The conference panel of leading scholars and practitioners on microcredit: From left to right: Esther Duflo, Kate McKee, Lindsay Wallace, Carol Caruso, and Peer Stein.
Photo credit: Michael Rizzo.
On Friday, February 27, researchers, policymakers, investors and practitioners joined forces to move forward in the dialogue around microcredit’s impact on the lives of the poor. Many themes emerged from the day, but perhaps the most salient came from Dean Karlan, who summed things up in 2 words: “Understand clients.”
The conference began with six presentations from researchers Orazio Attanasio, Abhijit Banerjee, Jaikishan Desai, Esther Duflo, Dean Karlan and Costas Meghir, who completed randomized control trials (RCTs) in six countries examining the impact of microcredit. Lindsay Wallace, of the MasterCard Foundation, noted, “These studies may not be new, but they are incredibly important.” While specific findings varied from country to country, the studies confirmed with evidence what many in the field already assumed: that, while microcredit can be good for some, it is no magic bullet for tackling poverty.
Public Sector and Governance
The spectacular recovery of a long-missing painting by Pablo Picasso – a canvas that had been stolen more than a decade ago, in a daring museum theft in Paris – offers a vivid reminder of the illicit worldwide trade in stolen assets, artworks and archeological artifacts. Preventing the cross-border smuggling of stolen money, art and natural treasures poses a stern challenge to law-enforcement authorities. Yet the vigilance of the international network of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers can often result in a triumph, as illustrated by the case of the now-recovered Picasso.
The art world hailed last week’s revelation that “La Coiffeuse,” painted by Picasso in 1911, had been intercepted in December by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The painting was identified during its shipment to a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City, New York, and it was then seized while it was in transit at Port Newark, New Jersey. The work – unseen since its 2001 theft from the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris – had been shipped on December 17 from Belgium to the United States in an innocent-looking FedEx container, adorned with a holiday-season tag marked, “Joyeux Noel.” Its shipping registration papers falsely described it as an “art craft/toy” valued at $37. The legal process that began last week in New York should soon have the canvas on its way back to France, where it is owned by the nation.
The Picasso had been assigned an estimated value of about 2 million euros at the time of its theft in 2001 – suggesting how lucrative the underground market for stolen art may be. Despite any such theoretical valuation, however, such cultural riches are truly beyond price: They belong to humanity’s shared patrimony, and thus their theft is an immeasurable crime against history.
"La Coiffeuse" by Pablo Picasso. Photograph via the U.S. Department of Justice.
The sudden recovery of the Picasso has reminded art-watchers – and law-enforcement officials – that the 25th anniversary of a still-baffling crime is fast approaching: the March 18, 1990 theft of $500 million in artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. That theft deprived the world of, among other masterpieces, Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” painted in 1633. Despite occasional rumors that some of the stolen works might be available somewhere on the global black market, that crime remains unsolved – and the criminals, part of the vast international network of art thieves and smugglers, remain at large.
Police agencies and global asset-trackers certainly face a herculean task. International plunder takes many forms – from the “grand-scale corruption” that infects fraudulent banking transactions to the looting of countries’ wealth by dictators and kleptocrats. Cracking down on the illicit flows of funds worldwide – which are sometimes abetted by corruptible accountants and pliant lawyers, who help steer loot to safe havens and stash money in offshore tax-dodging accounts – requires persistent detective work and meticulous forensic accounting. In the case of stolen art treasures, the art world must appeal to the conscience of connoisseurs and dealers – and must rely on the integrity of curators at museums large and small, who surely know better than to traffic in property whose provenance might be even slightly suspicious.
Units like the Stolen Assets Recovery (StAR) Initiative – a joint effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – patiently promote cooperation among transnational, national and local law-enforcement bodies. That task requires a commitment for the long haul, as they steadily pursue capacity-building among governments and private-sector watchdog agencies that are determined to build their anticorruption capabilities. Closer legal, technical and financial coordination sans frontières is an indispensable tool in hunting down and repatriating looted lucre.
As in the case of the now-recovered Picasso, the effort to protect priceless artworks sometimes ends in a law-enforcement success. In a just-opened art exhibition in Washington, art-watchers can now get an up-close look at an inspiring example of how a strong national commitment to fighting crime – backed by methodical investigative work and tenacious legal processes – can achieve enduring results.
The Embassy of Italy last week opened an exhibition of irreplaceable artworks that might have forever vanished onto the international black market, had it not been for the work of one of the country's specialized military units: the Guardia di Finanza, which since 1916 has protected Italy from smuggling, drug trafficking and financial crimes. Its specialized art-investigations team, the Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, has successfully prevented the theft of many works of art, some of which can now be seen (by appointment) at the Embassy on Whitehaven Street. Treasures such as these are integral to Italy’s culture and the West's heritage.
In opening the exhibition, Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero noted that “the trafficking of archaeological works is a growing phenomenon that in recent years has spiraled upwards at an alarming rate” – with Italy ranking “first among the countries [that are] victims of this crime. . . . These treasures belong to Italy. But they also belong to European identity and, by extension, to all mankind.”
With the Picasso canvas soon headed back to Paris, and with the recovered art and archaeological treasures now being celebrated at the Embassy, arts-watchers can breathe easier, knowing that these masterworks are secure. But protecting the global patrimony requires the constant vigilance of corruption-hunters and asset-trackers – like the Guardia di Finanza, the StAR unit and their law-enforcement allies worldwide – who stand guard against the plunder of the vulnerable yet invaluable assets that comprise the common heritage of humanity.
As such, reforming procurement systems can prove transformational for development in any country.
In Georgia, the introduction of e-procurement (Ge-GP) is a good example of how strong political will and commitment can be critical in the context of reforming public procurement. Within a year, the State Procurement Agency of Georgia (SPA) designed, developed, and tested an e-procurement system, and eventually moved to the mandatory use of e-Procurement, fully replacing paper-based tenders.
“The real end winner of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is going to be Mexico […]” said then Mexican president Vicente Fox, in 2001. He was referring to Mexico’s gains from trade integration with the USA through NAFTA.
Vicente Fox was right. Mexico has continued to make sustained gains in trade over a 20 year period after signing NAFTA in 1994 with the US, its much larger partner (figure 1).
Opening up trade is not easy because losses can be immediate, while gains, despite being potentially much larger and more widespread, are often dispersed over time. Producers that may sustain losses from more open imports are often well organized and can hold up reforms quite effectively. Moreover, when one of the countries involved in mutual trade liberalization is disproportionately large, it enables the smaller country lobbies to raise the specter of being swamped by imports from its larger partner.
In the case of South Asia, a history of political differences further complicates deeper trade and economic cooperation within the region. Under these circumstances, opening up trade to neighbors requires strong leadership and a bold vision about the role of trade and regional integration in economic development.
I was lucky to recently attend a workshop on justice and governance impact evaluations in the wonderful city of Istanbul. The spark of the workshop discussions lived up to the liveliness of the location.
Some time ago I blogged about the pros and cons of impact evaluations for justice projects in developing countries. Since then, interest in impact evaluations in the justice sector has grown at the World Bank and within the larger development community.
Recently I attended an India Open Data Community meeting organised by the World Bank in New Delhi that brought together government officials, academics, corporates, developers and a few development sector professionals to discuss social and economic Open Data opportunities in India and the emerging partnerships forming around them.
Organized at the highly regarded Indian Institute of Technology, the meeting was focused on three key areas; experiences of institutions using open data around the world, how organisations need to prepare to tap into the growing potential of Open Data, and how to build and strengthen the community of data users and providers. The aim was to help assess the challenges and opportunities for extracting and using open government data in India, and to then communicate these at a subsequent National Conference on Open Data and Open API.
India – Open Data opportunity
One of the key speakers at the meeting was Professor Jeanne Holm, a senior Open Data consultant at the World Bank and former evangelist for Data.gov in the US. In a brief presentation, she summarized the key reasons for governments’ willingness to open their data. These include improved internal efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, innovation, economic growth and better communication with citizens and other stakeholders.
She highlighted some key observations about the opportunities for Open Data in India: the availability of a vast resource of data; a stable, open source platform for open government data; rich technological expertise and knowledge; and opportunities to design specific data sciences programmes in educational institutions. A rapidly growing community of open data enthusiasts in India, DataMeet, is also shaping the discourse on data and its civic uses and exploring engagement opportunities with a wide spectrum of Open Data users.
In the last ten years, China’s public procurement market has grown tenfold reaching an estimated $270 billion in 2013. Such significant growth has made the improvement of the public procurement system an imperative for the Chinese Government.
In the context of China’s commitment to enhance its procurement system, it is also seeking to accede the World Trade Organization’s Government Procurement Agreement (WTO GPA). As China looks to necessary procurement reforms, the World Bank has partnered with the Ministry of Finance to support these efforts, which have the potential to have transformational impact.
Jump-starting job growth is difficult enough when a country’s investment climate is supportive, when its government has clear goals and competent capabilities, and when its business leaders can make far-sighted plans. When an economy is riven by the chaos of war, or when it is newly emerging from a severe social trauma, channeling capital toward private-sector job creation is even harder.
Amid this year’s FCV Forum at the World Bank Group – focusing on economies gripped by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) – a seminar combining Financial Sector and Private Sector priorities heard a sobering picture from expert practitioners who have been on the front lines of promoting job growth in economies that are in turmoil. Moderated by John Speakman, the Lead PSD Specialist in the Bank Group’s practice on Trade and Competitiveness – who is the author of a new book on small-scale entrepreneurs in FCV situations – a panel explored the daunting challenges of promoting private-sector growth when countries are in turmoil.
Would-be job creators confront an enormously complex task in FCV situations. Yet the panelists agreed that there is reason for hope – even in the most tumultuous FCV conditions – if financing can be targeted toward promising startup companies, and especially toward potential “gazelle” firms that can energize new sectors of the economy.
“Ultimately, it’s all about money: Poor people are poor because they don’t have money,” said Hugh Scott of KPMG, whothe Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). “It’s the delivery channel – the financing mechanism – that’s making the difference” in the 23 African countries where the ACF has offered grants and interest-free loans to about 800 private-sector firms, producing a net development impact of about $66 billion.
The difficult business environment and increased risk profile in FCV countries means that traditional lenders (primarily banks) are all the more hesitant to lend, said Scott – making such vehicles as “challenge funds,” which focus on promising small and startup firms, even more important. As co-founder of invest2innovate (and current World Bank Group consultant) Sadaf Lakhani noted, the “ecosystem problem” for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and startups is all the more complex when countries face “a political economy of war.” As she had observed during her work with invest2innovate -- a nonprofit angel investing and accelerator organization -- such frequent FCV afflictions as corruption, patronage, fragmented markets and capital flight make it even more difficult for managers and lenders to identify, evaluate and accelerate startups.
Bank financing, in fact, is not always a ready source of funds for startup ventures, as noted by Simon Bell, the Global Lead on SME Finance at the Bank Group. Banks weigh the historical profit-and-loss performance of would-be borrowers – yet the entrepreneurs who are behind the “small sub-set of firms,” like the so-called “gazelles,” that are destined to create jobs quickly have little or no financial track record. Startups are thus often viewed warily by risk-averse bankers. Drawing on his long experience in the MENA region, Bell underscored that a priority in FCV states is ensuring that there is “a continuum of financial institutions and services” – like early-stage financing, private equity, venture capital and angel financing – that can provide critically important financing at various stages of a dynamic company’s growth.
To help give a boost to startups and young firms, the International Finance Corporation has created several financing mechanisms that are having a positive impact on job growth. The SME Ventures Program, created in 2008 with a $100 million allocation from IFC, has aimed to reach businesses in the poorest of the poor countries, often in FCV situations, said its Program Manager, Tracy Washington. Having financed about 60 SMEs, and having already supported the creation of about 1,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs, the SME Ventures Program has had a positive “demonstration effect,” inspiring new entrants to serve the marketplace once they have witnessed IFC’s strong performance. In addition, IFC's Global SME Finance Facility, described by Senior Investment Officer Florence Boupda, has provided investment capital and advisory services to 27 financial institutions in 18 countries since 2007 – including 17 projects in seven FCV countries.
The challenge for the future, agreed Boupda and Washington, will be to find additional ways to combine Bank Group interventions in ways that continue to choose companies with the greatest potential and that maximize the impact of Bank Group support. Their insights were underscored by Bell, who emphasized that “globally, employment is our issue” – and who asserted that “there are points of light all around” in this “very exciting” area, as various arms of the Bank Group focus on “the employment imperative.”
Finding ways “to apply the most innovative solutions to the most challenging situations,” especially in FCV and other traumatized countries, remains the grand challenge for international financial institutions, concluded Michael Botzung, IFC’s manager for fragile and conflict-affected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the determination of the energetic practitioners on the SME financing panel reminded the FCV Forum audience why there is cause for hope – and why, in Speakman’s words, the intensive WBG-wide efforts to promote job creation in the toughest FCV situations is “one of the things that makes us proud to be with the World Bank Group.”
This year will see a major milestone with the adoption of sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the UN’s member states. Expanding on the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000, the currently envisioned 17 SDGs are aiming to address broader, transformative economic, environmental and social changes. For the first time, however, the centrality of justice in achieving sustainable development has been recognized in the Open Working Group’s proposed 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.
, but one that will pose many challenges. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has put his support behind the inclusion of justice as a central pillar for achieving sustainable development.