Citizen-led assessments (CLAs) emerged in India in 2005 as a way to raise awareness and advocacy around low learning levels, and to act as a force for bottom-up accountability and action that would improve education quality and learning. Thousands of volunteers traveled to rural districts and administered simple reading and math tests to the children in households they visited. The dismal results, published in the 2005 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), helped stimulate debate and prioritize learning in national policy.
While Brazil faces a difficult fiscal and economic situation right now, I would like to view national progress on employment and incomes from a long-term perspective, which is valuable when addressing Education and Human Development issues in a broader sense.
A boat trip from Port Elizabeth to Kingstown, in the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is a one-hour trip that locals take several times a day. It was during one of these journeys that the boat of Kamara Jerome, a young Vincentian fisherman, ran out of gas six miles from Bequia City in what is termed locally as the "Bequia Channel." While waiting for help with strong wind gusts and the sun on his head, the idea of developing a boat that would run with wind and solar energy was born. Soon after, the idea became a prototype; a boat using green technology was on the water making 20-year-old Jerome a winner of international innovation competitions and a role model to other Caribbean youth.
In Mexico, young engineer Daniel Gomez runs a multimillion bio-diesel company originally conceived as a research project for his high school chemistry class. Gomez and his partners - Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez, and Mauricio Pareja - founded SOLBEN (Solutions in bio-energy in Spanish) in their early twenties.
Although Daniel and Kamara have different educational backgrounds, they do share one important skill, the ability to identify a problem, develop an innovative solution, and take it to the market. In other words, being an entrepreneur, an alternative to be economically active, that seems to work and not only for a few.
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What do Benin, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Togo and Mali have in common? Apart from being members of the eight-country strong West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), they share a common status as low-income countries, faced with huge infrastructure needs and financing challenges.
Furthermore, they have decided that one way to address these challenges and sustain their economic growth was to promote public-private partnerships (PPPs) through a regional framework and strategy. This initiative is supported by the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) for the World Bank, and Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Expertise France on the French cooperation side.
Which is why — on July 2-3 in the midst of sweltering weather in the leafy suburbs of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, which is also home to UEMOA headquarters — 20 or so experts and decision-makers attended a two-day seminar to discuss the framework and strategy. Beyond PPIAF and AFD, regional participants included representatives from the UEMOA Commission, the Regional PPP unit at the West African Development Bank (BOAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF), the Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA), and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
The issues we covered included the need to:
Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) impressive growth over the past decade or so has been matched by its equally impressive showing on the World Bank Group's "Doing Business" index. In 2012, one-third of the world’s top reformers on the index were from the continent, and every year its countries feature in the top 10 most active reformers. In 2014, five of the top 10 were from SSA.
Doing Business tracks progress in reforms that support a firm through its life-cycle, from start-up, through to raising capital, to potential closure. Through a mix of wide geographic coverage and rankings that generate a lot of public attention (not all of it wholly positive), the report has been a powerful motivator of investment climate reform, with the data serving as a useful means to measure progress made.
Doing Business as a start
While a large appeal of Doing Business as a measure of a country’s business environment is that it focuses on tangible business activities to which the private sector and policymakers can directly relate, its indicators are limited in scope. They are therefore intended to be used mainly as a litmus test of the state of a country’s investment climate. Therefore, while Doing Business's accessibility and global profile can be very useful in generating momentum for private sector reform, it ought to mainly serve as a starting point for a country to then engage in both broader reaching and deeper investment climate change. (This approach to the use of Doing Business has largely underpinned investment climate reform efforts in SSA by the Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice.)
So, if Doing Business is a starting point and is used as such, is there evidence to support the assumption that it triggers wider and deeper private sector reform? Or is movement on Doing Businesses a starting point and, unintentionally, an ending point too?
Linkages to wider competitiveness reform data
One of the most comprehensive measures of the state of different countries’ business environments is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), a data set of over 110 variables that looks at the current state of, and tracks changes in, competitiveness across the world. The data set is structured under 12 pillars that cover measures from institutional development to technology and innovation.
Using GCI as a good measure of competitiveness, and interpreting changes in it as a reflection of a country’s effectiveness in engaging in wider competitiveness reform, we can look at the relationship between GCI and Doing Business and, significantly, the extent of movement on the two indices.
A high-level review of the relationship between changes in GCI and Doing Business for different regions between 2007 and 2013 shows SSA to have performed comparatively well on both indices, performing similarly to countries of Eastern and Central Europe and surpassing the world average. However, looking beyond averages to GCI’s specific pillars, SSA’s performance has been variable, advancing as a region in some areas more than others. Figure 1, below, shows GCI pillars where SSA has improved the most and the least, highlighting the top and bottom three.
Figure 1: Variations within competitiveness
(SSA score on GCI, total and select pillars)
Of particular interest is Pillar 6, Goods Market Efficiency, because many of the areas that this pillar tracks are also areas where the Bank Group has focused its investment climate reform interventions, from business entry and competition, to taxes, trade and investment. (Two of the 16 indicators in this pillar actually comprise Doing Business data – the number of procedures and days required to start a business.)
Pillar 6 is one of the top three GCI pillars that have the greatest upward pull on SSA’s overall performance on GCI, countering the areas where SSA has slipped in its scores.
West African countries have been working for many years to develop and implement harmonized trade rules for crop inputs. While much remains to be done, new regional regulations for seed and fertilizer are already helping to guide quality improvements in some countries. The West Africa Seed Committee is due to be launched next week in Abidjan thereby clearing the way for establishment of a regional variety catalog and seed certification system. Work to operationalize the regional rules for fertilizer also continues.
Despite these positive developments, most West African countries are a long way from having the required capacities and institutional structures needed to implement their own trade rules. The agreed regulations are modeled on advanced international standards, yet most national regulatory systems for crop inputs are greatly overstretched if they exist at all. As a result, it will likely be many more years before true harmonized regional trade can begin.
A new World Bank Group Africa Trade Working Paper looks at these challenges and shows that simple solutions including unilateral and joint action by small groups of countries should not be ruled out as a way to fast-track progress and support long-term harmonization.
From civil wars in Mali and Iraq to urban crime in Central America, perceptions of injustice are central to fueling violence and fragility. While we in the development community increasingly recognize that legitimate and effective justice institutions are crucial to inclusive growth in these contexts, we have often struggled to support them. The World Bank is at the forefront of developing new ways of understanding justice challenges as well as practical means to address them.
A panel on “New Approaches to Justice in FCV,” part of the 2015 Fragility Forum, highlighted new ways of understanding and responding to justice challenges.
It’s been a difficult year for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and all those fighting to end the terrible Ebola epidemic that took thousands of lives, spread fear and destabilized economies. Though the global response to this crisis was too slow, at year’s end, there are hopeful signs that international mobilization is having an impact, and that the countries most affected by the disease are coalescing around the goal of “zero cases.”
One of my favorite books about the World Bank is Michael Holman’s Last Orders at Harrods. It’s a satirical novel about trouble brewing in a fictional Kenya during the visit of the World Bank President Hardwick Hardwicke (and his sidekick speechwriter, Jim “Fingers” Adams). What’s great about Holman’s book is that the author, a former Africa editor at the Financial Times, shows in a humorous manner how the Bank interacts with clients and how the view from Washington can sometimes be oblivious to what’s really going on in the country.
I’ve tried to follow in Holman’s footsteps with The Golden Hour, my new thriller about a State Department crisis manager fighting chaos in West Africa and bureaucracy in Washington DC. The hero Judd Ryker has just 100 hours to reverse a coup in Mali, rescue a kidnapped Peace Corps volunteer, and save the U.S. embassy from a terrorist attack. In the novel, shifting forces in Bamako and competing interests at headquarters conspire to shield the truth and complicate resolution. Ryker’s first task is simply to figure out what’s really going on.