“Out of twenty four to twenty six working days a month, we have reliable full days of uninterrupted power for only ten to thirteen days”, is what Mr. Poornachandran, President of the Yarlpanam Chamber of Commerce lamented at a public-private stakeholder consultation hosted by an SME-focused Ministry in Colombo recently. He repeated this gripe at a post-budget discussion held in Colombo this week. Mr. Poornachandran heads the leading business chamber in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna district, which was caught up in the conflict that ravaged the country for thirty years. Building the small and medium enterprise sector in conflict-affected areas is challenging as it is, and many new opportunities are opening up, but the issue of electricity continues to blight the recovery of the region. But it’s not just in war-recovering districts like Jaffna. Mr. Poornachandran shares this frustration with his fellow businessmen in other parts of the country.
I work with street and slum girls and their mothers in India. Each day, as I walk through those dark lanes embroidered with brick and mortar, dungeons languish in abject obscurity and poverty, I cross many a road on which stand half naked women who stare at me with sad eyes. Most of them are mothers of the children I teach. I ask myself, 'Without the holistic development of the entire community, will just educating these children ever be enough to bring sustainable change?'
The issue of more and better jobs will stand ill addressed if this illiterate, non skilled, yet potential workforce is not tapped. I call this group the 'potential workforce' because I have seen the resilience of even the mediocre ones among them come out victorious in their struggle for survival. It is this group that needs to be effectively trained. For two years at Protsahan, we have trained some of these women how to make candles, sanitary napkins and hand bags. Just one skill was enough to increase their personal incomes by more than 400%. Although still at a very nascent stage, the economics of the entire community have shifted favorably. Better incomes resulted in better healthcare for their children and, more importantly, it created a sense of dignity that was essential to complete their womanhood. This sense of dignity might be an immeasurable metric, but it sure could be a direct index of the economy's well being, although on a micro-level.
Recently, I read a blog post by a young Nepalese delegate that attended the World Bank’s Annual Meetings in Washington and thought (at the time) that he summarized an issue which was at the heart of a majority (if not all) youth in South Asia. In his own words, he says “Let’s be honest. As a youth growing up in Nepal, it is sometimes very hard to get people – and by people I mean seniors in decision-making positions - to take you seriously. It is even more difficult to get them to listen to your ideas or acknowledge you as an important demographic, capable of more than burning tires and picketing politicians”. It made me wonder if this was indeed the case with youth in Sri Lanka.
As far as I know, youth in this country are by no means a ‘push over’. For example, since the defeat of terrorism in May 2009, the youth of this country has stepped up in a noticeable way to try and make a ‘new beginning’. A ‘youth open house’ held at the World Bank premises on 01 September saw the dynamism of a handful of such youth groups engaged in activities that ranged from peace and reconciliation to the promotion of ICT development to urban planning. The fact remains that the youth of this nation are taking matters to their own hands and it’s high time that the Government as well as the development partners ‘STOP’ and ‘LISTEN’ to what the youth of Sri Lanka has to offer!!
I admit when I started the whole idea of setting up a course on resettlement at a local Bangladeshi university I thought it was going to be a long shot in the dark. I had a gigantic portfolio to look after in terms of safeguards support, and that left little time to do anything else. I also it would be difficult to show results quickly and make a convincing argument that this was worth the effort. But stubbornness at times is a key ingredient to achievement, i.e. persistence and resilience.
The course (now known as MLARR – Management of Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation) started out as an effort to train of a cadre of professionals to better manage the social risks associated with land acquisition and resettlement in Bangladesh. Given the population density and land scarcity, resettlement in Bangladesh continues to be a huge challenge for its development, as virtually all infrastructure requires moving people. Supported by AusAID and DFID, The first course was designed and delivered in 2009. That was the beginning, and what I’d like to focus is how far we’ve come from that first shot in the dark:
Trade relations between India and Pakistan appear set to improve significantly with Pakistan likely to grant India Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. The potential gains from easier trading relations are considerable for both countries. In 2009-10, official trade between the two stood at $2 billion. Studies suggest this volume could be much higher, absent formal and informal barriers. For instance, a recent SAARC report estimates trade potential to be $12 billion.
What exactly does MFN status mean?
All WTO members are bound to grant MFN treatment to member countries with respect to trade in goods. India granted Pakistan MFN status in 1996, but Pakistan held back, citing strategic considerations. Despite granting Pakistan MFN status, India continued to impose high tariffs on goods of interest to Pakistan—textiles and leather. Thus, merely according MFN status does not imply easier trade. So, does Pakistan’s offer matter? Yes, it does. It signals enthusiasm, goodwill, and a keenness to build peaceful and productive economic and political relations in the region.
Where will the gains come from?
My friends and I often have casual chats at the university café and cafeteria about random topics ranging from life, the future, jobs and wherever else the conversation leads us. Recently, I participated in a discussion conducted by a research company where they asked for insights from University seniors and recent graduates about our aspirations.
There were 7 of us in the group from the University of Colombo, Kelaniya, Jayewardenepaura and Moratuwa. The representative from the research company asked about our goals. Though I’ve known them for 3 years, this is the first time I heard them seriously talk about their ambitions and goals in life. Most of them have very lofty goals and objectives. We were asked to list important considerations for potential jobs. This is what we came up with.
In 2006-07, a procurement review carried out on the Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) in India shocked and surprised project authorities as well as the World Bank. Even in the third year of implementation, participating Engineering institutes were unable to follow the agreed processes and procedures. That situation eventually lead to the development of web based PMSS (Procurement management Support System) currently being used in TEQIP Phase 2 program.
The procurement Review Consultants reported an astonishing 56% variation and resulting non compliance of procedures in the sample of reviewed contracts. A series of further assessments and introspection brought out the main issues that plagued the procurement system. These were:
(i) Geography: challenges of ensuring consistency and adherence to agreed procedures in projects that covered a wide area between hundreds of institutions as seen institutions in different states following their respective procedures , using inappropriate methods of selection, etc.
Let’s be honest. As a youth growing up in Nepal, it is sometimes very hard to get people – and by people I mean seniors in decision-making positions - to take you seriously. It is even more difficult to get them to listen to your ideas or acknowledge you as an important demographic, capable of more than burning tires and picketing politicians.
In the one week I spent in Washington DC, at the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, rushing madly between meetings, presentations, discussion forums and Indian restaurants, I learnt that this deep-rooted attitude is changing. And fast.
Maybe it is the Arab Spring. Maybe it is the realization that without embracing youth into the South Asian market economy, we will have made zero progress in terms of development even ten years down the line. Or maybe, it just makes sense – maybe we are finally realizing the inherent interconnectedness in our world. Realizing that one project from a little village in Nepal is directly linked to the socio-economic structure of our communities, countries and regions.
According to the United Nations, this child will be born in India, and statistically should be a girl. But many of India’s girls are going missing at birth, because of parents’ desire to have boys. In 2008, the number of missing girls in India increased in 2008 to 275,000 as compared to 1,000 for the rest of South Asia.
If a girl child is lucky enough to be born, she faces high female mortality in infancy and early childhood in South Asia. What causes excess mortality among girls during infancy and early childhood? One possible explanation that has received a lot of attention is discrimination by parents against girls. Certainly, in parts of the world like Afghanistan, China, northern India, and Pakistan, such discrimination is a serious problem. Studies have shown delays in seeking medical care and lower expenditures for girls. In India, despite stellar economic growth in recent years, maternal mortality is almost six times what it is in Sri Lanka.
It is India’s future that keeps Mr. Kapil Sibal, India’s Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, awake. Last week, the World Bank hosted Mr. Kapil Sibal who spoke to a 120 strong crowd about “India and the World – Lessons Learnt and Contributions Towards the Global Knowledge Economy. “ During the lively discussion chaired by World Bank’s Tamar Manuelyan Atinc (Human Development Network Vice President) and moderated by Michal Rutkowski (South Asia Human Development Director. Mr. Sibal highlighted how India can contribute to the global knowledge economy.
Mr. Sibal, a well known Indian politician, is famous for his effort in enacting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, which provides every child between 6-14 years free and compulsory education. With so many challenging issues to be solved for education in India, I was impressed with what Mr. Sibal has implemented so far as well as his grand vision for leading the country to achieve continued growth and prosperity.