Shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1979, the World Bank suspended its operations in Afghanistan. Work resumed in May 2002 to help meet the immediate needs of the poorest people and assist the government in building strong and accountable institutions to deliver services to its citizens.
As we mark the reopening of the World Bank office in Kabul 15 years ago, here are 15 highlights of our engagement in the country:
Going through the narrow streets of Savar, you are surrounded by homes and shops on both sides - doors opening for business, the smell of heated oil in the pan, and the wait for the morning rush hour to begin. Then you spot the uniformed children: in pairs, in threes or walking solo to school. Among them you see many self-assured young girls, equal in numbers, with their heavy bags and tight braids. Some are being escorted by their mothers and siblings, and some are being dropped off by a mode of transport. But everyone is excited to come to school.
As part of the government led Third Primary Education Development Program (PEDP3), the Dhorendra Government Primary School in Savar – about 2 hours from the nation’s capital – is an example of how Bangladesh has made remarkable gains in ensuring access to education in the past two decades. The program, initiated in 2011, covers Grades I through V and one year of pre-primary education. It aims to enhance the quality of education in Bangladesh, and reduce disparities in access and learning.
More than 70% of donor partner financing is linked to results achieved on the ground and disbursed after meeting program targets associated with a set of key indicators. These indicators represent critical reforms, and cover a subset of the government’s program for primary education. The program is a good example where the government and donor resources are well harmonized, according to co-Task Team Leader Saurav Dev Bhatta.
As a result, the country’s net enrollment rate at the primary school level has increased from 80 percent in 2000 to above 90 percent in 2015. Furthermore, the percentage of children completing primary school is close to 80 percent. With nearly 6.4 million girls in secondary school in 2015, Bangladesh is among the few countries to achieve gender parity in school enrollment, and have more girls than boys in the secondary schools.
The first day of the Digital Youth Summit in Peshawar saw corridors and rooms crowded with entrepreneurs and digital gurus from across the world looking to map out Pakistan’s digital future.
These young and enthusiastic innovators are helping to redefine the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as an emerging technology hub, and providing substantive skills and resources for Pakistan’s youth to take advantage of digital opportunities. At the summit – sponsored by the World Bank with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IT Board and many other partners -- these students, entrepreneurs, enthusiastic young women and men are accessing trainings, announcements, and various forms of support to unlock new possibilities to realizing their potential.
The market for digital entrepreneurship is a multi-billion-dollar industry, growing at a rapid rate and is thirsty for young talent. These opportunities represent a shift in how we think of development—bringing the creativity and passion of tech-savvy young innovators to the forefront of social and economic change. The youth of Pakistani are well placed to be in the driver’s seat of this vibrant future.
Why am I excited? Because it’s simply awesome! And it is a crucial get together for all those interested in tech, freelancing and entrepreneurship, featuring national and international experts (you read more about the speakers here).
Let me explain. This is the 3nd time that I am writing a blog post about the Digital Youth Summit (taking place this year on May 5-7, 2017 in Peshawar, Pakistan) and, once again, I face the big challenge of trying to make the reader feel at least some of the energy and incredible vibe that characterize this amazing event (you can find my 1st and 2nd posts here and here).
The Digital Youth Summit is a very unique get together. Over its two previous editions, it brought together national, international experts and hundreds of the most passionate and creative youth that Pakistan has to offer, demonstrating to the world that the city of Peshawar has now become the go-to spot for tech experts, freelancers and entrepreneurs from all over the country. The city’s tech ecosystem, once very limited, is now characterized by multiple initiatives and gathering spots for youth, including, for instance, The Nerd Camp, Peshawar 2.0 and Cluster, adding to the projects of Code for Pakistan and Empower Pakistan, both supported by the World Bank.
The 2017 edition, that will take place from May 5-7, is about to break new records.
Why is the Digital Youth Summit so important for Pakistan? Because Pakistan has almost 200 million people (the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, whose capital is Peshawar, has 30 million- equivalent to the size of Greece, Belgium and Sweden, combined) and according to the Pakistani Bureau of Statistics (2013 data), almost 75% of the Pakistani population is below age 35; reaching 76.5% in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
First, I’m just very excited to meet everyone there! I’m eager to learn and share.
Second, Peshawar! The oldest city in Pakistan! So much history!
Third, and most importantly, I’m looking forward to being part of a great movement. Let me explain.
Private equity firm JAB just bought Panera (a bakery, sandwich, and salad chain) for $7.5 billion. Yes, that’s billions of dollars. Nvidia (a graphic and mobile computing company) had a stock price of around $14 a share in 2012. Today, shares are worth $100 and it has a market valuation of $57.8 billion. What do these two very different companies, operating in completely separate markets, have to do with each other?
Future focused innovation.
Many people think that all innovation is future focused. Innovation within a company is a function of its strategic direction. If the company is simply about reducing costs and maintaining it’s market share, then innovation tends to be about present operations and marketing. It’s about efficiency or managing growth. Panera and Nvidia are different.
Early on Panera perceived a shift in casual diners patience for waiting. Consumers in big cities want good food without the wait … so, in 2014 they started deploying digital technologies to cut waiting times and allowed advanced orders. Many other restaurants are now trying to follow their lead, a couple of years too late. Yes, Panera has quality food and good locations and from that, their trajectory of growth was good. But they wanted to be decisively better than their competition. They needed to get to capabilities no company had. They needed to get innovative with digital in order to deliver their great food. They are decisively winning now.
In 2016 Nvidia introduced the worlds fastest processing unit for automobile AI. They are also dominant in virtual reality hardware. Years ago, when Nvidia had to start building for the future, there wasn’t clear and present demand for high powered computing on mobile, virtual reality, and self-driving automotive platforms. But they made the decision to innovate for the future and now, they own it.
Why am I excited to go to DYS 2017? Because it’s very likely that someone in attendance will create a disruptive service or technology. You will build a company around it or sell it and use the proceeds to create 10 more services or technologies. I can’t wait to see all the ideas and energy around improving the future!
Reviving an institution to its past glory of being among the best in the country can be a tough task. But after fifteen years of administrative and educational reforms with financial help and guidance of the World Bank and the government, the 160-year-old College of Engineering Pune (COEP) has emerged among the top 25 in the country. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has ranked COEP at 21 out of the top 100 engineering colleges in the country, in the first ever ranking exercise undertaken by it. Even in private sector exercises by various periodicals, COEP, which boasts a heritage building and a workshop complex which reportedly undertook armament manufacturing during the World War II, scores over some of the prestigious IITs and NITs.
Much more than just funding by the World Bank under its Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) has clearly helped COEP not just arrest the slide in academic standards but also reemerge among the top ranking engineering colleges in the country where both the faculty and the students take pride in being meritorious.
Trophies and certificates of merit can be seen displayed not just in COEP director Prof Bharatkumar B. Ahuja’s airy room in the restored heritage building, which houses the administrative office, but in many other workshops and main halls of the college. Prof Ahuja states with pride that after IITs, it is the first choice of students from the state.
In an environment where industry is known to be critical of most engineering colleges, COEP has received Rs. 1 crore worth scholarships for students this year. Many of the industries are coming forward to help the college set up labs for promoting innovation. Having got autonomy, a precondition under the World Bank project, COEP is striving to achieve university status to push ahead with its programme to introduce more specializations and research. It boasts of 118 PhDs among its 217 faculty members.
During a recent visit, unmindful of the high temperature in the tin roofed workshop of the yore, enthusiastic students could be seen engaged in club activities like robotics, racing car, 3D printing, etc. The college has over 30 clubs including a satellite club, where like in a relay race projects are started and taken forward by next batch of students. On the fourth floor of one of the buildings, in a makeshift station the satellite club members monitor and communicate daily with the communication polar satellite Swayam ( the fourth student satellite from India) when it passes over Pune. The club is now working on a new satellite - Solar Sail - with research funding from ISRO.
This year, perhaps even more than in previous years, I am very excited to come to DYS for two main reasons.
First, since its inception in 2014, the Digital Youth Summit has become one of the premier technology conferences in Pakistan. Back in 2014, we got some skeptical responses to the idea of holding a tech conference in Peshawar. National speakers were hesitant to make the trip to Peshawar. Security restriction on international travel were in place for KP up to a week before the event. Several international speakers dropped out because of difficulties getting visas.
But in 2014, the first Digital Youth Summit came on the tech scene, redefining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as an emerging digital economy. The event brought together local and international participants (some attending their sessions by videoconference) to deliberate on supporting the growth of nascent ecosystems. Local youth showed up, curious about how the internet is shaping jobs of the future. I met one young woman who had traveled on an overnight bus with her child and sister just to learn more about what it means to work online. She told me excitedly that she could not wait to begin her new internet based career. And for the international speakers who made it, the hospitality and warmth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reshaped their views of Pakistan.
Fast forward three years to DYS 2017. DYS has become an established event in Pakistan’s tech community. It has provided an international platform to showcase the vibrancy and enthusiasm of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as it embraces the digital economy. And while it continues to identify with its core objective—to raise awareness among youth—it has also become a platform for Pakistan’s tech community to deliberate the growth of tech entrepreneurship, the future of digital payments, and how to promote Pakistan’s digital transformation. The commitment and presence of the Government, as well as participation of a wide range of international experts, complements each panel discussion. But it is the enthusiasm and excitement of the youth that gives the event its signature energy and vibrancy.
Afghanistan grapples with a range of challenges from growing insecurity to stagnating growth and rising levels of poverty. It is no surprise that the impact of the violent conflict on the country’s economic prospects and the welfare of its people is profound. Yet, Afghanistan carries ambitious development goals including achieving gender parity in primary schooling by 2030 among others. To ensure Afghanistan meets its goals, it is important to know how the country has progressed on socio-economic outcomes.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Economy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and based on data provided by the Central Statistics Organization, the World Bank recently published the third edition of the Provincial Briefs (also available in Dari and Pashto), which provides a comprehensive profile of the most recent progress on a set of socio-economic indicators including education both at the national and at the provincial levels.
What do they reveal? We can see Afghanistan has achieved impressive improvements in human development outcomes—in areas such as education, health, and access to basic services. But this overall progress has not benefitted everyone equally and gaps in access between Afghans living in different provinces persist. In fact, where Afghan families live matters greatly for their socio-economic outcomes. And when it comes to schooling, this is no different. Location determines whether children will go to school or not.
Will rural communities in Afghanistan be deprived of development services upon the completion of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) in the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)?
What will happen to the Community Development Councils (CDCs) established in rural communities to execute people’s development decisions and priorities?
Will our country continue to witness reconstruction of civic infrastructure?
These were some of the questions that troubled thousands of villagers as the NSP neared its formal closure date - NSP had delivered development services in every province of Afghanistan for 14 years.
To address these questions and allay their concerns, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan formally launched the Citizens’ Charter Program on September 25, 2016 to sustain the uninterrupted development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Fatima brimmed with optimism. The 19-year-old recently established a poultry enterprise with the support of a micro-grant, and was thrilled at the prospect of financial independence.
“After my family moved from Pakistan, I had few options for work,” she said from her home in the Paghman district in the outskirts of Kabul. “The grant not only allowed me to start my own poultry business, but let me work from my own home.”
With over half the population under the age of 15, Afghanistan stands on the cusp of a demographic dividend. To reach their full potential, Afghanistan’s youth need to be engaged in meaningful work – enabling young people to support themselves, but also contribute to the prosperity of their families and communities.