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#2 from 2017: Doing good against all odds – remembering the forgotten

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on February 7, 2017.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.
 - Voltaire
Every November 1st, Poland observes All Saints Day or as some call it, the Day of the Deceased. In the middle of the Polish Golden Autumn there is a day when all Poles meet each other at the cemetery. Flowers and candles are lit to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. Most Polish cemeteries are very pristine and well cared for. For me this is a day of national truce and solidarity intertwined with the Roman-Catholic tradition. All Saints Day is celebrated in other countries, but the poignancy and mobility in Poland has no match. The day before and the day after, millions of Poles patiently travel for hours in never-ending traffic jams.
I am not always able to attend All Saints Day in my native Poland, but there are always flowers, wreaths, and candles, exceeding the number of my living distant relatives at the grave of my parents. And then there are the invisible friendly hands that clean my family's tomb a few weeks later, before the beginning of winter. The culmination of this holiday is an outdoor mass before dusk, which basically occurs at every cemetery. I must admit that for as long as I can remember; I have always tried to skip the mass service saturated with the presence of thousands of worshipers for the sake of long walks in the marvelous fall festival of lights a few hours later where the cemeteries are almost deserted. Imagine, walking in darkness on the fallen and golden dry leaves amongst the orange glow of thousands of lit candles that blend with a scent of burning wax and the array of thousands of flowers. Surrounded by people who act most courteously towards each other, and then there is the humbling moment of realizing again that death is a destiny for each of us. All of this is accompanied by solemn tranquility and feelings of nostalgia.

Transitions and Time Lags: Understanding a Dispiriting but Temporary Phenomenon

Antonius Verheijen's picture

Having spent much of my working life working with and in countries in transition, it remains painful to watch the disillusionment that so often strikes people that had the courage to change a bad political situation, but then are forced to live through economic hardship. It is those that chose change that seem always to suffer most. But one source of hope is that, fortunately, this hasn’t stopped people from trying. This was true for Southern Europe in the late 1970s (though I was still in school at the time), Central and East European countries in the 1990s, several African countries in the 2000s and, as history has a knack for repeating itself, Tunisia today. 

The Family 500+: Battling Child Poverty in Poland

Karolina Goraus-Tańska's picture
Facing one of the lowest fertility rates in the European Union (EU), the Government of Poland introduced a new family benefit program that had two objectives: encourage fertility and reduce child poverty.
The Family 500+ program, introduced in April, 2016, consists of a monthly payment of PLN 500 (€115) for every child after the first until the age of 18. The benefit was also extended to the first child in families whose income was below a defined threshold.

What is so unique about the growth (or decline) of cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
How fast is your city growing? The answer may depend on where you live.

There are the booming megacities such as Tokyo, Mumbai, and Nairobi. Then there are cities that are declining in population, such as Detroit.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where we recently conducted a study on urban growth trends, we found unique demographic patterns affecting the urbanization process in the region.

For example, the region has had fertility rates below replacement levels for more than two decades, and most countries in the region have negative net migration rates.

This signifies that the population of most countries in the region is either growing very slowly or declining, and in some countries urban population has started to decline.

What does this mean for cities?

With a smaller labor force at hand, cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are increasingly competing against one another to attract human capital.

Resulting from this competition, we find that most of the cities in the region are shrinking while population growth is increasingly concentrated in a few cities. Per our estimates, 61% of the region’s cities shrank between 2000 and 2010, losing on average 11% of their population.

This scale of city population decline is unprecedented.

Tunisia: Looking ahead or back to the future?

Antonius Verheijen's picture

I had the privilege recently to spend an unscheduled hour of discussion with a group of young Tunisians who were visiting our offices. As often, on these occasions it is hard not to get captured by the energy and impatience of the young people in this region. It gives hope that entrepreneurial spirit is really alive and well in a country where reliable private sector services remain otherwise hard to come by, let alone public ones. If one combines the energy of youth with the message in a recent (equally energetic) speech by the Minister of Development to a large group of investors, one gets a sense that Tunisia is, indeed, looking ahead and not to the past.

Yet, as always, reality is far more complex, and often we are confronted with a much gloomier picture of a country that is perceived as, economically, turning inward. This is the case even more so now, as Tunisia is coming under immense pressure to get its public finances in order. This has generated some decisions that go right against the message of openness and dynamism that one gets when meeting with young Tunisians. It all begs the question, for a newcomer like myself, which of the parallel universes is the real one, and, as in a movie, which one ultimately will prevail.

What happens if you don’t pay your bill? Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe

Georgia Harley's picture

We all have regular bills to pay for the ubiquitous services we consume – whether they be for utilities (water, heating, electricity etc.), credit cards, memberships, or car payments.  But, not everyone pays.  

So why don’t people pay?  Why are some countries better at this than others?  And what can be done to improve systems for debt collection?

Poland's regions: from lagging to catching up

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Rzeszow, Poland. Photo by Terra Libera via Flickr Creative Commons
Rzeszow, Poland. (Photo by Terra Libera via Flickr Creative Commons)

On May 31 we had the pleasure of presenting the first phase of the Poland Catching-up Regions Program, an initiative of the European Commission and the World Bank. In just over one year, this initiative has successfully addressed a number of key development challenges faced by two "lagging regions" in Poland – Podkarpackie and Świetokrzyskie.

The initiative's successes range from faster business registration in Rzeszow and Kielce (the capitals of the two regions, respectively) to the setting-up of a vocational education training system in Świteokrzyskie and design of a Technology Transfer Center in Rzeszow. Partnered with outstanding teams from the European Commission and Poland, the World Bank was able to support this progress by bringing together global expertise and hands-on collaboration in both design and implementation of policies. This is important for Poland and for the lessons it provides for other developing countries. 

A mixed report: How Europe and Central Asian Countries performed in PISA

Cristian Aedo's picture
 Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank
While more ECA program countries are participating in the PISA assessment of 15-year-old students' skills, education poverty in these countries has only slightly declined since 2000. (Photo: Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank)

Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).

The economic benefits of LGBTI inclusion

Georgia Harley's picture
Civil Rights Defenders/Photo: Vesna Lalic
Civil Rights Defenders/Photo: Vesna Lalic
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is an all too familiar story. Members of this community are frequent targets of violence and other human rights abuses, and often face prejudice and hardship at work, in their communities, and at home.

Action is needed to address these problems and ensure that everyone – regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity - has an equal chance to live a healthy and prosperous life
This is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense: a growing body of evidence indicates that discrimination against LGBTI people has a negative economic impact on society.

Education and economic development: Five reforms that have worked

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
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Education systems are simply not performing as needed; not as economies demand, and not as parents desire. Yet it’s important to celebrate and recognize the success of countries that have made significant advances. (Photo: Sofie Tesson / Taimani Films / World Bank)

Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service.  This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?