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Why/how should corporates defend civil society space? Good new paper + case studies

Duncan Green's picture

I saw some effective academic-NGO cooperation last week, and even better, it involved some of my LSE students.

The occasion was the launch of Beyond Integrity: Exploring the role of business in preserving civil society space, commissioned and published by the Charities Aid Foundation and written by Silky Agrawal, Brooks Reed and Riya Saxena, three of last year’s LSE Masters students. They researched and wrote the report as part of a student consultancy project, and CAF were so impressed that they decided to publish it. Result.

First the content: the authors went looking for cases where businesses had got involved in defending civil society from attacks by government, and identified four really interesting cases (see table). They interviewed a number of the players in each case.

They found some ‘key learnings’ (bit depressing to see them already adopting the barbarisms of aidspeak!):

  • Firms in consumer-facing industries are responsive to large-scale social movements that raise awareness regarding human rights abuses;
  • Privately owned companies with strong ethics and values tied into the core business model, led by engaged leaders, are likely to respond to civil society;
  • At times, privately held dialogues between key stakeholders and host governments can be more effective at initiating positive action than a public challenge, as the respect and dignity of each stakeholder is maintained;
  • Leveraging formal and informal cross-sectoral networks is instrumental in convincing corporations to act on behalf of civil society.

In Bangladesh, an experienced – yet struggling – worker becomes an entrepreneur

Tashmina Rahman's picture
Nikhil Chandra Roy, who received certification through the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP),
Nikhil Chandra Roy, who received certification through the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP),
Skills recognition is changing the lives of informal workers in Bangladesh

In 2014, Nikhil Chandra Roy was struggling to find and keep regular employment. He had extensive experience dating back to 1977, doing the work of an electrician. But because he had no formal training or certification, Nikhil couldn’t win the confidence of employers in Bangladesh to give him anything more than episodic, relatively low-paying work.

At age 55, just as he was giving up hope for career progress, Nikhil saw an advertisement that ended up turning his outlook and life around. The ad introduced him to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program, aimed especially at people like Nikhil, who have real skills and experience in a particular occupation but no formal, independently recognized qualifications.

Not long later, Nikhil participated in a three-day program, which entails one day of assessment and two days of training. That led to the recognition he had long awaited and needed to boost his career: a Government-endorsed skills certification from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) in electrical installation and maintenance.
A blog series to celebrate Bangladesh’s progress
toward #ProsperBangladesh 

“From that point on,” Nikhil said, “there was no looking back. With my years of experience, knowledge and now skills certification, I was ready to progress my career from just an electrician to an entrepreneur.

Nikhil was one of the many vulnerable informal sector workers in Bangladesh who have no regular jobs and who work on ad hoc opportunities, making it difficult to sustain livelihoods. These workers, with enough experience to perform the technical work well but not the credential many jobs require, improve their employability and bargaining power in job markets when they get the proper certification. And with that certification, workers gain social status in their communities.

The RPL program, which evaluates the skills level of workers and issues government certification to workers who pass an assessment, has operated since 2014 as a pilot activity under the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). STEP aims to give more Bangladeshis the technical skills they need to compete successfully in domestic and international labor markets.

The demand for RPL certification has been enormous. Since its inception, RPL has assessed more than 9,000 applicants from all over Bangladesh. Every month, RPL offers 600 applicants certification trainings in electrical installation and maintenance; IT support; block, boutique and screen printing; sewing machine operation; tailoring and dress making; motorcycle servicing; plumbing; and welding.

Was the resource boom more akin to a resource curse for Africa?

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

The IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook (REO – April 2016) notes that the region’s dependence on primary commodities has increased since the 1980s with nearly half of the countries in the region subject to commodity price fluctuations. These economies, which contribute 70 percent of the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa are facing a sharp slowdown in real growth, with many also having to undertake large fiscal retrenchments and/or seek balance of payments support from the IMF.

We review the economic performance of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (henceforth Africa) non-renewable resource producers since the early 2000s, the start of the commodity price boom contrasting this with the economic performance of Africa’s non-commodity exporters over the same period. The negative economic impact of the current slump in commodity prices is indisputable, but it is worth asking whether Africa’s non-renewable resource producers realized any tangible benefits from the commodity price boom. Our conclusion is that they did not, at least in terms of real per capita growth. And here’s why.

Bangladesh: Setting a global standard in ending poverty

Qimiao Fan's picture

There is a lot for Bangladesh to celebrate in the latest World Bank research on global poverty and inequality.
The new report, entitled Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality”, uses revised data to give a more accurate estimate of how many poor people live in Bangladesh. What the report shows is that 18.5 percent of the population was poor in 2010 compared with 44.2 percent in 1991.

This is a major achievement that will receive global recognition on October 17 when the World Bank Group marks End Poverty Day with the Bangladesh people at an event in Dhaka.

This achievement means that 20.5 million Bangladeshis escaped from poverty between 1991 and 2010. It means that Bangladesh beat the deadline by an impressive five years in achieving Millennium Development Goal number 1, an internationally recognized target to cut extreme poverty rates by half by 2015.

It is worth remembering how far Bangladesh has come.

To reinvigorate Europe, we need more integration… of services

Doerte Doemeland's picture

To reinvigorate growth in Europe, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi called for more common projects in the European Union (EU). And he emphasized that these efforts need to meet a set of minimum bars: they should “…focus on those actions that deliver tangible and immediately recognisable results… [they] should complement the actions of governments; they should be clearly linked to people’s immediate concerns; they should unequivocally concern matters of European or global significance.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Chart: South Asia’s Exports Increasing in Value

Erin Scronce's picture

In South Asia, more than one million young workers enter the labor market each month. Education levels are on the rise, cities are sprawling, exports are gaining value and as a result, many eyes are on the region to become the next ‘global factory’. But to become the world’s next middle-income region, South Asia’s firms must become more globally competitive.

On October 6, join a live event where global thought leaders, business leaders and policy makers will discuss the obstacles and opportunities affecting the South Asia region’s competitiveness.

Making South Asian Apparel Exports More Competitive

Ritika D’Souza's picture

Apparel workers in Bangladesh

There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations.  Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia  –  estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.

But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.

Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).

Tourism energizes South Africa’s job market

Christopher Rooney's picture
Christopher Rooney, guest blogger, is a junior researcher at the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town
Tourism in South Africa is seen as a driver for growth because of its linkages with other parts of the economy. Photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank

There is strong evidence that suggests that the South African tourism industry can help create a large number of secure, inclusive jobs. Despite the global financial crisis and a sector which competes on a global level, it created 48,000 jobs since 2008. Furthermore, many of these jobs are low-skilled, located in towns where there is not much other economic activity and have a higher-than-average representation of women and the youth. In addition, there are also opportunities for employees to increase their skills and their wages, so they do not remain in a low-wage, low productivity wage cycle permanently.

What are some critical innovations for improving port-hinterland connectivity?

Bernard Aritua's picture
Photo credit: Hxdyl/Shutterstock
Imagine landing in the wee hours of the morning into Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, India. As you leave the airport in a taxi, you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic and this at 4:00am in the morning! It does not take long to realize that you are sharing the roads with other early rising passengers riding in cars and buses, but also with a long queue of freight trucks, which seem to be the majority of vehicles along the road. Why are so many freight trucks winding through the city center? You soon learn from the taxi driver that some of the trucks are heading to, or coming from the famous ‘Barabazar’ market, but others are heading towards Kolkata port.

As your taxi leaves the line of trucks behind, you realize that you could be in any port-city in India or, for that matter, in China, USA or Europe. The types and number of trucks, and the freight carried may vary, but the challenges of port-generated traffic affecting the city hinterland is common. Of course, urban mobility solutions are multi-dimensional and usually include complementary strategies, investments and actors. However, the root cause of port-generated city traffic is simply a product of conventional port planning.

In Kolkata, the problem of port-generated traffic could get worse with the completion of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor and National Waterway 1 (Jal Marg Vikas project). However, thanks to an innovative port-hinterland connectivity solution, supported by the World Bank, the ports of Kolkata and Haldia will dramatically increase their capacity while solving the issue of port-generated traffic. This is great news for the many truck drivers, who can often take a whole night just to get in queue to enter the port.