Inequality is back in the news. In his 2014 State of the Union address, U. S. President Obama lamented that, “after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.” At the global scale, Oxfam is making the same point, noting in a recent report that the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion bottom half of the Earth's population. Perhaps more surprising, the rich and powerful CEOs jetting to Davos earlier this year seemed to finally get it: capitalism cannot survive if income and wealth become concentrated in too few hands. Fighting inequality would therefore not only be the morally correct thing to do, it would also be smart economics. And this is what a recent Staff Discussion Note from the IMF suggests: “inequality can undermine progress in health and education, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and undercut the social consensus required in the face of shocks, and thus tends to reduce the pace and durability of growth.”
East Asia and Pacific
The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain. This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People. In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider. I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that.
Last year I spent some time in Papua New Guinea (or PNG, as it is often called), where the World Bank is supporting a number of development projects, and has activities in both the ICT and education sectors. For reasons historical (PNG became an independent nation only in 1975, breaking off from Australia), economic (Australia's is by far PNG's largest export market) and geographical (the PNG capital, Port Moresby, lies about 500 miles from Cairns, across the Coral Sea), Australia provides a large amount of support to the education sector in Papua New Guinea, and I was particularly interested in learning lessons from the experiences of AusAid, the (now former) Australian donor agency.
For those who haven't been there: PNG is a truly fascinating place. It is technically a middle income country because of its great mineral wealth but, according to the Australian government, "Despite positive economic growth rates in recent years, PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 per cent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 per cent of people are extremely poor. Many lack access to basic services or transport. Poverty, unemployment and poor governance contribute to serious law and order problems."
Among other things, PNG faces vexing (and in some instances, rather unique) circumstances related to remoteness (overland travel is often difficult and communities can be very isolated from each other as a result; air travel is often the only way to get form one place to another: with a landmass approximately that of California, PNG has 562 airports -- more, for example, than China, India or the Philippines!) and language (PNG is considered the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with over 800 (!) languages spoken). The PNG education system faces a wide range of challenges as a result. PNG ranks only 156th on the Human Development Index and has a literacy rate of less than 60%. As an overview from the Australian government notes,
"These include poor access to schools, low student retention rates and issues in the quality of education. It is often hard for children to go to school, particularly in the rural areas, because of distance from villages to schools, lack of transport, and cost of school fees. There are not enough schools or classrooms to take in all school-aged children, and often the standard of school buildings is very poor. For those children who do go to school, retention rates are low. Teacher quality and lack of required teaching and educational materials are ongoing issues."
[For those who are interested, here is some general background on PNG from the World Bank, and from the part of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that used to be known as AusAid, a short report about World Bank activities to support education in PNG from last year and an overview of the World Bank education project called READ PNG.]
If you believe that innovation often comes about in response to tackling great challenges, sometimes in response to scarcities of various sorts, Papua New Guinea is perhaps one place to put that belief to the test.
Given the many great challenges facing PNG's education sector,
its low current capacity to meet these challenges,
and the fact that 'business as usual' is not working,
while at the same time mobile phone use has been growing rapidly across society,
might ICTs, and specifically mobile phones,
offer new opportunities to help meet many long-standing, 'conventional' needs
in perhaps 'unconventional' ways?
A small research project called SMS Story has been exploring answers to this question.
On gender equality – it is no secret that the Pacific Islands is lagging.
The region is home to some of the world’s highest domestic violence rates. Economic empowerment of women in many countries, particularly in Melanesia, is desperately low. Women lack access to finance, land, jobs and income. In my country, Solomon Islands, there is only one woman in parliament, and there are none in Vanuatu and Federated States of Micronesia – a country which has never yet seen a woman elected.
Back in 2003, when we were writing the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People, we had no idea that it would spawn so much research, innovation, debate and changes in the delivery of basic services. Last week, we had a fascinating conference, in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute, to review this work, and chart the agenda for the coming decade. Being a blogger, I wanted to speak about what WDR2004 got wrong, but some of my teammates suggested I should start by describing what we got right. So here are three ways WDR2004 changed the conversation about service delivery (what we got wrong will be the next post).
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Noranna busy at work: A true-blooded Moro, she is among the many witnesses to the struggle around her. As a child, she saw how conflict affected the lives of the people in their community in Maguindanao – lack of social services, slow development progress and displaced families.
In Mindanao, southern Philippines, the decades-long search for long lasting peace has been hindered by many challenges and natural calamities. This has led to a situation where young professionals are learning a type of development work that deals with the effects of various conflicts.
The Bangsamoro Development Agency or BDA, provides more than work opportunities for residents of Mindanao. Bangsamoro basically means “Moro nation,” a term currently used to describe the Muslim-majority areas in Mindanao – its peoples, culture and ethnic groups.
In the last decade and a half, the share of women in the National Assembly has been declining. Only one out of nine chairs of National Assembly Committees is female. Women’s representation remains low in key bodies of the Communist Party: the Politburo (two out of 16), the Central Committee and the Secretariat. In Government, the civil service has a large percentage of women but their representation in leadership is small and tends to be at lower levels: 11 percent at the division level, 5 percent at director level and only 3 percent at ministerial level (UNDP, 2012).
But should we be concerned about getting higher levels of women in leadership? Is this just about “political correctness” or can having more women in leadership in business, government and politics benefit Vietnam’s development?
Improving coffee production and quality can help the country's economy, as well as around 2.5 million people who depend on this crop for their livelihood. See photo slideshow
The Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (known as PPAP), an ambitious program which is supporting coffee and cocoa farmers in six provinces in Papua New Guinea, just got a new financing boost. After just one year, the project is already reaching 4 percent of the country’s coffee and cocoa growers –18,000 small farmers who are dependent on these two cash crops for their livelihoods. Many more partnerships are in the pipeline.
Through the initiative, several NGOs, co-ops and businesses in coffee and cocoa are all helping deliver vital services to thousands of small farmers – such as training, planting materials, access to demonstration sites and certification schemes, as well as social services like gender, HIV/ AIDS awareness.
The idea is that such support will allow growers to produce more and better quality produce and see higher incomes, with benefits passing to families and communities, while also providing a significant and much-needed boost to the coffee and cocoa industries.
What is it about oceans? Ocean events seem to be getting bigger and broader in their participation. No matter whether the people in the room are representing government, seafood companies, private foundations, or conservation groups, they are unified by one thing: the need for serious action and soon.
Giving Cash Unconditionally in Fragile States
There have been many recent press articles, a couple of potentially seminal journal papers, and some great blogs from leading economists at the World Bank on the topic of Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs). It remains a widely debated subject, and one with perhaps a couple of myths associated with it. For example, what is cash from UCTs used for? Do the transfers lead to permanent increases in income? Does it matter how the transfers are labelled or promoted? I am particularly interested in whether UCTs could be a useful instrument in countries with low institutional capacity, such as fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS).
Why UCTs in FCS? UCTs present a new approach to reducing poverty, stimulating growth and improving social welfare, that may be the most efficient and feasible mechanism in FCS. A recent evaluation of the World Bank’s work on FCS recognized, “where government responsiveness to citizens has been relatively weak, finding the right modality for reaching people with services is vital to avoiding further fragility and conflict”. Plus there is always the risk of desperately needed finances being “spirited away” when channeled through central governments. UCTs may present a mechanism for stimulating the provision of quality services, which are often lacking, while directly reducing poverty at the same time. As Shanta Devarajan’s blog puts it, “But when they (the poor) are given cash with which to “buy” these services, poor people can demand quality—and the provider must meet it or he won’t get paid.” We should explore more about this approach to tackling poverty: where and when it has worked, what made it work, and whether we can predict whether it will work in different contexts.
- unconditional cash transfers
- Cast Transfers
- Fragile and Conflict Afflicted States
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Syrian Arab Republic