Probably, Mafalda - an Argentinean comic book character - was right when she said that "the urgent things do not leave time for the important things". However, it is necessary that, in this context, we must stop and think what should be done and what is important.
Argentina is going through a demographic transition process, which implies opportunities and challenges in economics and social fields. That is the actual case of Argentina, as well as the rest of Latin America.
After the New Year arrives, most of us have the habit of making New Year resolutions. Whether it is a higher salary, a promotion, world travel or even weight loss, some wishes are similar among us and our friends. This year, after meeting the students attending the 11th South Asia Economic Students Summit (SAESM), I realized how New Year wishes can be vastly different from one corner of the world to another.
Here’s a sample of New Year “wish lists” of the South Asian students who attended the 11th SAESM in Thimphu, Bhutan held between Dec. 23-28, 2014.
“I hope South Asia can have a similar program to ERASMUS in Europe, where students are allowed to spend one year or a semester working or interning in a different South Asian country."
- Phalguni, Kirorimal College, India
“Intelligence and capability are not enough; there must also be the joy of doing something beautiful.” These words by Dr. Venkataswamy tower over us as we enter the flagship Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, and continue to reflect in the staff’s philosophy during our short visit.
The Aravind Eye Hospital needs no introduction. Tucked in the remote south of India, it is the result of its founder’s vision of eliminating needless blindness. Started in 1976 by Dr. Venkataswamy, the hospital provides accessible, affordable and quality eye care to all sections of the society through cross-subsidization, which creates a commercially viable and sustainable business model.
Aravind Eye Care is an example of a business model innovation, also referred to as an ‘inclusive business model’. IFC defines inclusive business models as those offering goods, services and livelihoods to the poor in financially sustainable and scalable ways. Globally, inclusive businesses are being recognized as important players for development. More entrepreneurs are realizing the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) market as an opportunity to design and implement innovative solutions. As per an IFC study, the BoP represents a potential market of $5 trillion globally - the largest slice of this lies in South Asia, particularly India, given the size of BoP population in the region.
However, inclusive businesses continue to face several barriers in scaling and replicating their success such as lack of access to finance, absence of trained human resources, weak supply chain linkages etc. and above all, an underdeveloped support ecosystem to overcome critical market gaps. Addressing these barriers will not only help capitalize on the growth potential but also mainstream the sector.
World Bank Group is playing a catalytic role in unlocking opportunities for innovative, impact focused businesses. The South Asia Inclusive Business Program has been working towards enhancing private sector participation and inclusive business activity in the region. While working on the high level through systemic interventions, the team is also connecting with organizations on the ground by supporting them to scale sustainably and/or replicate across borders.
For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Over 90 percent of urban growth is occurring in the developing world, adding an estimated 70 million new residents to urban areas each year. Demand for services in urban areas is therefore increasing exponentially, and the capacity of local governments to manage this demand is challenged.
Moreover, even though private sector has been successful in leveraging technology to improve service delivery and efficiency, governments have failed to fully embrace the benefits that these innovations bring. There is a growing need for governments to be able to deliver more services in a more efficient and effective way with limited resources. Cities need to innovate and create new tools and approaches.
Cairo based writer and researcher, Holly Dagres offers her perspective on one of Egypt’s most serious but largely overlooked development challenges.
On Dec 24th 2014, Christmas Eve, I went into the reception room of Hotel Namgay Heritage in Thimphu, Bhutan to look for some students to interview for my story on the 11th South Asia Economic Students Meet (SAESM). To my surprise, I saw five sofas filled with students, as if they were waiting for me. The cruel reality was, the students from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were singing without even noticing my entrance into the room.
They were playing an Indian parlor game (later explained to me by an Indian student) called Antakshari, where each team grouped by the sofa sings the first verse of a Bollywood movie song that begins with the consonant on which the previous team's song selection ended. Though Bollywood movies and songs are often in Hindi; somehow the Afghans who speak Pashto and Dari, Pakistanis who speak Urdu, Bangladeshis speaking Bengali and the Nepali speaking Nepalese were all able to understand each other and sing along.
Soon will be January 1, 2015. Most of us will make New Year’s resolutions and most of us will fail to keep them. Keeping New Year’s resolutions is hard. But it turns out that we are much more likely to make good on our resolutions if we decide to build upon our strengths rather than focus on fixing what’s wrong. This insight is all the more important if we combine it with the intriguing view that it is the depth of our strengths, not the absence of weaknesses, which makes us successful. People are successful not because they are perfect but because they have deep strengths. What if this was also the case for countries?
With this in mind I turn my attention to some of the strengths of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries that have recently put together their “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” The Plan is in part a response to the well-known security challenges facing those countries and the challenges posed by the surge in unaccompanied migrant children but it is also an opportunity to focus on the strengths of the Northern Triangle of Central America and how to develop them even further. And when one goes beyond the headlines one discovers a variety of success stories.
My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death." On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”
Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach - a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.
As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.
Source: Branko Milanovic
If you thought the wealth gap was vast between the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the oppressed Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol,” then lend a Christmastime thought for the desperate Dickensian divide that’s now afflicting the global economy.
The biggest economic-policy issue of 2014 has certainly been the outpouring of alarm about the chronically intensifying divide between wealth and poverty – an uproar that has had a transformational effect on the worldwide debate on economic policy. As a seminar at the Center for Global Development recently discussed, the precise statistics on inequality (and the perception of inequality) are subtle, with many nuances of measurement (whether data should be derived, for example, from tax-return filings or from household surveys). Yet this year’s irrefutable interpretation among economists and business leaders has been driven by a landmark of economic scholarship: the bombshell book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty. “Capital” has forced economists, policymakers and scholars to reconsider the inexorable trends that are driving the modern-day economy toward an ever-more-intense concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands.
No wonder Piketty’s “Capital” was hailed as the Financial Times/McKinsey “Business Book of the Year.” Piketty’s analysis has fundamentally changed the parameters of the public-policy debate, and many of its ideas challenge conventional economic theory.
To explore the implications of the alarming trends in income and wealth inequality, there’s no analyst more insightful than Branko Milanovic, the former World Bank economist who is now a scholar at the LIS Center (working on the authoritative Luxembourg Income Study) at the City University of New York. Milanovic has justly won acclaim for his work, “The Haves and the Have-Nots,” which pioneered the territory now being explored by Piketty.
Confirming the trends that Piketty identified in “Capital” – and taking those insights one significant step further, to measure the wealth gaps both within countries and between countries – Milanovic recently led a compelling CGD seminar on “Winners and Losers of Globalization: Political Implications of Inequality.”
The seminar’s sobering conclusion: If you think the wealth-and-incomes gap is painful now, just wait a decade or two. If allowed to go unattended, the widening economic divide will soon become a dangerous social chasm. That data-driven projection is leading many analysts to dread that inequality (whether between countries or within the same country) threatens topose a stark challenge to social stability, and even to the survival of democracy.
The breakthtaking “a-ha!” moment of Milanovic’s CGD presentation was the chart (see the illustration, above) – praised as "the Chart of the Century" by seminar chairman Michael Clemens of CGD and discussant Laurence Chandy of the Brookings Institution – that plotted-out the pattern of how globalization has exerted relentless downward pressure on the incomes of the global upper-middle class, which roughly corresponds to the Western lower-middle class.
Globalization has helped promote the prosperity of skilled workers in developing nations, Milanovic explained, with the dramatic surge of China’s economy being the greatest driver of global “convergence.” Yet globalization has had an undeniable downward effect on the wealth and incomes of low- and medium-skilled workers in developed, industrialized nations. That certainly helps explain the angry mood among voters in Western Europe and North America, whose overall incomes and wealth have been stagnating for perhaps 40 years.
At the same time – reinforcing the significance of Piketty’s iconic formula that r>g (that the returns on capital are destined to be greater than overall economic growth) – a vast proportion of the world’s wealth has been concentrated in just the very top echelons of society. Milanovic’s meticulous data (see the illustration, below) confirm the extreme concentration of global absolute gains in income, from 1988 to 2008, in the top 5 percent of the world’s income distribution. Rigorous empirical evidence from multiple sources indeed confirms that most of the global gains in wealth have accrued to the already-vastly-wealthy top One Percent. The data on increasing socioeconomic stratification are, by now, so well-established that only the predictable claque of free-market absolutists and dogmatic denierscling (with increasing desperation) to the notion that the inequality gap is merely a myth.
Source: Branko Milanovic
Reinforcing Milanovic’s analysis, yet another well-documented study – this time, by the OECD– asserted this month that economic inequality is intensifying within the world’s developed nations. That within-country trend accompanies the yawning inequality gap between developed and developing economies. The OECD thus joined the chorus that includes the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the U.S. Federal Reserve System in sounding the alarm about the way that income and wealth disparities are becoming socially explosive. Even on Wall Street, many pragmatists are warning with increasing urgency that “too much inequality can undermine growth.”
Economic inequality – both the perception and the reality of the egregious global gap – has surely been the key economic theme of 2014, and Milanovic’s CGD presentation capped the year with what the seminar-goers recognized as authoritative data distilled into “the Chart of the Century.” Milanovic thus echoed warnings by National Economic Council chairman Jason Furman and Canadian Member of Parliament Chrystia Freeland (both of whom have led recent World Bank seminars), who cautioned Washington policymakers about the potential dangers of runaway inequality.
Energized by Milanovic’s latest calculations and analysis, scholars and development practitioners at the World Bank Group and beyond should approach 2015 with a renewed commitment to building prosperity that is truly shared – and that avoids the potential social explosion that might await many economies if runaway inequality is allowed to continue unchecked.