On a recent visit to provincial treasury offices to learn about the Financial Management Information Systems, or FMIS, that our Governance teams helped introduce, the conversation became about cows.
The learning curve for an institution accustomed to managing public finances the manual way – that is, with papers and pens – to switch to an automated state-of-the-art system was, some treasury staff said, comparable to bringing a cow to watch television. Cows, they explained, are as unfamiliar with television as some treasury staff are with computers, the internet, and FMIS.
Fortunately, the relevance of the analogy was short-lived. It was soon clear that treasury staff can overcome the learning curve and that the new system has been helpful. I consistently heard praise about the system’s usefulness, because it provides useful financial information, reduces the amount of repetitive work, and generates timely reports. That is a big change.
In 1950, the average working-age person in the world had almost three years of education, but in East Asia and Pacific (EAP), the average person had less than half that amount. Around this time, countries in the EAP region put themselves on a path that focused on growth driven by human capital. They made significant and steady investments in schooling to close the educational attainment gap with the rest of the world. While improving their school systems, they also put their human capital to work in labor markets. As a result, economic growth has been stellar: for four decades EAP has grown at roughly twice the pace of the global average. What is more, no slowdown is in sight for rising prosperity.
High economic growth and strong human capital accumulation are deeply intertwined. In a recent paper, Daron Acemoglu and David Autor explore the way skills and labor markets interact: Human capital is the central determinant of economic growth and is the main—and very likely the only—means to achieve shared growth when technology is changing quickly and raising the demand for skills. Skills promote productivity and growth, but if there are not enough skilled workers, growth soon chokes off. If, by contrast, skills are abundant and average skill-levels keep rising, technological change can drive productivity and growth without stoking inequality.
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For many of us who work in the health sector in Cambodia, the Universal Health Coverage Day in 2016 celebrates the beginning of a new journey. The recent launch of the Health Equity and Quality Improvement Project marked the beginning of a new phase in our journey to make Cambodia healthier and happier.
Recently I met an inspiring student: 12-year-old Song Liza, who told me about her goal of becoming a doctor.
Her reasoning is simple: one, because the shortage of doctors in Cambodia means she would be able to get a good job; and two, because she wants to help people in her poor, remote community in this part of northeastern Cambodia.
Medical school is a long way off for Liza, but despite facing more challenges than many her age, she has laid out a series of goals that she knows she must achieve before she can put on that white coat.
As in much of the rest of the developing world, developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) have made progress in closing many gender disparities, particularly in areas such as education and health outcomes. Even on the gender gaps that still remain significant, more is now known about why these have remained “sticky” despite rapid economic progress.
Ensuring that women and girls are on a level playing field with men and boys is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It is right because gender equality is a core objective of development. And it is smart because gender equality can spur development. It has been estimated, for instance, that labor productivity in developing East Asia and Pacific could be 7-18% higher if women had equal access to productive resources and worked in the same sectors and types of jobs as men.
The success story means the Southeast Asian nation that overcame a vicious civil war now is classified as a lower-middle income economy by the World Bank Group (WBG).
The new classification this year is based on thresholds set by the WBG in a system with roots in a 1989 paper that outlined the methodology. The table below shows the different levels of classification based on Gross National Income (GNI):
|Threshold||GNI in July 2016|
|Lower-middle income||$1,026 - $4,035|
|Upper-middle income||$4,036 - $12,475|
Today, Cambodia is among the world’s fastest growing economies. Its gross national income per capita increased by more than threefold in two decades, from $300 in 1994 to $1,070 in 2015.
Strong economic growth has helped lift millions of people out of poverty.
The Cambodian people have benefited as the economy diversified from subsistence farming into manufacturing, tourism and agricultural exports. Poverty fell to 10% in 2013, from 50% in 2004. Cambodians enjoy better school enrollment, literacy, life expectancy, immunization and access to water and sanitation.
Nearly 50 years ago, books such as Asian Drama: An Inquiry Into The Poverty Of Nations, by the Swedish economist and Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal, offered a dire prediction of famine and poverty for the region in coming decades.
Globally, around 2 billion people do not use formal financial services. In Southeast Asia, there are 264 million adults who are still “unbanked”; many of them save their money under the mattress and borrow from so-called “loan sharks”, paying exorbitant interest rates on a daily or weekly basis. Recognizing the importance of financial inclusion for economic development, the leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have made this one of their top priorities for the next five years.
Last week, the World Bank Group presented the latest data on financial inclusion in ASEAN to senior representatives of the ministries of finance and central banks of all 10 ASEAN member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). The session, held in Kuala Lumpur, is one of the joint activities the new World Bank Research and Knowledge Hub and Malaysia is undertaking to support financial inclusion around the world.
The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) is a major global rice producer and exporter but its population suffers from serious levels of poverty and malnutrition.
Spanning six countries – China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – the region is home to 334 million people. Nearly 60 million of them are involved in rice production, growing collectively over 44% of the world’s rice. All of the countries, except China, are net exporters of rice. This means they have more rice available than required for domestic consumption. Yet, nearly 15% of the population is seriously malnourished and about 40% of children under five are stunted, in other words, too short for their age as a result of under nutrition.