Participating in a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) sometimes feels rather more like duty than pleasure. As my eye travels around the room, it takes in the occasional snoozing civil society representative, the conspicuously empty chairs, and the combative government official languidly tapping on his blackberry. The meeting began an hour late after a straggler finally brought us to the necessary minimum number for a quorum. I find myself pondering, “Is this really working?” “Is this room of disparate stakeholders, with varying commitment and sundry objectives really going to solve one of Zambia’s most complex development challenges?”
Public Sector and Governance
Charles Kindleberger (h/t Gerry Helleiner) asserted that all reviewers can be counted on to say three things about a book: “It isn’t new. It isn’t true. And I would have said it differently.” Notwithstanding their internal contradictions, these statements summarize my thoughts on Bill Easterly’s latest book, The Tyranny of Experts.
It isn’t new. The main point of the book is that the rights of the poor have been systematically undermined, directly by governments, especially authoritarian ones; and indirectly by “experts”, who either prescribe technical solutions that ignore poor people’s ability to come up with their own solutions, or provide legitimacy to these autocratic regimes so that they continue to suppress the poor. Bill illustrates this point with three historical examples—China between the world wars, Africa at independence, and Colombia in the 1950s—where a combination of western (in some cases, colonial) interests and local elites conspired to keep the large majority of poor people poor for a long time. The analytical backdrop to these three case studies is the “debate”—a debate that never took place—between two Nobel-prize-winning economists: Gunnar Myrdal, who advocated government intervention to improve the lot of the poor; and Friedrich Hayek, who believed in protecting the individual rights of the poor as a means of their escaping poverty.
"Multi-stakeholder" has become an established term in the international development lexicon. It is often inserted reflexively in proposals and reports, for example in association to broadening consultation, securing buy in, or strengthening oversight. The assumption is that being multi-stakeholder is a good thing. Fueling or at least reinforcing this trend has been the proliferation of formalized multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) bringing together diverse actors from the public, private, and civil society sectors. This has certainly been true in the governance space over the past decade. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, the Open Government Partnership, and the Open Contracting Partnership are just a few examples of MSIs that aim to solve governance problems through collective action. They build on a longer history of initiatives focused on particular social and environmental concerns, ranging from fair trade to sustainable sourcing of products.
Almost two years ago Program for Results (PforR), the newest financing instrument for World Bank operations, was introduced to great expectations within the Bank and the international development community.
Having looked at some of the ways in which corruption damages the social and institutional fabric of a country, we now turn to reform options open to governments to reduce corruption and mitigate its effects. Rose-Ackerman (1998) recommends a two-pronged strategy aimed at increasing the benefits of being honest and the costs of being corrupt, a sensible combination of reward and punishment as the driving force of reforms. This is a vast subject. We discuss below six complementary approaches.
Some 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and nondiscriminatory education for all. Seventy-three countries guarantee the right to medical services. And 41 countries have either enshrined the right to water in their constitutions or have framed the right in national legislation. All of these actions are aimed at protecting the rights of poor people.
Yet, it is poor people who are losing out on access to these services. In Mali, whereas almost everyone has access to a primary school, and 67 percent from the richest quintile complete primary school, only 23 percent from the poorest quintile do. The percentage completing higher levels of education is in the single digits. In rural India, in the period since the Right to Education act was passed, student learning outcomes in public schools have been declining. Equatorial Guinea, with a per-capita income of $20,000, has a child mortality rate of 118 per 1,000 births, comparable to that of Togo with a much lower per-capita income. As a result of intermittent (or nonexistent) water supply through networks, poor people in South Asia and Africa have to buy water from vendors at 5-16 times the meter rate.
Like many economies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Morocco’s depends on the public sector, but with its economy expected to grow by only about 3 percent in 2014—having slipped from about 5 percent in 2011—it is clear that the public sector needs all the help it can get. The best way to help the public sector is to grow the private sector, and the International Finance Corporation believes the best way to grow the private sector is to provide advisory services and comprehensive investment solutions to attract foreign money, help local businesses help themselves, and create those desperately needed jobs.
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.