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Book review- The Aid Lab: Understanding Bangladesh’s Unexpected Success by Naomi Hossain

Duncan Green's picture

Over the summer I read a few absolutely brilliant books – hence the spate of book reviews. This week I will cover two new studies on development’s biggest recent success stories – China, but first Bangladesh.

How did Bangladesh go from being a ‘basket case’ (though ‘not necessarily our basket case’ – Henry Kissinger, 1971) to a development success story, claimed by numerous would-be fathers (aid donors, NGOs, feminists, microfinanciers, low cost solution finders)? That’s the subject of an excellent new book by Naomi Hossain.

The success is undeniable. Per capita income is up to $2780 from $890 in 1991 (PPP terms). Today, that economic progess is built on 3 pillars: garments (80% of exports, 3m largely female jobs), migration (remittances = 7-10% GDP, about 9m workers overseas, mainly men) and microfinance (which has been used by about half of all households).

But perhaps even more interesting, social progress has outstripped economic growth. Infant mortality down from 258/1,000 in 1961 to 47 in 2011; women were having 7 kids in 1961 and are now having 2. In Hossain’s words (she writes well) ‘Bangladesh is the smiling, more often than not sweetly female, face of global capitalist development. Better yet – she often wears a headscarf as she goes about enjoying her new economic and political freedoms, signalling that moderate Islam can couple with global capitalism.’ (And yes, she does acknowledge that there is still a lot of hunger and deprivation).

The ‘how’ of Bangladesh’s transformation is reasonably well known. What interests Hossain is the ‘why’. It certainly isn’t down to good governance – ‘it has never been obvious why an elite known best for corruption and violent winner-takes-all politics should have committed its country to a progressive, inclusive development pathway.’

Equality of opportunity for what?

Daniel Mahler's picture

Equality of opportunity is a popular policy objective around the world. It is deeply embodied in the American Dream and has resonated with politicians ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Nelson Mandela. It is also connected to the World Bank’s goal of shared prosperity; individuals with low opportunities should have a chance of growing and prospering in life.

Adapting to Climate Change: Disaster Risk Mitigation

Joaquim Levy's picture
A family whose home floods every year, creating hazardous living conditions in Colombia. © Scott Wallace/World Bank
A family in Colombia whose home floods every year, creating hazardous living conditions. © Scott Wallace/World Bank

Climate shocks have profound implications for the development prospects of the World Bank’s client countries. For many emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), the adverse impact is already a reality, with natural disasters becoming more frequent and severe. Unfortunately, many countries still lack the capacity to cushion these blows, and this can spur political fragility, food insecurity, water scarcity, and, in extreme cases, conflict and migration. Even in milder manifestations, these impacts can derail development and set back gains from years of investment

Gender and sex inequalities in water, sanitation, and hygiene

Libbet Loughnan's picture

This blogpost is part of a series of thematic blogs for the World Bank's Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic.

Woman carries water containers near polluted stream and water pipe in Maputo, Mozambique

Addressing gender and sex inequalities in WASH is not only recognized in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 6, it is central to the entire ambition of the SDGs themselves. Some water, sanitation, and hygiene issues are faced only by women because of their biological sex, whereas others are more influenced by gendered societal norms. To truly leave no one behind, we need to be mindful of and work against gender and sex inequalities in all development work. 
New World Bank research is a valuable contribution to doing just that.  ‘Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals’ reveals that a drastic change is required in the way countries manage resources and provide key services, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need.  In many cases, this means women and girls. 

Reforms Sri Lanka needs to boost its economy

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
 Joe Qian/World Bank
The Colombo Stock Exchange. Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank

Many Sri Lankans understand the potential benefits of lowering trade costs and making their country more competitive in the global economy. The majority, however, fear increased competition, the unfair advantage of the private sector from abroad and limited skills and innovation to compete.

Yet, Sri Lanka’s aspirations cannot be realized in the current status quo.  

While changes in trade policies and regulations will undeniably improve the lives of most citizens, I’m mindful that some are likely to lose. However, many potential gainers of the reforms who are currently opposed to them are unaware of their benefits.

Implementing smart reforms means that government funds will be used more effectively for the people, improve access to better healthcare, education, basic infrastructure and provide Sri Lankans with opportunities to get more and better jobs. Let me focus on a few reforms that I believe are critical for the country.  First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.    

First, Sri Lanka needs to seek growth opportunities and foreign investment beyond its borders.

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services

Experience shows that no country in the world today has been able to create opportunities for its population entirely within its own geographic boundaries. To succeed in this open environment, Sri Lanka will need to improve its skills base, better understand supply and demand chains as well as produce higher quality goods and services.

How do taxes and transfers impact poverty and inequality in developing countries?

Gabriela Inchauste's picture

We know that fiscal policy can be harnessed to reduce inequality in low- and middle-income countries, but until now, we knew less about its ability to reduce poverty. Our recent volume looks at the revenue and spending of governments across eight low and middle income countries (Armenia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Russia, South Africa and Sri Lanka), and it reveals that fiscal systems, while nearly always reducing inequality, can often worsen poverty.   

Budget-strapped cities are creating financing—out of thin air

Luis Triveno's picture

Photo: Jonathan O'Reilly / Shutterstock

The world is urbanizing fast200,000 people are moving to cities every day in search of homes, jobs, as well as education and healthcare services for their families. Supporting this influx with proper infrastructure and services for water, sanitation, transport, and green spaces will require an estimated $1 trillion each year.
Given the difficulties of further increasing the tax burden or the level of public debt, it’s time for cities to think more creatively about alternative sources of funding.

Not willing to wait for their national governments to bless them with scarce infrastructure funds, innovative mayors have figured out how to squeeze a new source of urgently needed capital out of thin air, literally.

Water flows through development – big ideas from World Water Week

Guangzhe CHEN's picture
Guangzhe Chen, Senior Director, the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, 
speaks at the opening plenary of World Water Week 2017. Credit: Tim Wainwright

It was inspiring to see so many committed water practitioners at World Water Week in Stockholm the last week of August, coming together to share experiences and advance global action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of safe and accessible water and sanitation for all (SDG6) by 2030.  As we know, access to water and sanitation is key to thriving communities. It determines whether poor girls are educated, whether cities are healthy places to live, whether industries grow, and whether framers can withstand the impacts of floods and droughts.

Without it, we are limiting our full potential. In fact, today we face a “silent emergency”, with stunted grown affecting more than a third of all children under five in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and Guatemala. This was presented in the new World Bank report WASH Poverty Diagnostics, provides new data on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for 18 countries and finds that we get the biggest bang for the buck when we attack childhood stunting and mortality from many angles simultaneously, in a coordinated way. While improving water and sanitation alone does improve a child’s well-being, the impacts on child height are multiplied when water, sanitation, health, and nutrition interventions are combined. The report also pinpoints the geographical areas in a country where access to services are low or missing completely, and suggests that to move the needle on improving poverty indicators, policies need to be implemented and resources have to be better targeted to reach the most vulnerable.

Ecological restoration, critical for poverty reduction

Joaquim Levy's picture
© Mauricio Rios
© Mauricio Rios/World Bank

Why is ecological restoration so critical to the World Bank’s mission of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity? Quite simply, because environmental degradation is devastating to the most vulnerable communities and perpetuates poverty around the world.

Some 42 percent of the world’s poorest live on land that is classified as degraded. The situation becomes worse every year, as 24 billion tons of fertile soil are eroded, and drought threatens to turn 12 million hectares of land into desert.

What do "Sustainable Cities" look like to you? Enter our global photo contest by October 6 (deadline extended to October 15)

Dini Djalal's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | 中文
Enter our global photo contest by October 15

Building healthy and well-functioning cities and communities that continue to thrive for generations is the goal of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC), a collaboration that unites cities across continents in their endeavors towards achieving sustainable, resilient development.
What would these cities and communities look like to you? The GPSC, its partner cities, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) invite you to articulate sustainability through the medium of photography.

Whether it be elements of your city that represent sustainability, or a moment in time that captures the spirit of inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban development, we invite you to share your vision with us, through your photographs.
The winners of the photo competition will each win exciting prizes: a $500 voucher for purchasing photography equipment, as well as a chance to be recognized at an award ceremony and have their photographs featured in the World Bank / GPSC’s online and print materials.
Here’s how the Sustainable Cities Photo Contest will work: