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Western Balkans: Through Science, Innovation and Collaboration, a Program for Shared Prosperity

Paulo Correa's picture


 

You’d probably be skeptical if I told you that the Western Balkans – a region that has long suffered from social and ethnic fragmentation – now has a strong opportunity to boost shared prosperity by promoting research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Your views might not even change if I showed you that such idea is validated by preliminary studies linking research and innovation to the performance of firms and countries in the region.

You might be surprised – yet your initial assumption might be unchanged – if I told you about the kind of companies that are starting to build a different economic landscape in the region: firms like UXPassion, Pet Minuta, Strawberry Energy or Teleskin, which are all technology-based startups created by young researchers who became entrepreneurs. Click on this link (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2013/10/22/western-balkans-research-and-development-for-innovation), or on the video embedded below, to meet them and other innovators from the Western Balkans.

Indeed, the transition to a market economy and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia starting in 1991 had a severe impact on the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans. Research capacity narrowed significantly, and R&D’s links to the productive sector of the economy disappeared. The new industrial structure has naturally a lower propensity to invest in research while the current business environment promises low returns to the enterprise investments in innovation. Efforts to revamp the region's research and innovation sector were most of the time short-lived.

As a result, the performance of the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans is gloomy. The region’s current investment in R&D are roughly the same amount as the investment by just the second-largest university in the United States. (In 2012, for example, only 38 patents from the region were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office – compared to the average of 27 patents registered by each American university.) At the same time, very little of those investments are efficiently transformed into wealth. For example, for each invention that received a patent, the region spent, on average, three times more in R&D resources than does the United States.

Building on a continuing series of efforts to reform their national innovation systems, in the hope of changing their gloomy prospects, the Western Balkan countries in 2009 committed to develop a joint regional research and innovation strategy. That strategy, developed between 2011 and 2013, was formally endorsed last month by the ministers responsible for science and education from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The preparation of the strategy, which benefited from technical assistance by the World Bank and from the financial support of the European Commission, involved representatives from the region’s leading universities, research institutes, private sector firms and government agencies. Discussions of the draft proposal were pursued in all seven countries as part of a large outreach exercise.

The Beauty of Numbers

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

One of my first assignments in the World Bank, some 13 years ago, was in a small and complicated country, better known for coups and mercenaries than for statistical capacity. Before I set off to the Comoro Islands, my then manager (now an established World Bank Vice-president) gave me the following priceless advice: “When you get there, make sure to get a lot of data. It may be difficult to get and sometimes even flawed, but data has one great advantage: It cuts through a lot of crap.”  

Accounting chartsNumbers are indeed beautiful. They can help bring clarity to our lives and save us time as well as resources. But raw data can be messy and you also need a good system for deciding which numbers to use and how to interpret them. Last week’s launch of the 2014 Doing Business rankings reminded me of the advice my then boss had given me. Doing Business started from the premise that companies are the backbone of any economy but that investors often lacked knowledge of the conditions in “frontier economies”. With the benefit of an annual assessment of the business environment in each country, investors could make more informed decisions. As for policy makers, they could more easily attract investors, provided they made a genuine effort in cutting red tape and supporting businesses.

South East Europe Six: Growth, please!

Željko Bogetic's picture

Just six months ago, in the previous South East Europe Regular Economic Report (SEE RER) covering the six Western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia (SEE6), we looked at the double-dip recession in this region, and structural policies needed for recovery.
 
Now, we are happy to report that recovery is, indeed, under way in each of these countries. In 2013, the SEE6 region is projected to grow 1.7 percent, thus ending the double-dip recession of 2012. Electricity, agriculture, and even some exports are helping with this rebound of output. Kosovo is leading the pack with a growth rate of 3.1 percent, with Serbia (which accounts for nearly half of the region’s GDP) expected to grow by 2 percent on the heels of increased FDI, exports, and a return to normal agricultural crops. (In 2012, by contrast, agricultural output in Serbia dropped 20 percent on account of a severe drought). Albania, FYR Macedonia, and Montenegro are all expected to grow by between 1.2-1.6 percent. Rounding out this group is Bosnia and Herzegovina – with expected growth of 0.5 percent.
 
So, are things finally looking up in the Balkans? Not exactly.

Figure 1: SEE6 Unemployment Rates, 2012



Source: LFS data and ILO. Kosovo’s tentative data suggest unemployment as high as 35 percent.

Sex and Credit: Is There a Gender Bias in Lending?

Thorsten Beck's picture

Group identity in the form of family, ethnicity, or gender is a powerful predictor of social preferences, as shown by theory and empirical work. In particular, people generally favor in-group over out-group members. Such favoritism can have positive or negative repercussions. On the one hand, it can lead to inefficient transactions and lost opportunities. On the other hand, group identity may also entail trust, reciprocity, and efficiency due to shared norms and understandings. In recent research with Patrick Behr and Andreas Madestam, we gauge these opposing hypotheses, examining one important form of group identity, gender, and the consequences of own-gender preferences for outcomes in the credit market. We use microcredit transactions as they are an ideal ground to test these different hypotheses, relying heavily on transaction between loan officers and borrowers.

Coping with the Crisis. Lessons from Latvia, Albania, and Romania

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

A baker in her Albanian shop. Photo: ©World Bank

Many of the hardest hit countries during the recent financial crisis were in Eastern Europe — and now the prospect of a "jobless recovery" is a real concern. Although the level of output has risen and growth has resumed, unemployment rates are still above pre-crisis levels, especially for youth. In addition, the episodes of unemployment are increasing in length, with a significant share unemployed for over a year.

Thriving Cities Will Drive Eurasia's Growth

Souleymane Coulibaly's picture

Cities have always been the driving forces of world civilizations. What Niniveh was to the Assyrian civilization, Babylon was to the Babylonian civilization.  When Peter the Great, third in the Romanov Dynasty, became Russia’s ruler in 1696, Moscow’s influence began to expand. Peter strengthened the rule of the tsar and westernized Russia, at the same time, making it a European powerhouse and greatly expanding its borders. By 1918, the Russian empire spanned a vast territory from Western Europe to China.

As Peter the Great and his successors strove to consolidate their reign over this empire, major social, economic, cultural, and political changes were happening in the urban centers. Moscow led these changes, followed by St. Petersburg, which was built as a gateway to filter and channel western civilization through the empire. By fostering diversification through connectivity, specialization, and scale economies, these cities started the structural transformation of the Russian empire away from depending on commodities and limited markets in a way that more effectively served local demand.

The Soviet era altered this dynamic.

Women in the Workforce – a Growing Need in Emerging Europe and Central Asia

Sarosh Sattar's picture

Emerging Europe and Central Asia (ECA) is an interesting region because what you expect is not always what exists. Since this is written in honor of International Women's Day, discussing women’s labor market participation seems appropriate. The standard indicator used for this is the “female labor force participation” (LFP) rate, which is the proportion of all women between 15-64 years who either work or are looking for work. 

Since much of the region has a common socialist legacy, you would expect to see similar labor market behavior among women. However, the proportion of women who work ranges from a low of 42 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina to 74 percent of adult women in Kazakhstan. And it wasn’t 20 years of social and economic transition that led to this divergence. Even in 1990, the range was about the same. The exception was Moldova which saw a 26 percentage point decline.

Realizing the Potential of Right to Information

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

Right to Information (RTI) laws can be a useful instrument for improving transparency – if the political will for implementation is sustained, and if the broader governance environment provides the enabling conditions for the exercise of the law. A research project that studied the implementation of RTI laws in a number of countries showed that implementation has been very uneven across countries. In some countries, RTI laws had been leveraged effectively for extracting information in a number of important areas, ranging from public expenditures, to performance and procurement, and exposing instances of corruption. In other countries, the existence of an RTI law had little impact in any of these areas, and oversight and capacity building mechanisms had either not been set up, or not functioned effectively.

The findings of the study are not surprising. The implementation gap between de jure and de facto reforms in countries faced with capacity constraints and political economy challenges is well-known. Yet, international agencies have pushed policy reforms without adequate attention to the constraints and challenges of implementation. The pressure to win support and legitimacy with international aid agencies has been an important driver of the adoption of RTI laws. The right has also been recognized in international human rights conventions, and more recently has gained increasing international attention (for instance, the existence of a law is one of the considerations for membership in the Open Government Partnership). Further, pressure from domestic constituencies has also propelled political actors to champion the law. But, once passed, capacity limitations, the erosion of political will, and active resistance have been important impediments to realizing the potential of RTI.

World Bank Is Committed to Forest Communities

Rachel Kyte's picture

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Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Here at the World Bank we believe that independent internal evaluation is central to strengthening our work. Rigorous, evidence-based evaluation informs the design of global programs and enhances the development impact of partner and country efforts.

The World Bank Group’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) has undertaken a review of the implementation of the 2002 Forest Strategy. The strategy emphasized the positive developmental benefits of forest conservation and management, while strengthening environmental and social safeguards.

The report confirms that the World Bank’s forest work has:

  • contributed substantially to positive environmental outcomes;
  • successfully reduced deforestation when forest protected areas are designed and managed by people who live in and around them;
  • improved livelihoods, especially through support for participatory forest management initiatives, which involve and empower local communities;
  • advanced the rule of law in a sector plagued by patronage, corruption, and rent-seeking by increasing transparency and accountability and by putting environmental standards in place.

But to be most useful, an evaluation must meet a quality standard.

While we agree with some of IEG’s findings, we – and our Board - strongly disagree with others.

The Western Balkans – How Not to Waste a Good Crisis

Željko Bogetic's picture

With a double dip recession––after just two years of sluggish recovery––now taking hold across the Western Balkans it is time for policy makers to begin looking at ways the ongoing financial crisis can be leveraged to bring about lasting fiscal reform in these countries. After just two years of sluggish recovery, these countries as a group––Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia––are experiencing a drop in real GDP by 0.6 percent and it is now clear that the road to recovery in 2013 will be arduous.


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