Let me tell you when magic happens. It transpires when few brilliant minds, optimistic hearts, energetic young people, and a fantastic facilitator meet. The Ideashop: Coding your way to opportunity organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Bangladesh StartUp Cup on June 14th at its Dhaka Office showed us glimpses of such magic. And it is only the beginning of our journey together.
Confident that the solutions to many of the challenges facing youth can come from within themselves, the World Bank and Microsoft has launched a regional grant competition in four South Asia countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The regional grant competition titled Coding your way to opportunity invites innovative ideas from youth led organizations and NGOs that will expand coding knowledge amongst youth and help them secure gainful employment.
Photo by: Anupam Joshi/World Bank
The name Maldives brings up visions of blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches, palm trees and people enjoying a tranquil life. But there are lengthening shadows under the Maldivian sun, as it struggles with several climate change and environmental threats. Maldives is the planet’s lowest-lying nation with 80 percent located less than one meter above sea level. The IPCC’s predicted 4.8oC increase in global temperature and 26-82 cm rise in sea level by 2100 may well make Maldives the first country to be swallowed up by the sea.
I have visited Maldives’ remote islands many times since 2010 and seen its non-glamorous, mundane side and met ordinary (poor by Maldivian standards) people earn a living by fishing or agriculture and yet struggling to get clean water or basic sanitation. On one such visit, Fathimath Nushfa, who lives in the water stressed island of Alif Alif Ukulhas said that she needs more clean drinking water during the summers as monsoons were becoming unpredictable. Her rainwater storage tank was small and the groundwater source was contaminated by sewage. It gets expensive to buy mineral water bottles for her family of nine. Her household was willing to pay a tariff if the government could augment the household drinking water supplies. People on that island also complained about solid waste problems and how it was degrading the island’s reef systems that are essential for survival of the islands. In a matter of one year, I noticed parts of the island had shrunk due to coastal erosion.
So why is it that NGO’s with great networks, human resources and know how, fail to create a larger impact in societies?
Limited usage of information technology is one reason.
NGO’s are not in a great position to recruit the talent that is expensive. And even if they have, NGO’s often lack a vision and thought leadership to guide it.
“I wanted to become a doctor,” Thenmoli said. Her whisper echoed in the room which instantly fell silent. “There was no way even to get started when I was little.” Thenmoli pointed at her daughter, “Vijayalakshmi wants to become a doctor. She is only three. I will make sure she finishes school and goes to college.”
I was visiting a women’s group in Annathur village in Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu. This group had in the past been supported by the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project that also provided skills training for young people. I discovered that the group had mostly goat keepers, small dairy farmers, and vegetable growers. All women had managed to improve their lives with the support of the project. Yet our conversation was not about the women’s livelihoods. We only talked about how they could fulfil the dreams of their children.
“They choose computer training Sir…some of them nursing. All of them got a job after the training.” I was amazed, but then again Tamil Nadu is one of the fastest transforming states in India. “How about the boys?” I asked. “They chose driving, Sir, mostly light vehicles. The ambitious ones go for heavy trucks or forklifts.”
“So did any boy choose computer training?” I enquired. “No Sir, none of them did. But we did have one girl who chose driving. Girls are more ambitious!”
Buy a leather case for your wife’s smartphone on Amazon, select shipping from China with an estimated delivery time of 4-6 weeks, and then be pleasantly surprised when it turns up on your Virginia doorstep in 11 days. The marvels of the modern age – of technology, globalization, and shrinking distances.
Where does South Asia stand on export delivery? Figure 1 illustrates that compared to other economic units around the globe, it is a lot more difficult to trade with(in) SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement). It also shows that bureaucratic hurdles and the time it takes to trade go hand-in-hand. While the region does relatively well on trade with Europe or East Asia, intra-South Asian trade has remained low and costly. It costs South Asian countries more to trade with their immediate neighbors, compared to their costs to trade with distant Brazil (see below)! In fact, it is cheaper for South Asian countries to export to anywhere else in the world than to export to each other (Figure 3). In other words, South Asia has converted its proximity into a handicap.
My eighty five year old uncle is the most avid technophile I know. He plays with all forms of digital media, including social media platforms such as the Facebook and LinkedIn. I find his mindset to be in total contrast to a majority of mid- to end- career colleagues I work with, who seem to be unbelievably social media phobic! I can’t help but compare the two and wonder why.
Last week I had the privilege of being a participant at a regional workshop where some thirty plus colleagues were asked to share their views on using social media. Needless to say, the responses were quite interesting. The fear of the unknown seemed to loom large among participants who I felt gave various other reasons to cover up this fear.
“I don’t have time”, “it’s a complete waste of time”, “what’s this big deal about using social media”, “it can be counterproductive”, “I am not interested in other people’s things” and “I don’t know how to use it for my professional development” were some of the key concerns I heard being aired as barriers to entry into the world of social media.
Being a very active social media user I thought I should share my experiences candidly…