Jump-starting job growth is difficult enough when a country’s investment climate is supportive, when its government has clear goals and competent capabilities, and when its business leaders can make far-sighted plans. When an economy is riven by the chaos of war, or when it is newly emerging from a severe social trauma, channeling capital toward private-sector job creation is even harder.
Amid this year’s FCV Forum at the World Bank Group – focusing on economies gripped by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) – a seminar combining Financial Sector and Private Sector priorities heard a sobering picture from expert practitioners who have been on the front lines of promoting job growth in economies that are in turmoil. Moderated by John Speakman, the Lead PSD Specialist in the Bank Group’s practice on Trade and Competitiveness – who is the author of a new book on small-scale entrepreneurs in FCV situations – a panel explored the daunting challenges of promoting private-sector growth when countries are in turmoil.
Would-be job creators confront an enormously complex task in FCV situations. Yet the panelists agreed that there is reason for hope – even in the most tumultuous FCV conditions – if financing can be targeted toward promising startup companies, and especially toward potential “gazelle” firms that can energize new sectors of the economy.
“Ultimately, it’s all about money: Poor people are poor because they don’t have money,” said Hugh Scott of KPMG, whothe Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). “It’s the delivery channel – the financing mechanism – that’s making the difference” in the 23 African countries where the ACF has offered grants and interest-free loans to about 800 private-sector firms, producing a net development impact of about $66 billion.
The difficult business environment and increased risk profile in FCV countries means that traditional lenders (primarily banks) are all the more hesitant to lend, said Scott – making such vehicles as “challenge funds,” which focus on promising small and startup firms, even more important. As co-founder of invest2innovate (and current World Bank Group consultant) Sadaf Lakhani noted, the “ecosystem problem” for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and startups is all the more complex when countries face “a political economy of war.” As she had observed during her work with invest2innovate -- a nonprofit angel investing and accelerator organization -- such frequent FCV afflictions as corruption, patronage, fragmented markets and capital flight make it even more difficult for managers and lenders to identify, evaluate and accelerate startups.
Bank financing, in fact, is not always a ready source of funds for startup ventures, as noted by Simon Bell, the Global Lead on SME Finance at the Bank Group. Banks weigh the historical profit-and-loss performance of would-be borrowers – yet the entrepreneurs who are behind the “small sub-set of firms,” like the so-called “gazelles,” that are destined to create jobs quickly have little or no financial track record. Startups are thus often viewed warily by risk-averse bankers. Drawing on his long experience in the MENA region, Bell underscored that a priority in FCV states is ensuring that there is “a continuum of financial institutions and services” – like early-stage financing, private equity, venture capital and angel financing – that can provide critically important financing at various stages of a dynamic company’s growth.
To help give a boost to startups and young firms, the International Finance Corporation has created several financing mechanisms that are having a positive impact on job growth. The SME Ventures Program, created in 2008 with a $100 million allocation from IFC, has aimed to reach businesses in the poorest of the poor countries, often in FCV situations, said its Program Manager, Tracy Washington. Having financed about 60 SMEs, and having already supported the creation of about 1,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs, the SME Ventures Program has had a positive “demonstration effect,” inspiring new entrants to serve the marketplace once they have witnessed IFC’s strong performance. In addition, IFC's Global SME Finance Facility, described by Senior Investment Officer Florence Boupda, has provided investment capital and advisory services to 27 financial institutions in 18 countries since 2007 – including 17 projects in seven FCV countries.
The challenge for the future, agreed Boupda and Washington, will be to find additional ways to combine Bank Group interventions in ways that continue to choose companies with the greatest potential and that maximize the impact of Bank Group support. Their insights were underscored by Bell, who emphasized that “globally, employment is our issue” – and who asserted that “there are points of light all around” in this “very exciting” area, as various arms of the Bank Group focus on “the employment imperative.”
Finding ways “to apply the most innovative solutions to the most challenging situations,” especially in FCV and other traumatized countries, remains the grand challenge for international financial institutions, concluded Michael Botzung, IFC’s manager for fragile and conflict-affected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the determination of the energetic practitioners on the SME financing panel reminded the FCV Forum audience why there is cause for hope – and why, in Speakman’s words, the intensive WBG-wide efforts to promote job creation in the toughest FCV situations is “one of the things that makes us proud to be with the World Bank Group.”
Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
“Maybe in the Middle East … but in our part of the world, there is no gender inequity.” As an Egyptian, I wasn’t surprised to hear such assertions from colleagues when I arrived in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to deliver a program aimed at creating opportunities for women in the private sector. With its socialist legacy, the region prided itself on gender equality. Women were historically well-represented in the state-run economic systems. I looked at legal frameworks and the Women, Business and the Law indicators and found little evidence of discrimination. Laws on the books were overwhelmingly gender-neutral. I was puzzled.
Then I studied data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys: Women’s rates of participation in the private sector told a different story. Women’s status seemed to be collapsing with the state systems and falling as markets started opening. For instance, now, only 36% of firms in the region are owned by women; that is a lower percentage than in East Asia (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (40%). Only 19% of companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have female top managers, compared to 30% in East Asia and 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
So I faced the daunting task of delivering a gender program in a region where few believe that there are gender issues to address.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Macedonia, former Yugoslav Republic of
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Private Sector Development
- gender eqaulity
- women business and the law
- banking on women
- Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
Information asymmetry raises the costs and risks of providing financial services, and therefore reduces access and leads to higher pricing of financial services for many SMEs. Yet data availability is rapidly expanding, and data brokers are increasingly able to address information asymmetry.
- “Big Data” Analytics - the analysis of alternative data sets such as cell phone histories and transactional data, represent new ways for assessing the creditworthiness of enterprises currently without access to finance. For example, Experian MicroAnalytics (global) and Cignifi (Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, US) deliver credit scoring based on airtime usage. This type of approach could open up access to credit for mobile payments customers in the developing world. ZestFinance (US) combines data from thousands of potential credit variables, gleaned from alternative credit databases and web crawling to offer a ‘big data underwriting model’.
- With increasing technology and internet access, the expansion of “digital footprints” allow for alternative ways to assess borrower creditworthiness and spot and prevent identity fraud. For example DemystData (Hong Kong, US) and Lenddo (Colombia, Mexico, Philippines) use online reputation and social media analytics.
- The lack of financing sources available to many SMEs, linked to constraints in the use of collateral and the availability of information, is cited as a major concern in the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys. Typical policy responses include secured transactions frameworks (collateral laws, movable assets registries), credit lines, state banks, partial credit guarantee schemes, and encouraging competition and diversification.
As mentioned in my last post, I was in Asia just a few weeks ago, and one (favorite) destination was Beijing.
We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).
|Restaurants in Mongolia can face fines for not having the right number of forks.|
One area fully in Government control is business inspections. This is an important function: inspections protect the health and safety of the general public. But when inspections run wild, they can become a major burden to businesses, especially small ones. Inspections can impose large costs on businesses in terms of time and money, encourage firms to bribe their way out of violations, and even encourage entrepreneurs to operate in the shadows. That means less tax revenue and potentially dangerous products and services being offered to the public.
Is this a problem in Mongolia? Absolutely.