along the rest of the coast, from Mauritania, via Senegal to Nigeria.
I just finished reading a recent working paper by Martin Williams, titled “External validity and policy adaptation: From impact evaluation to policy design”.
In this paper, Martin tackles the question – how will a policymaker apply evidence available to them to design a policy/programme that will fix a particular problem at hand? He first takes us through the ways in which we think of this currently – primarily by attempts to strengthen the external validity of evaluations – and points out the limitations of these approaches. The central critique is that most of this thinking puts the evaluators/researchers at the centre and tries to devise ways in which the evidence generated by their research can be generalised beyond their specific study samples. This is at odds with what a policymaker (in this paper, a public official in a given country) needs in order to make decisions about how to use evidence from elsewhere to design a policy/programme for their specific context.
The answer, Martin suggests, is ‘mechanism mapping’ – a five-step process where the public official lays out:
Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!
NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)
These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.
Van Gogh’s famous painting of Potato Eaters depicts a family of poor peasants seated around a dinner table eating their staple fare. The artist confessed that this work is deeply reflective of the hard work that Dutch peasants have to do to earn a bare meal. Van Gogh frequently painted the harvest and often compared the season to his own art, and how he would someday reap all that he had put into it.
Since those difficult times in the late 1800s, the tiny country of the Netherlands (pop: 17 mill; about the size of Haryana state in India) has come a long way. Matching sheer ingenuity with technological prowess, the Netherlands today is one of the world’s most agriculturally productive countries, feeding people across the globe from its meager land area. Indeed, this small nation is now the world’s second-largest exporter of agri-food products including vegetables, fruits, potatoes, meat, milk and eggs; some 6% of world trade in fruits and 16% in vegetables comes from the Netherlands.
But how exactly did they do this? In October 2017, we went to find out. Our team - of World Bank and Indian government officials working on agribusiness, rural transformation and watershed development projects – sought to learn from Dutch experience and identify opportunities for future collaboration. We met farmer cooperatives, private companies, growers’ associations, academia, social enterprises, and government agencies, and gained fascinating insights.
Primarily, we found that a convenient location, a conducive climate, investments in high-quality infrastructure, high-caliber human capital, an enabling business environment and professionally-run private companies have provided the Netherlands with that unmistakable competitive edge:
Maximizing agricultural output with minimum land and labor
Located conveniently as a gateway to Europe, the Netherlands acts as a transit hub for agricultural produce, importing Euro 4.6 billion worth of produce from 107 countries, adding value to these products through collection, re(packaging) and processing, and exporting almost double that value - Euro 7.9 billion - to more than 150 nations. In 2014, Dutch growers had a turn-over of euro 2.9 billion in fruit and vegetables, produced with a minimum of land and labor - only 55,000 hectares and just 40,000 people - indicating a heavy reliance on automation.
The three-day international workshop on forest fires organized by the World Bank and the Forest Ministry of India is a watershed event in the management of forest fires in the country (1-3rd November 2017). On the first day, discussions were held on the latest technology being used to alert foresters to fires.
Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, forest-dependent communities in central India burn the forest floor to encourage the growth of tender tendu leaves, and to collect mahua flowers which standout easily on the charred forest floor.
In the northeast and some parts of central India, forests are rotationally burnt to ashes to enrich the soil for agriculture. After a few seasons of cropping, the depleted area is left to nature and the trees grow back once again. In the western Himalayas, pine needles are cleared every year to encourage the growth of grass for cattle-fodder. When pine needles full of resin pile up year after year, it takes just one spark from a careless smoker to burn down an entire forest of enormous value.
In remote areas, forest fires may not be detected for hours or even days, leading to an irreversible loss of forest wealth. Like any other hazard, the earlier one gets to know about the outbreak, the better it is for both the authorities and the people. Since traditional ways of gathering information from people perched on watch towers are not very effective, satellite sensors that can detect heat and smoke from space have now come to the rescue of foresters across the country.
Today, the Forest Survey of India, in partnership with the National Remote Sensing Centre, uses these satellite detections to alert foresters across the country about the exact location of forest fires. All steps in the detection and dissemination process have been fully automated – including the processing of satellite data, filtering out fires that burn outside forests, composing personalized SMSs to relevant people, as well as sending them across. This system has helped fire alerts to reach people within 45 minutes to 1 hour of detection, enabling foresters to reach the spot quickly and contain the damage.
In high-income countries, entrepreneurs routinely accept electronic payments from customers and make electronic payments to suppliers, tax authorities and others. But in developing countries, where more than a third of adults report being self-employed, digital payments are an underdeveloped business tool – one that can provide significant benefits to both entrepreneurs as well as society by bringing more people into the formal financial system. With the rapid growth of mobile phone ownership to facilitate digital payments in the developing world, shifting from cash to digital payments offers high potential payoffs for entrepreneurs worldwide. A new report shows how digital payments can benefit entrepreneurs.