Will cash and checks still exist 15 or 20 years from now given the increasing digitization of money? Is the smartphone our new bank? Will many people working in the financial sector industry lose their jobs due to growing use of technology, robots, algorithms, and online banking? Is financial technology (FinTech) the solution to providing financial services to the 2 billion people in the planet that still lack access to finance? Will digital currencies and other innovative FinTech products pose systemic risks in the future? What is the best approach to regulate FinTech companies?
Despite Thailand’s success in expanding educational access, new empirical evidence suggests that much more needs to be done to maximize the potential of its students. The 2012 PISA reading assessment reveals that almost one-third of Thai 15 year-old students were “functionally illiterate,” lacking critical skills needed for employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level. Furthermore, the performance gap among schools has been widening in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the disadvantaged and poorer-performing students are concentrated in small rural village schools.
As in much of the rest of the developing world, developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) have made progress in closing many gender disparities, particularly in areas such as education and health outcomes. Even on the gender gaps that still remain significant, more is now known about why these have remained “sticky” despite rapid economic progress.
Ensuring that women and girls are on a level playing field with men and boys is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It is right because gender equality is a core objective of development. And it is smart because gender equality can spur development. It has been estimated, for instance, that labor productivity in developing East Asia and Pacific could be 7-18% higher if women had equal access to productive resources and worked in the same sectors and types of jobs as men.
There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations. Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.
But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.
Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).
Thailand has come a long way and represents an impressive development story: it has drastically reduced the number of poor people from nearly 70% of the population in 1986 to 11% in 2013 and its economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5% in the late 1980s and early 1990s, creating jobs that helped pull millions of people out of poverty.
However, challenges remain as there are still 11% – 7 million – of the population living below the poverty line, and another 7 million or so who remain highly vulnerable to falling back into poverty. Although inequality has declined over the past 30 years, the distribution in Thailand remains unequal compared with many countries in East Asia. Significant and growing disparities in household income and consumption can be seen across and within regions of Thailand, with pockets of poverty remaining in the Northeast, North, and Deep South. Today, the Thai economy faces headwinds, and growth has been modest. Export competitiveness is sliding, and a severe drought is expected to weigh on off-season rice production. Poverty is expected to continue to fall at a slower rate, with poor households concentrated in rural areas affected by falling agricultural prices. The country is now at a critical time since the new draft constitution won approval by a majority.
, improving educational outcomes, safeguarding food and minimizing its waste, improving healthcare, and supporting countries’ digital ambitions (that computer of yours heats up pretty fast). And all of this, from improved productivity to education to health, is vital to eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity across the globe.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) differ from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs universally apply to all countries and they are holistic and integrated. Moreover, their delivery is to be achieved by governments, civil society, and the private sector all working together to achieve their success.
The SDGs also recognize the central role of justice in achieving development, with Goal 16 specifically guaranteeing “equal access to justice for all.” Governments, in partnership with other stakeholders, must make necessary national reforms to provide access to justice to the billions who currently live outside of the protection of the law. They must commit to financing the implementation of these reforms and be held accountable for their success.
Regional and sub regional bodies are uniquely placed to assist governments with implementing and monitoring justice commitments made through the SDGs. Learnings from the MDGs show that countries that integrated the MDGs into existing regional strategies were far more successful in meeting the MDGs’ objectives than countries that did not have the support of an existing regional strategy.
I’m finally in Thailand celebrating our Development Marketplace for Innovation award from the World Bank Group and the nonprofit Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) to prevent gender-based violence. Just one month ago, our team members, consisting of Sex Workers IN Group’s (SWING) leaders, Surang Janyam and Chamrong Phaengnongyang, and Mahidol University researcher, Dusita Phuengsamran, were at the awards ceremony in Washington DC, humbled by the words and encouragement of World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. Today, half a world away, at SWING’s colorful conference space, the passion for violence prevention that infused the awards ceremony is still with us.
With the recent climate agreement in Paris, many countries are looking at improved energy efficiency as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to contribute to the agreed climate goal of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Innovative air-conditioning (A/C) technology, just launched by a Thai A/C manufacturer in cooperation with the Government of Thailand and the Federation of Thai Industries, will not only save consumers and the country energy, it will eliminate emissions of ozone depleting, high global warming refrigerants with little to no additional costs. At scale, this technology can play an important role in global climate mitigation efforts.
Today, over 80 million tons of CO2 will be emitted from economies around the world. Tomorrow will be the same, as will the day after that. The emitted amounts of CO2 will likely stay in the atmosphere for hundreds, if not thousands of years, further compounding the challenges in reversing the current and expected effects of climate change.
This past December, in Paris, leaders of 195 nations of the world agreed that this trend must be reversed, signaling a historic turning point in the global fight against climate change. The Paris Agreement ratified a global consensus to limit the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.’ Developing nations were at the forefront of this agreement, with almost every one of them setting carbon reduction goals. While the public sector will play a major role in helping achieve the ambitious targets, the sheer volume of investment required to support low-carbon energy, transportation, and agriculture projects throughout the developing world leaves a gap of hundreds of billions of dollars that only the private sector is in a position to fill.