“Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it,” renowned Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said to an overflowing room at the World Bank Group’s Headquarters in Washington, DC this summer. “Set up a social business.”
“The poor are like Bonsai trees,” the founder of Grameen Bank explained, “When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a six-inch-deep flower pot, you get a perfect replica of the tallest tree, but it is only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil-base you provided was inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds. Only society never gave them a base to grow on."
The United Nations (UN) has developed a set of action-oriented goals to achieve global sustainable development by 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed by an Open Working Group of 30 member states over a two-year process. They are designed to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.
To help meet the goals, UN member states can draw on Open Data from governments — that is, data that is freely available online for anyone to use and republish for any purpose. This kind of data is essential both to help achieve the SDGs and to measure progress in meeting them.
Achieving the SDGs
Open Data can help achieve the SDGs by providing critical information on natural resources, government operations, public services, and population demographics. These insights can inform national priorities and help determine the most effective paths for action on national issues. Open Data is a key resource for:
- Fostering economic growth and job creation. Open Data can help launch new businesses, optimizing existing companies’ operations, and improve the climate for foreign investment. It can also make the job market more efficient and serve as a resource in training for critical technological job skills.
- sustainable development goal
- sustainable development goals
- open data
- Open Data initiative
- Open Data Ecosystem
- Open Data for Business
- Open Data for Development
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Migration and Remittances
- Labor and Social Protection
- Global Economy
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
The World Bank is working toward two incredibly ambitious goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and ensuring shared prosperity for the bottom 40% of the population in each developing country. To achieve these goals will take not only the World Bank Group, the United Nations and all the national and multilateral development agencies, it will take all of us.
High income economies are dominating global innovation. Led by Switzerland, the top 10% are outpacing the rest in innovation as measured by the 2014 Global Innovation Index. This rich-poor innovation divide is striking with a handful of high income countries, mostly in Europe accounting for most of the top 10%. The bottom quintile consists of predominantly low income economies with more than half from Sub Saharan Africa.
The top innovating economies rate strongly on the quality of their institutions including a stable political environment and an effective regulatory and business environment. They benefit from and continue to invest heavily in human capital, research and development and infrastructure. They score highly on business and market sophistication – good management is fundamental for private sector innovation. They have also established most if not all of the elements of a successful innovation ecosystem. These countries consequently dominate in knowledge outputs including on most measures of knowledge creation, impact and diffusion as well as in technology and creative outputs.
It is difficult to imagine that poor countries or emerging markets without innovation will be able to catch up and become high-income economies in the 21st Century, an era already characterized by previously unimaginable technological progress and, importantly, international diffusion. Populations in these countries are in dire need of innovative solutions to deliver clean water and energy, health and education services, better housing, sanitation and transportation and increased food production while battling the adverse impacts of climate change. These economies need to create jobs for millions of unemployed youth leveraging the benefits of an increasingly digital global economy.
What can be done to bridge this yawning innovation and competitiveness gap?
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John Grunsfeld, former NASA Chief Scientist and veteran of five Space Shuttle flights, had several chances to look down at Earth, and noticed how poverty can be recognized from far away. Unlike richer countries, typically lined in green, poorer countries with less access to water are a shocking brown color. During the night, wealthier countries light up the sky whereas nations with less widespread electricity look dim.
Dr. Grunsfeld’s observation might have important implications. Pictures from satellites could become a tool to help identifying where poverty is, by zooming in to the tiniest villages and allowing a constant monitoring that cannot be achieved with traditional surveys.
Impact evaluations are key to how we think about development. Pilot programs suggesting statistically significant impacts are hailed as breakthroughs and as candidates for scaling up. Programs without such clear impact tend to be looked down upon and may be terminated. This may not be warranted. A primary function of impact evaluations should be to improve existing programs, especially in fields where evidence of positive impacts remains scarce. The experience of OLE Nepal, which is part of the OLE network and aims to improve learning and teaching through technology, is instructive in this regard.
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?
“What are you waiting for? Get out there and create your future”. This conveys the spirit of Mohammed Yunus’ lecture last week at the World Bank. His messages on social business and entrepreneurship raised a number of questions as to how we think about education, skills, employment and the future prospects of youth in the world.
Beyond the cold calculus of GDP and TFP and FDI, development is about promoting strong societies as well as propelling powerful economies. But how can we measure societies’ progress toward success? Some may try to calculate “Gross National Happiness” as a yardstick, and some may envision “getting to Denmark” as the ideal end-of-history destiny of development – but are there patterns that reveal how societies can flourish?
Two recent Washington seminars suggest that – by pursuing innovation and inclusion, and by focusing on broad-scale social “well-being” – policymakers can define realistic paths toward development success.
The methodologies used by Harvard economist Philippe Aghion at an International Monetary Fund forum and by former World Bank strategist Enrique Rueda-Sabater at a Center for Global Development discussion may have been different, but their conclusions were in harmony: Societies thrive – in a sustainable way – when inclusion and innovation help expand the circle of opportunity, and when strong governance standards lead to sound civic decision-making.
Taken together, the two seminars’ insights should help inform policymakers’ debate about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be approved in September at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
Aghion, at an IMF seminar (sponsored by its Low-Income Countries Strategy Unit) on June 30, approached the topic of “Making Growth Inclusive” by imagining “how to enhance productivity growth while promoting social mobility.” Presenting data from a recent paper on “Innovation and Top-Income Inequality,” which he recently co-authored with an all-star team of economists, Aghion outlined the way that income and wealth inequality have drastically soared in developed countries since the mid-1970s – analyzing trends that by now are sadly familiar to the squeezed middle class, as calculated in the esteemed work of Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”
Building on that data, Aghion took the inequality-and-inclusion logic several steps further. He lamented the way that “skill-biased technological change” has (in the absence of policy safeguards) provoked societies to stratify along the lines of wealth, income, education and connections. Yet “creative destruction” is inevitable in “a Schumpeterian world,” reasoned Aghion: A significant factor expanding the wealth gap is the same process of continuous economic renewal that helps economies advance. “There is a big [economic] premium to being a superstar innovator,” he asserted, noting that “you can become rich by innovating” – and thus “innovation is a big part of top-1-percent income inequality.”
“Creative destruction is good for social mobility” and broader inclusion, in the long run, because it causes a steady procession of “new innovators to replace old incumbents.” The effect of each wave of innovation is fleeting, especially in a hyperspeed economy: “You get temporary ‘rents’ when you innovate. You don’t get them forever,” because the relentless Schumpeterian process will eventually cause yesterday’s innovators to become, in turn, tomorrow’s has-beens.
The darker danger of entrenched inequality occurs, said Aghion, when incumbent interests use their political power to lobby for the protection of their advantages – whether by pleading for tax-code favors, seeking government-imposed barriers to the entry of new competitors, or purchasing influence with pliant politicians through campaign donations. (In an aside on U.S. politics, Aghion pointed to his paper’s data linking a state’s representation on the congressional Appropriations Committees with its amount of federal favors – a shrewd quantification of the pork-barrel compulsions of Capitol Hill.)
Because innovation promotes social mobility and thus greater inclusiveness, Aghion contended that “innovation is a good guy; lobbying is a bad guy.” So “if you’re for inclusive growth, then you will be against lobbying and [the creation of] entry barriers.”
Focusing simply on present-day inequality is less informative than focusing on social mobility, he asserted. There’s nothing wrong with an economy that bestows ample financial rewards upon genuine innovators who create new products and processes. There is, however, something deeply wrong – and economically growth-inhibiting – with governments that allow no-longer-innovative incumbents to use their political connections to suppress potential competitors.
The IMF panel’s respondents amplified Aghion’s analysis. World Bank economist Daniel Lederman noted that it would be wise to use “the lexicon of ‘inequality of opportunity’,” because some degree of wealth inequality is inevitable (and perhaps even desirable) when individuals’ talent and effort are rewarded with rising incomes. IMF economist Benedict Clements – deploring the “great degree of disparity in ‘equality of opportunity’ ” that now prevails in advanced economies, including the United States – noted that there need be “no conflict between equity and efficiency if you design your policies right.”
Getting policies right – by upholding strong standards of governance – was also one of the underlying themes at a July 21 seminar at the Center for Global Development led by Rueda-Sabater, who is now a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group and a visiting fellow among CGD’s strong lineup of scholars. Rueda-Sabater is well remembered at the World Bank for leading a research team’s detailed “scenario planning” analyses that, in 2009, discerned the contours of three possible scenarios for the world in the year 2020.
Presenting a recent BCG report, “Why Well-Being Should Drive Growth Strategies,” Rueda-Sabater outlined an imaginative BCG diagnostic tool: the “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA), which measures the relative well-being of 149 countries by gauging their success in converting wealth into well-being – that is to say, in effectively translating their potential into tangible progress.