Syndicate content


Making cities competitive – What will it take?

Megha Mukim's picture

Cities are the future. They are where people live and work. They are where growth happens and where innovation takes place. But they are also poles of poverty and, much too often, centers of unemployment.

How can we unleash the potential of cities? How do we make them more competitive? These are urgent questions. Questions, as it turns out, with complex answers – that could potentially have huge returns for job creation and poverty reduction.

Cities vary enormously when it comes to their economic performance. While 72 percent of cities grow faster than their countries, these benefits do not happen uniformly across all cities. The top 10 percent of cities increase GDP almost three times more than the remaining 90 percent. They create jobs four to five times faster. Their residents enjoy higher incomes and productivity, and they are magnets for external investment.
We’re not just talking about the “household names”among global cities: Competitive cities are often secondary cities, many of them exhibiting success amidst adversity – some landlocked and in lagging regions within their countries. For instance, Saltillo (Mexico), Meknes (Morocco), Coimbatore (India), Gaziantep (Turkey), Bucaramanga (Colombia), and Onitsha (Nigeria) are a few examples of cities that have been competitive in the last decade.
So how do cities become competitive? We define competitive cities as those that successfully help firms and industries create jobs, raise productivity and increase the incomes of citizens. A team at the World Bank Group spent the last 18 months investigating, creating and updating our knowledge base for the benefit of WBG’s clients. In our forthcoming report, “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth,”* we find that the recipe includes several basic ingredients.

In the long term, cities moving up the income ladder will transform their economies, changing from “market towns” to “production centers” to “financial and creative centers,” increasing efficiencies and productivity at each stage. But economic data clearly shows there are large gains to be had even without full-scale economic transformation: Cities can move from $2,500 to $20,000 in per capita income while still remaining a “production center.”  In such cases, cities become more competitive at what they already do, finding niche products and markets in tradable goods and services. Competitive cities are those that manage to attract new firms and investors, while still nurturing established businesses and longtime residents. 
What sort of policies do competitive cities use? We find that leading cities focus their energies on leveraging both economy-wide and sector-specific policies. In practice, we see how successful cities create a favorable business climate and target individual sectors for pro-active economic development initiatives. They use a combination of policies focused on cross-cutting issues such as land, capital markets and infrastructure, while not losing focus on the needs of different industries and firms. The crucial factor is consultation, collaboration and partnerships with the private sector. In fact, success also involves building coalitions for growth with neighbors and other tiers of government.

Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

The SDGs indicators on rule of law need to respect the targets agreed in September

Nicholas Menzies's picture
Click here for an interactive map of countries already collecting “legal needs” survey data which could inform the SDGs rule of law indicators:

On Monday, the final round of discussions will get underway in Bangkok on the indicators to measure the Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed by all UN Member states in New York last month. The agreement from New York calls for the underlying indicators to “preserve the political balance, integration and ambition” of the agenda.

Target 16.3, as agreed in New York, is to “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.” The proposed indicators for 16.3, to be discussed in Bangkok, do not respect the ambition of the target as they both focus on the criminal justice system. Whilst criminal justice is important to many people’s lives – in truth, only a small percentage of the population comes into direct contact with the criminal justice system. Sustainable development is about much more.

How we made #OpenIndia

Ankur Nagar's picture

open india

It has been a season ripe with new ideas and shifts in the open data conversation. At the Cartagena Data Festival in April, the call for a country-led data revolution was loud and clear. Later in June at the 3rd International Open Data Conference in Ottawa there was an emphasis on the use of open data-beyond mere publishing.

Mulling on these takeaways, a logical question to ask may be: what would a country-focused data project that aims to put data to use look like?

Have you tried Open India?

A few months earlier, inspired by the “Digital India” vision, a small but agile team led by the India Team at the World Bank was working on Open India.  It’s a live, open platform for engaging with and tracking the why, what, and how of the World Bank Group’s work in India, within the context of the development challenges that India faces. At the heart of this process was data from this vast country and equally important “design thinking” to solve a clear problem.

Here is a glimpse at the journey of this in-house startup. We hope it will add to the evolving data conversation, and help make the case for design to be a part of it.  These are our lessons-learned from our journey as World Bank intrapreneurs.

Open India: Take on India’s Development Challenges
Open India: Take on India’s Development Challenges with the Wo... - The Open India app connects the dots between every public and private sector activity of the World Bank Group in India, against the context of the vast development challenges that the country faces. Use this app to track the World Bank Group’s work in your state and the development issues of your interest, and provide your ideas and feedback.

Posted by World Bank India on Friday, October 16, 2015

Pitch like a startup

India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the last decade, but remains home to a third of the world's poor. Its development challenges are massive: there is a huge infrastructure gap, it is urbanizing at an astonishing pace, and the population is set to cross 1.5 billion. The World Bank Group's Country Partnership Strategy offers an analysis and a plan to tackle these challenges. It covers a portfolio of over $25 billion, and provides a clear results chain to track the strategy’s progress.

Doing development differently: what does it mean in the roads sector?

David Booth's picture

There is no sign that the revival of interest in adaptive and entrepreneurial approaches to development work is going tail off soon.

That’s why the demand is growing for indications of how the broad principles, as summarised in the Doing Development Differently Manifesto, apply to the various sectors where interested practitioners are found.
Fred Golooba-Mutebi and I have just published an ODI working paper that begins to fill that gap for one particular economic infrastructure sector, road construction and maintenance. The country is Uganda. The purpose of the study was to revisit a 2009 paper on the political economy of reform in the sector, which was followed by the launching of a DFID-funded programme called CrossRoads.

Livability is an economic imperative for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
Sarbamati Riverfront Development before
Sarbamati Riverfront Development before
Sarbamati Riverfront Development after
Sarbamati Riverfront development after

Robert Solow once said: “Livability is not a middle-class luxury, it is an economic imperative.” But how related are livability and economic development?  Furthermore, how can we define and measure livability?

Recently as part of the South Asia Urbanization Flagship Report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability, our team compared a sample of South Asian cities with peers from around the world. The report’s framework considered livability (along with prosperity) as being a key outcome of urbanization.

We wanted to highlight that while urbanization has undoubtedly contributed to economic growth in South Asia, its impact on livability is more complex. As they have grown, South Asian cities have faced challenges arising from the pressure of their populations on basic services, infrastructure, land, housing, and the environment.  This has helped to give rise to what the report terms “messy” urbanization, characterized by slums and sprawl, not to mention levels of ambient outdoor air pollution that rank amongst the highest across cities globally.

The report suggests that to have a full understanding of the urbanization process in South Asia, it is necessary to discuss not only the positive productivity benefits that are associated with urban size and density, but also the negative “congestion” forces.  How successfully South Asian cities manage these forces will help to determine the quality of life not only of the region’s current half a billion urban residents, but also of the additional 250 million that will be added over the next 15 years.

Transforming livelihoods through good governance and seaweed farming

Alice Lloyd's picture

​A tourist eyeing the gorgeous azure waters around Zanzibar, Tanzania, might think about taking a frolic in the waves, but for local fishers, the sea means business--the seafood business.

Islamic finance: Strong standards of corporate governance are a 'sine qua non'

Nihat Gumus's picture

Proper corporate governance practices in financial institutions should provide added value by enhancing the protection of depositor and investor rights, facilitating access to finance, reducing the cost of capital, improving operational performance, and increasing institutions’ soundness against external shocks. Ensuring strong corporate governance standards is thus essential to the stability and health of all financial institutions, worldwide.
Good governance is an important priority for Islamic finance, an aspect of international finance that has enjoyed a stage of significant growth over the past decade. The volume of financial assets that are managed according to Islamic principles has a value of around $2 trillion, having experienced a cumulative average annual growth rate of about 16 percent since 2009 (Graph 1).

Graph 1: The Size of Islamic Finance Assets (USD Billion)

Banking has traditionally been the leading sector in the realm of Islamic finance, but the share of other products and institutions within the total realm of Islamic financial assets has been steadily increasing,  as well (Graph 2). For instance, the Sukuk sector – which focuses on securitized asset-based securities – has seen considerable growth over the past six years and, as of 2014, amounted to more than $300 billion. Similar momentum is driving the growth of the Islamic Funds and Takaful (Islamic insurance) sectors. From 2009 to 2014, the assets under management of Islamic Funds has increased from about $40 billion to about $60 billion, while the amount of total gross contribution to Islamic insurance has surged from $7 billion to more than $14 billion.

Graph 2: The Size of Islamic Finance Assets by Sector 2014 YE (%)


How Colombia is improving access to justice services

Jorge Luis Silva Mendez's picture
A female farmer near Santander, Colombia. Photo: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

Proposed Sustainable Development Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

The UN General Assembly adopted this ambitious objective as one of the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) when they convened last week.  This is a landmark recognition of the importance of justice services for poverty eradication and sustainable, inclusive development. But how will it work in practice?

In the midst of ensuing debates around this question, Colombia offers valuable lessons. In a country torn by almost seven decades of civil war and conflict, access to justice is critical for the advancement of peace and development. Yet inefficiencies of the courts, and their concentration in select urban centers, raise the cost of access. Compounded by lack of information, these barriers have kept justice services out of reach for many citizens, particularly for the poor and most vulnerable.

What does it take to be a good citizen?

Alice Lloyd's picture

Recently I was asked what does it take to be a good citizen? 

As I was coming up with my list, I realized that the basic rules of being a good citizen were taught to me at a young age – in kindergarten, actually.  Here’s my partial list:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.