Private Sector Development
Pop quiz: Which of these statements do you agree with?
- If you build “IT” they will come.
- Poor people don’t need mobile phones. They need clean water and food instead.
- Digital skills are only relevant for people who work in the ICT sector. The rest of us don’t need them.
Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the Report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.
The World Bank Group’s Enterprise Surveys (ES) evaluate the quality of the business environment in an economy by asking a series of questions that capture both the experiences and perceptions of firms. These surveys provide much needed information, particularly in developing countries where firm-level data about what businesses experience are limited.
The Djibouti Enterprise Survey is the first-ever ES in the country and consists of 266 firms in Djibouti City across three sectors – manufacturing, retail, and other services. Firms interviewed for the ES are formal, private-sector firms operating in non-agricultural, non-extractive private sector with five or more employees.
The potential for expanding the industrial sectors of African countries is substantial – this was a message I delivered on a recent trip to Italy, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. This can happen through an improved understanding of the mechanics of economic transformation as well as by focusing on how such countries can follow their comparative advantage in natural resources and labor supply.
During my site visits and meetings with the private sector for the African segments of my trip, I became more convinced than ever of the strong untapped potential for private sector-led industrialization. Yet that can only happen when the government plays a facilitating role, such as by overcoming information asymmetries, coordination failures and externalities associated with first-mover actions. In Tanzania, initial experiments with industrial parks look promising, as do agricultural development projects and rural transport initiatives currently under way. In the case of industrial parks, it’s important to have a one-stop shop for registration and other administrative obligations, adequate electricity and water supply, and good transport/logistics links.