Growth poles can help create jobs for Africa's one billion citizens (Credit: World Bank)
We were asked the other day by our senior management to be outrageously aspirational when we engage with growth poles. I have been reflecting on what this means for our work on this topic in Africa, especially in light of the findings of the Africa Competitiveness Report. I think we need to be aspirational in three broad directions: (i) developing the capacity to get things done in Africa, (ii) ensuring all stakeholders benefit from growth, and (iii) mobilizing as much capital as we can, whether it be private, philanthropic or public.
Spring in DC draws more than just tourists. Last week, government officials, policy makers, civil society representatives and other thought leaders converged to take stock of the global economy during the IMF-World Bank spring meetings. The tone in the hallways was optimistic, but cautious. Growth in advanced economies still remains tepid, weighed down by lingering effects of the global financial crisis, demographic challenges, as well as weakening innovation and productivity growth. At the same time, there are encouraging signs that developing countries are in good shape, thanks to fiscal buffers that helped them to weather the storm.
Nevertheless, we must be mindful of the work ahead: the IMF warned of a ‘3-speed recovery’, where emerging markets are growing rapidly, the United States is recovering faster than most other advanced industrial countries, but Europe continues to struggle. Where does this leave developing countries? At a meeting with the G24 – a group of developing countries - I had the privilege of discussing the prospects for growth, and policies needed to achieve productivity growth essential for eliminating extreme poverty and for creating shared prosperity.
In geometry, three points define a plane. In journalism, three events establish a trend. In public policy, three strategy forums might not conclusively confirm a consensus – but a recent think-tank trifecta suggests that a dramatic change is taking shape in the policy community’s thinking about economic competitiveness.
Thrice in recent weeks, activist strategies to inspire innovation and growth have been the front-and-center topic in major policy conferences – suggesting that an energetic new Competitiveness Consensus, applicable to developing and developed countries alike, is emerging among economic thought-leaders.
Judging by the three forums, not just academic scholars, but policymakers and lawmakers, now seem eager to apply the lessons from a slew of analyses advocating industry-focused and productivity-driven growth strategies, taking pragmatic steps to invest in stronger competitiveness. In a global economy starved for growth and desperate for job creation, the focus on activist policies – including targeted interventions at the industry level – is relevant to countries large and small, developed and developing.
Governments and policy makers often look to small and medium-sized enterprises to drive growth in developing economies. These SMEs are held up as incubators of creativity and entrepreneurship, pushing the market to change, expand, and better meet consumer needs. But perhaps SMEs aren’t the only category to applaud. Research has shown that certain firms, regardless of their size, create jobs, export goods, and generally grow faster than others. We think these are the firms to watch.
To explain, we use an animal analogy developed by David Birch. Birch classified firms into “mice,” small firms that tend to stay small; “elephants,” large firms that do not grow rapidly; and “gazelles,” firms that both grow rapidly and account for a large share of employment or revenue growth. These gazelling firms are key to nascent, growing economies. As Caroline Freund and Martha Denisse Peirola show in Export Superstars, a World Bank Research Policy Paper, it is often a few big firms that account for the lion’s share of national exports. Not only are these few good firms responsible for the largest growth in exports, they also contribute most of the export diversification. In fact, countries’ relative comparative advantage is defined by these large, well-performing firms.
As the Carnival in Brazil kicked off last weekend, Brazilians were ready for a party. They have reasons to celebrate. Despite a lackluster GDP performance in the last two years, unemployment rates remain at record low levels.
The enormity of the global job-creation challenge is underscored in a comprehensive new analysis by the International Finance Corporation, which issued a wide-ranging Jobs Study at a recent IFC forum on the urgency of the unemployment crisis. More than 200 million people are now unemployed worldwide – with another 1.5 billion people only marginally employed, and with an additional 2 billion working-age adults neither working nor seeking a job.
The need for stronger and more sustainable job creation will intensify with the approach of a global demographic surge. More than 600 million people will enter the work force – just in the developing world – within the next 15 years. And that figure, quantifying the painful withering of human capital caused by the unemployment crisis doesn’t even count the job-growth needs in the crisis-stricken wealthy nations.
In the wake of the first global recession since World War II, governments around the world are looking for ways to boost growth and competitiveness. Given the fragility of the business and economic climate—and strained public coffers—the responsibility to get policy right is acute. But can public policy makers improve on their hit and miss record of intervention in the past? I would pick out three useful lessons that we have learned, often the hard way:
■ Don’t focus on single industries in the hope of “picking winners.”: Governments need to take a broad-based, inclusive approach to growth, particularly if a key aim is the creation of jobs. Large domestic service sectors that are labor-intensive are creating all net new jobs in high-income economies and 85 percent in middle-income countries. Don’t get me wrong. New technologies can have a transformational impact beyond their particular sectors, enabling future productivity improvements and growth—think IT. But it is the low-tech green jobs in local services, such as improving building insulation and replacing obsolete heating and cooling equipment, that have a greater potential for creating jobs in the near term.
If it weren't for the economic performance of China, Brazil and other emerging markets, the global economic slump following the 2008 financial crisis would have been much worse. Not by chance, prospects for the global economy became gloomier this year when those economies showed signs of decreasing resilience against the downward pull from advanced countries.
Success doesn’t just happen automatically – not in the economy, and not in any competitive arena of life. But by focusing your resources realistically in the areas of your greatest strength, you can maximize your chances of coming out on top. Perhaps in some long-vanished world of effortless monopolies and protected markets, passivity might once have been enough – but in a world of relentless global competition, a lazy laissez-faire abdication cannot deliver optimal results.
That lesson has come through clearly amid these elegiac end-of-summer days, as the world continues to bask in the Olympic afterglow of the Summer Games in London. The games lifted the spirits of sports-watchers worldwide – and the postgame analysis of just how the host country, Great Britain, ran up its highest medal count in 104 years has provoked some intriguing ideas about creating an “Olympic effect” for economic development.
The World Bank is actively expanding its portfolio in the world’s most troubled conflict zones. This invites the question: What can the Bank accomplish in countries riven by conflict? I would flip this question around and ask: What steps are needed by the country to rebuild itself?
Whenever I have asked in-country practitioners (whether Bank staff or local NGOs or journalists) what the country really needs, the answer I have heard most often has been: “Jobs.” Get them good jobs, higher incomes, and break the vicious trap of poverty and violence, is the common refrain.
In 2009, an EU-based chemical manufacturer opened a plant inside one of FYR Macedonia’s recently-established special economic zones. The plant began production of catalysts, a type of emissions-control component used in automobiles. Two years later, this investment drove chemical products to the third-highest spot on Macedonia’s export list, lessening the country’s reliance on metals and textiles.
In Nicaragua, low labor costs and high security compared to its neighbors have led zonas francas to expand dramatically, attracting producers of electronic wires and medical devices and expanding the country’s exports beyond an already-strong apparel sector. Between 2006 and 2008, for example, ignition wiring sets for vehicles were the country’s fourth biggest export.
Read this post in Bahasa.
Ambitious and fast rising—these words aptly describe modern Indonesia. Amidst a global economic slowdown, Indonesia was the third fastest growing economy among the G-20 for 2009 and it continues to post strong economic growth, at a projected rate of 6.4% for 2012. Improving economic competitiveness by creating a more salutary business climate is one of Indonesia’s national priorities for 2010 to 2014.
Indonesia is walking the talk. Doing Business in Indonesia 2012 launched January 31 in Jakarta, finds that all 14 cities previously measured in Doing Business in Indonesia 2010 have improved business registration processes over the last two years, while 10 out of 14 cities expedited the approval of construction permits. During his keynote address on the launching of the report, the Minister of State Ministry for Administrative Reforms talked about the cities moving from 'comfort zone' to 'competitive zone'.
Like the massive earthquake in Japan earlier this year, the floods in Thailand are again exposing the vulnerabilities of fragmented global supply chains.
Last month, a team of economists from PREM's International Trade Department encountered some flooding side-effects during a visit to the Indonesian production site for ECCO, a Danish company that manufactures footwear. The news from Thailand: the ECCO production site there was under three meters of water, a problem for shoe-making. In order to transfer production to the factory in Indonesia, the workers needed the specific shoe molds used in the Thai factory. These specialized molds would have taken several weeks to manufacture, which would have further delayed production. So ECCO hired scuba divers to enter the Thai factory and recover the molds. They then shipped them via air to other factories around the region, including ECCO Indonesia.
In today’s interconnected world economy, efficient, reliable and cost-effective supply chains have become necessities in global trade. Trading in a timely manner with minimal transaction costs allows a country to expand to overseas markets and improve its overall economic competitiveness. For many countries, however, identifying bottlenecks along a supply chain and then determining which logistics procedures and infrastructure to upgrade can be a challenging feat.