Imagine you are an ER doctor trying to treat a very ill patient who has no medical history and only a vague recollection of symptoms. What would you do if you were the doctor? Trust your gut? Trust that the patient has chronicled his symptoms accurately enough to warrant an accurate diagnosis? This is perhaps how policymakers and aid workers felt back in 2001 when they were deciding where to begin the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Back in the mid-1980s, India's then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lamented that out of every rupee spent on welfare schemes, only 15 paise reached the poor. More than a quarter of a century later, the scale and ambition of India’s social sector programs have become far bigger than what even Rajiv’s 21st-century vision could have comprehended. But one thing has remained constant – the system still leaks.
That’s not to say the problem hasn’t received attention. There is increased awareness about pilferage and diversion of assets meant for a target population. Programs now are better designed to detect leakages, estimate what’s being delivered and allow monitoring at various stages.
But these measures have met with varying degrees of success. Clearly some states – and indeed some projects – have been better at drawing benefits and utilizing funds than others.
So how do you get more bang for your buck when it comes to development projects? When the World Bank invited me to visit some of its assisted projects in Tamil Nadu in early May this year, I got a firsthand opportunity to mull this issue.
Arif Jafar had no choice about coming out as gay. In 2001, he was arrested in the northern Indian city of Lucknow at the AIDS prevention agency where he worked, charged with running a sex club, jailed for 47 days, and named in the newspapers, in a case that helped spark a legal challenge to India’s sodomy law, known as Section 377. (Needless to say, he denies that the AIDS agency was a sex club.)
“Before jail, I was open, but not that open,” says Jafar, 42, a mosque-going Shiite Muslim who now runs the Maan Foundation, an AIDS prevention group (“maan” means “respect” or “pride”). “Now everybody in the city knows.” Despite the arrest, Jafar (right) says he loves Lucknow and will never leave. “If I ran away, people would start having the perception that I did something wrong,” he says.
Jafar’s case has dragged on for 11 years without coming to trial, but in the meantime, the law criminalizing homosexuality has been overturned in Delhi High Court. Retired Justice Ajit Shah, who wrote the decision, is an unassuming man, greeting us in sandals in his modest apartment. Yet his landmark opinion broke through several centuries of bias and freed up India’s nascent movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to come into its own.
“While unemployment is around 5% in Sri Lanka, youth unemployment is nearly 3 times that. Youth unemployment is a critical challenge for us right now”, I said, in my remarks on Sri Lankan perspectives at a South Asian youth dialogue on the sidelines of the World Bank–IMF Spring Meetings last month. “Hey, what are you complaining about? Youth unemployment is almost 50% in Greece right now!”, was the immediate response I got from a World Banker in the audience. I was taken slightly aback, but it made it very clear to me - the youth unemployment issue is a gripping issue for many of the world’s economies right now, and even if the numbers may not always be on the same scale and each country has different reasons for why it’s a high-priority policy issue right now.
The last year and a half has seen everyone sit up and take notice of youth unemployment like never before – either because of the Arab Spring or protests by discontent educated youth in European capitals. The attention of economists and governments alike is on it – how did it become such a challenge? How can we address it?
Last week, I discussed the optimistic and pessimistic views of South Asia's development potential. As I highlighted in my book, Reshaping Tomorrow, South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world, but it is also home to the largest concentration of people living in conditions of debilitating poverty, human misery, gender disparities, and conflict.
I also ask if South Asia is Ready for the Big Leap. The optimistic view is that India will achieve double-digit growth rates benefiting the rest of South Asia. The pessimistic view is that growth will be derailed by structural and transformational challenges. In this entry, I will make some suggestions on how South Asia could realize the optimistic view.
What can be done?
Five years ago, M. Revathy was a single mother abandoned by her husband, living in the small town of Tirunellikaval in Tamil Nadu. She is high school educated but was unable to find any employment except in a loom in her town. She was paid a pittance there and had the status of a bonded laborer. Today, she has her own loom at home and sells her saris at a good price to the wholesale market. She has a smile on her face as she says proudly that she sends her three sons to school and supports them and her father on her income.
Revathy was one of the women identified under the Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project, 75% funded ($274 million) by the World Bank a few years ago. This project called Pudhu Vaazhvu (meaning New Life) has given a livelihood, and hope for thousands of women, unemployed youth and the differently abled in the state and has also been recognized by the World Bank as one of the best such projects in the world.
India’s estimated 700,000 hijras, or transgender women, generally get little or no schooling, their families often reject them, and they join marginalized and feudal communities where their employment options are sex work or ritualized begging. They are likely to die young, of violence – like Anil Sadanandan, a transgender activist murdered in Kerala state during my recent visit to India – or AIDS. They are among India’s most destitute women, yet they are ignored by the World Bank, despite its strong focus on the “gender agenda.”
On April 3, 2012, the World Bank announced the “Imagining Our Future Together” art exhibition competition for young artists (those born after 1975) to submit samples of their work to be included in an upcoming traveling exhibition, “South Asia Artists: Imagining Our Future Together.” The deadline for submissions was April 30, 2012.
We received applications from 231 artists in all eight South Asian countries:
Sri Lanka: 8
South Asia is among the fastest growing regions in the world, but it is also home to the largest concentration of people living in conditions of debilitating poverty, human misery, gender disparities, and conflict. In my book, Reshaping Tomorrow, I ask if South Asia is Ready for the Big Leap.
The optimistic view is that India will achieve double-digit growth rates benefitting the rest of South Asia. The pessimistic view is that growth will be derailed by structural and transformational challenges. Which of these two outlooks will prevail?
The Optimistic Outlook
The optimistic outlook is based on favorable trends, including improved governance, the demographic dividend, the rise of the middle class, and the new faces of globalization.
All countries in the region have an elected government for the first time since independence leading to governance that is more focused on development. Improved governance will enhance the politics of democratic accountability; diminishing the importance of identity politics; and the rates of incumbency – the likelihood of a sitting politician being re-elected – are down.
The social institution of caste and the many ways it can create exclusion amongst different groups has a generated much literature in South Asia, primarily focused on India. Caste is often incorrectly characterized as a social hierarchy inherent within Hinduism. In fact, caste is a social phenomenon that exists across groups in South Asia, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians throughout South Asia in varying degrees.
In Pakistan, research and debate on the implications of caste and poverty has been limited. While a substantial literature exists about the social structures of Pakistan, including various caste, kinship groups and tribes such as zaat (caste), biraderi/qaum (kinship groups) and qabila (tribe), development practitioners and policy makers have largely ignored the issue of caste and social exclusion in Pakistan with its links to inequality in rights, access services and representation.
What is the account penetration among women in South Asia? Has the spread of bank agents affected how adults do their banking in Bangladesh and Nepal? How are people all over South Asia saving, borrowing, making payments and managing risk?
In the past, the view of financial inclusion in SAR has been incomplete, and the details unsatisfying. A patchwork of data from diverse and often incompatible household and central bank surveys was the only information available with which to construct a regional picture.
With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion Indicators (Global Findex) we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage their daily finances and plan for the future. The Global Findex database also identifies barriers to financial inclusion, such as cost, travel time, distance, amount of paper work, and income inequality.