Children & Youth
During my first visit to Yemen, I met with a group of young people in the capital, Sana'a. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about how the youth are thinking; what is important to them; and how the World Bank can help them achieve their goals. I was amazed at the level of their understanding of priorities, the immediate and short-term ones. Their enthusiasm was overflowing with an expression of unconditional love to serve and develop Yemen, their country. They expressed their full readiness to contribute to the national dialogue and work to build the new civil state if they were given the opportunity to do so.
On pre-election week, the team and I met with a large set of stakeholders in Tunis to kick off the in-country consultations on the regional Jobs Flagship report that we are preparing for the Middle East and North Africa region. I guess that thousands and thousands of people chanting “bread and dignity” in Tahrir Square makes it easy to motivate why we should be talking about jobs now. In the past few months, we started to analyze all the available data on employment and to put the common threads together to understand where the constraints lie and where the solutions might be to generate more and better jobs in the region.
Being a volunteer in Lebanon is not an easy task. People tend to encourage us superficially but they actually do not understand the reason why we would spend our time doing something for free when we can be working on something more profitable - at least to help with our summer expenses or university tuition. It is also pretty hard to bring in or recruit volunteers! I have heard recruiting for such an effort was much easier in the past when my parents were my age. People had fewer distractions and were more committed to the concept of helping each other.
From different corners of the world, youth have been celebrating this particular year in an unexpected way. In this International Year of Youth, I reflect on the events shaped by and for youth. To me, to all the young people in my country and my region, International Youth Day means simply nothing; because this year, we made every day a celebration of youth expression, power, and liberation.
When I first received an invitation for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring Meetings, my friends said I shouldn’t open the e-mail because it was probably a spam. My family said I should check the source of the invitation and investigate the reason behind it before accepting. My tutors said this was weird. It seemed like everyone was skeptical about the fact that these international financial institutions could be genuinely inviting young people to this important event. With a lot of curiosity, I traveled to Washington D.C. hoping to reconcile the puzzling ideas in my head about this meeting and these institutions.
This Arab Voices and Views Conference brings together a group of outstanding activists, academics, scholars and experts from around the Middle East & North Africa, is very significant, in that it does not reflect the World Bank or its views, whose role has been to simply offer the opportunity and the space for the discussion to take place.
It is a unique gathering, not meant to lecture or give presentations, but to discuss and share views on what is happening in the region. More specifically and meaningfully, it is not a forum meant to analyze the changing political dimensions of the current events in the Arab World, but to look more deeply into the issues that have triggered some of them, and map a way forward for the future.
Economists are skeptical bunch, but they seem convinced of the value of interventions in early childhood (0-6 years) and, conversely, the multiple, long-term and often irreversible effects of the failure to provide infants with nutrition, health care and stimulation.
For instance, Norbert Schady and Chris Paxson’s found that whereas at age 3 all children (from a sample in Ecuador) had the same vocabulary score, by age 6, children from the poorest quartile scored 50 percent of those from the richest quartile.
Meanwhile, scientists studying the development of the human brain (and body) are reaching the same conclusion.
In a fascinating presentation, Jack Shonkoff describes the process of brain development that is interrupted, sometimes permanently, by adversity in early childhood. Overproduction of hormones associated with stress can leave toxic effects.
He also shows how human contact (as opposed to contact with inanimate objects or no contact) can significantly improve a child’s cognitive development. A group of pre-schoolers were exposed to a nanny who spoke to them in Chinese for a few hours a week; in a couple of years the children were speaking fluent Chinese. Another group was exposed to a high-quality video in Chinese, but they didn’t develop any speaking ability in the language.
The impact of the global financial crisis on infant mortality is a topic of great policy importance. However, estimates of the likely impacts of the crisis, cited by international institutions and in the popular press, differ wildly.
This blogpost summarizes the main conclusions from some of my own recent research on this topic, jointly with various colleagues.
These conclusions include:
At a recent conference that brought together African Finance and Education ministers, the keynote speaker, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, finance minister (and former education minister) of Singapore gave a beautiful speech about Singapore's experience that contained some potentially difficult and controversial messages for Africa.