The Association of African Universities—AAU for short—held its 13th general conference last week in Libreville, Gabon. Representing the World Bank at this conference, I had a great opportunity to engage with this vibrant university community. A community which is expanding fast as demand for higher education is skyrocketing thanks to Africa’s “youth bulge”, that is, as the share of young people in the population is increasing in many countries. Private universities are mushrooming everywhere.
Growing up in India, mosquito nets were an essential part of life. I slept under them as a child in Bangalore, with their ropes tied to bedposts, doors, closets, window grills—anything that would offer support at the right height. It was like pitching a tent every night, and the occasional dramatic collapse would result in much helpless laughter. Later, going to college on the banks of the slow-flowing Koovam river in Madras (now Chennai), I tucked myself under a net in my dormitory at about 6 p.m. to avoid the twilight assault of mosquitos from the water. In fact, particularly after a bad attack of malaria when I was a child, a lot of my life was lived perforce under a mosquito net, until electric repellent gadgets reached the market and nets somewhat lost their popularity.
Recently, sitting in Halima Ibrahim’s house in Majengo, a neighborhood in the coastal city of Mombasa, and talking about the new mosquito nets her family had just received from the Kenyan government, I felt instantly at home in her tiny living room. It was packed from corner to corner with family and friends, all brimming with opinions about nets old and new. Everybody talked about malaria and what a problem the disease was in the community. The nets that had just been distributed to them free of cost would make a huge difference, they said, protecting them from being bitten by mosquitos, and saving them considerable expense. Many of the families on the street simply could not afford to buy durable and effective nets at the prices they commanded in the local market.
In his recent Huffington Post blog, World Bank President Jim Kim spoke about how the learning crisis is one of the greatest obstacles to development. According to the United Nations, an estimated 171 million people can lift themselves out of poverty if all students in poor countries acquired basic reading skills.
Last week on Let’s Talk Development, I asked what the term “science of delivery” (SOD) means. I suggested that SOD is about moving from thinking about “what to deliver” to “how to deliver”. We know, for example, the interventions that cut child mortality (bednets, vaccinations, breastfeeding, etc.) but these interventions reach too few children, and the trick is to get them delivered to more. Much of the Bank’s analytic work, policy dialogue and lending work has focused precisely on how to reform policies and programs to ensure the interventions that are needed to improve development outcomes actually reach people. Much of this work merits the term “science” – it makes use of an explicit “theory of change” in the form of a results framework that reflects the latest social science, and builds on rigorous empirical evidence that compares actual outcomes with an explicit and plausible counterfactual.
Ninety minutes after leaving Nairobi, UN flight 13W banks sharply over the Somali coastline in a series of steep turns that line it up for final approach into Mogadishu airport. The sharp turns are standard security measures to minimize exposure to fire from would-be attackers on the ground. Out of the starboard window, a number of small boats cut a slow, languid path through the ocean, while closer to the airport, large merchant ships sit anchored just off the end of the runway waiting to be unloaded in the nearby port which is the city’s economic lifeline. As we land, the tarmac shimmers in the 100 degree heat that now envelopes the city.
We’ve come to Mogadishu to present the findings of a new Bank study called The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat: Rebuilding a Nation to senior ministers from the Somali government. The report concludes that Somalia cannot ‘buy’ its way out of piracy, and neither can the international community rely solely on its navies and law enforcement agencies to defeat the pirates, whether at sea or on land. The solution to Somali piracy is first and foremost political.
In a fresh look at ending piracy off the Horn of Africa, the Bank suggests that a sustained solution to ending piracy will only come with the recreation of a viable Somali state that can deliver essential health, education, nutrition, and other services throughout the entire country, especially in those areas where piracy flourishes.
When President Obama announced a number of investment priorities for his second term that would expand the economy and strengthen the middle class, his focus on bolstering early childhood education caught my attention. I agree with his premise and furthermore think that what is good for the United States is also good for developing countries. But what stands in the way of a more aggressive, nationwide emphasis on early childhood development worldwide? Are opportunities being missed because of lack of knowledge or coordination failures?
The World Bank’s president, Jim Kim, has now made two major speeches outlining his vision for the institution – one at the Annual Meetings the other at Georgetown University on April 2 ahead of the upcoming Spring Meetings.
Several themes are emerging. Two are easy to grasp and likely to resonate strongly with Bank staff and stakeholders: “ending poverty” and “boosting shared prosperity”. For years the Bank has seen fighting poverty as its mission. It has made major contributions in the areas of measuring and monitoring poverty – Bank staff have authored many of the world’s most-cited publications with poverty in the title. The Bank’s work at the country level has always had a strong anti-poverty focus. “Ending” poverty – rather than merely “fighting” it – is a natural next step. The idea of “boosting shared prosperity” also resonates. While economic growth is still seen as the principal driver of poverty-reduction, the goal has always been pro-poor growth – a concept that links naturally to the idea of “shared prosperity”.
In two weeks, economic policymakers from around the world will gather in Washington, D.C., for the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. As has been the case for the past five years, there will be much talk of economic crisis and of strategies to restore confidence, kick start growth, and create jobs. There is growing evidence that we are on the right track, but this agenda still requires much more work.
The meetings, though, also offer an occasion to look beyond the short term crisis-fighting measures. It is a chance for leaders to adopt a long-term perspective and assess where we stand and where we are headed.
If they do, they will see that today we are at a moment of historic opportunity. For the end of absolute poverty, a dream which has enticed and driven humanity for centuries, is now within our grasp.
KABUL -- On my first trip to Afghanistan as World Bank Group president, I met with many of the country's senior leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, as well as leaders in business and among women's groups. The challenges for Afghanistan, like many fragile or conflict-affected states, are huge, but it's critically important that we build on successes that we've achieved in the last decade. Learn more by watching the video.