Every moment- but most especially today- we should celebrate young people and the great potential they have. Happy International Youth Day!
I’ve been fortunate to meet and talk to several bright young people in my work. Last May, on the sidelines of the Bologna Ministerial Conference in Armenia, I had a chance to visit the (World Bank-supported) Simulation Center at the Yerevan State Medical University. My colleagues from Armenia and I observed how mannequins connected to a computer simulated medical situations where students would work on a dummy and it would ‘respond’ to them by closely mimicking the reactions of real-life patients. The university rector, Professor Narimanyan, explained that this innovative method allows students to upgrade their practical skills and reduce the number of mistakes they could potentially make in their medical careers.
Europe and Central Asia
Kazakh scientists navigate this winding, unpredictable road for years and generally come to the realization that great scientific research is not enough in itself. Too often, they face a lack of support when it comes to applying the results of their scientific research in a useful, practical way.
Fortunately, a team of Kazakh scientists at the Private Entity Institute of Polymer Materials and Technology in Almaty has had a somewhat more positive experience. This team has been working on a truly innovative project: developing a solution to improving the recovery of oil from old oil wells in Kazakhstan.
But why, you might ask?
Last year, as a part of the “Tajikistan: Higher Education Sector Study,” I led a team to conduct pilot activities to assess the feasibility of using MOOCs and other e-learning content in higher education institutions (HEIs) in Tajikistan.
Recently the Government of Tajikistan has decided to discontinue existing correspondence-based programs for part-time students and shift to a “distance learning” system using computers and Internet technology. Thus, this study was conducted to assess the possibility of using information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve access, quality and relevance of higher education in Tajikistan. In addition, the study supported a mini-project to pilot a number of ICT-based solution models to tackle challenges identified in the country’s National Education Development Strategy.
Recently, we interviewed pilot participants about their experience participating in MOOCs, e-learning and distance education, and then produced a series of short video clips. These videos showcase the impact of potential use of online learning and distance education for improving access, quality and relevance of education as well as reduction of the gender gap. One of the female students in the video mentioned that distance education allows her to continue studying after having kids.
Here is the overview video that we produced:
But that doesn’t mean lessons cannot be transferred. Even if conditions vary, the underlying principles of PPPs remain the same regardless of where it is executed. For example, a PPP is always a long-term contractual agreement between a government entity and a private company; it must be financially sound if it is to work; and risks must be identified, mitigated and allocated effectively. The details of how these principles are applied will vary depending on the regulatory and market conditions of each country. But the examples remain valid nonetheless.
In Ukraine, PPPs have been slow to catch on, initially because the business climate was so weak. The country’s neighbors were all more successful at implementing PPPs: Poland has 65 PPP projects underway according to the Ministry of Economy’s PPP database, and Moldova’s first PPP established a radiology and diagnostic imaging center. But none of Ukraine’s neighbors have done as well with PPPs as its Black Sea neighbor, Turkey.
Turkey is a regional PPP powerhouse. The 2014 PPI Global Update, which provides information on private infrastructure investment in emerging markets, puts Turkey in second place globally for the second year in a row with US$12.5 billion. In 2014 alone, 17 new projects were launched in mainly in power and transport. Not surprisingly, Ukrainian officials have been looking with great interest to Turkey’s success.
In Kazakhstan, however, we have tried to change this perception of statistics, starting with the KAZSTAT Project that was launched in 2013 to strengthen the national statistical system.
Wasting billions of dollars, time and time again, to stage self-indulgent sports spectacles is no way for any society to build shared prosperity for the long term. But just try explaining that common-sense economic logic to the sports-crazed cities that keep lining up to purchase a moment of fleeting fame – and that end up squandering vast sums, by building use-once-throw-away “white elephants” for one-off events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup soccer tournament.
The sports-industrial complex continues to beguile the gullible and the grandiose, even though scholars have long warned of the futility of sports-event-driven spending. Beijing spent about $40 billion to host the 2008 Summer Games, and Sochi spent upwards of $50 billion to stage the 2014 Winter Games – while Brazil spent $20 billion to host (and heartbreakingly lose) the final rounds of 2014 World Cup soccer. Not to be outdone for extravagance and excess, Qatar reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 billion for the 2022 festivities.
Like the deluded leaders of declining Rome – who distracted their once-industrious city into passivity by pacifying the populace with what the poet Juvenal derided as panem et circenses: "bread and circuses" – modern-day civic leaders are allowing their obsession with media-moment athletic fame to trample economic logic. The scale of their civic hubris – and the malign self-interest of the construction firms, financiers, flacks and fixers who goad credulous Olympic-wannabe cities into wanton overspending – is insightfully dissected in a valuable new book, “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College.
In recent remarks at the World Bank, Zimbalist deplored the reckless rush that stampedes many cities into bleeding their civic coffers in the quest for Olympic notoriety. The saddest example may be the city of Montreal, whose debt from the 1976 Summer Games burdened the sorry city for 30 years.
Yet the suckers keep taking the bait. Boston, said Zimbalist, recently put forth an extravagant multibillion-dollar bid for the 2024 Summer Games – and only later, after the initial headlines and hoopla had abated, did more complete statistics reveal the likely scale of Boston’s folly. And, of course, the Olympic organizers would again stick the long-suffering taxpayers with the bill for any revenue shortfall.
Zimbalist’s logic is a wake-up call for those who somehow imagine that “this time is different” – that one-shot wonders might somehow produce long-term economic benefits. Some occasional exceptions suggest how very rare it is that optimists are rewarded: London, for example, may have gained a much-needed morale boost after its successful 2012 Summer Games, and two (but only two) Olympic festivals actually turned a profit – both of them in Los Angeles, which shrewdly re-used some of its 1936 Olympic facilities when it again played host to the Summer Games in 1984. But for most cities – Montreal in 1976, Sarajevo in 1984, Athens in 2004 and many more – the money spent on soon-to-crumble stadia, ski jumps and swimming pools was a diversion from urgent human needs and productive investment.
Zimbalist makes a compelling case – yet beyond the diagnosis of the malady, one seeks a prescription to cure it. Can such Olympic megalomania be tamed? Are there other ways to build, and pay for, worthy sports facilities that honor the spirit of the Olympic Games while avoiding the overspending that bleeds their hosts dry?
A potential solution arose amid Zimbalist’s recent World Bank discussion. Rather than build one-shot Olympic facilities that are destined to be discarded as soon as each extravaganza is finished, why not build just one enduring set of permanent Olympic facilities that can be refurbished and re-used, year after year? Build it right, and build it only once: That way, the cost of building and maintaining an Olympic complex could be spread over generations.
Pursuing that solution seems especially timely right now, and here's why. Where is the historically logical place to locate such a permanent Olympic site? Why, in Greece, of course, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. and continued until 393 A.D. There could be no more authentic place to have today’s marathoners run than in Marathon itself – no more meaningful place to have skiers schuss than on Mount Olympus, or to have boaters ply the very waters that warmed Odysseus’ odyssey.
But PPPs don't have to be big to be successful. In Malyn, a town of nearly 30,000 in Ukraine, a biofuel PPP helped the city administration heat three schools last winter by refitting a municipal boiler house, allowing it to substitute expensive, unreliable imported natural gas with locally-produced biofuel made from locally-produced pellets made from wood or straw.
Scholars have long explored whether people’s opinions really change as they get older. This question is particularly relevant today for the aging economies of Europe, where the elderly are expected to reach 30 percent of the total population by 2050. And by 2030, the majority of voters will be 50 years or older in most countries of the region.