How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.
And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers.
When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.
Country Partnership Strategies are a central element of the World Bank Group’s effort to act in a coordinated way to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. But they can be hard for the average person to navigate—some are three-volume tomes, and others can be dense with technicalities. When we make them inaccessible to the general public, we often forgo a critical opportunity to build broad support for our work.
This year, the Bank Group’s India team decided to take a more innovative approach—one that has the potential to directly engage the public and perhaps even spur others to join us in our cause. In producing the Country Partnership Strategy for India, the team opted not to create a simple PDF for the website. Instead it produced a well-designed book, flush with easy-to-understand graphics and appealing photographs. It also produced a highly interactive web application that visualizes the strategy—and tracks the strategy’s progress towards its goals over time. The tool shows exactly how individual projects along with knowledge and advisory work line up with our twin goals, and what outcomes we expect in each instance.
The Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP), since its inception in 2010, has supported vocational training institutions to improve the quality of training and expand access for disadvantaged youth in Bangladesh. 33 polytechnics are currently receiving financial assistances from STEP for their institutional development. Vocational training institutions in Bangladesh have plenty of investment needs that are long overdue – degraded facilities, obsolete instructional machineries, outdated ICT tools, absence of qualified instructors, to name but a few. Such neglects are no longer tolerable in the face of growing concerns over technical skills gaps in the Bangladesh’s labor market, and the government is committed to expanding and improving skills development training in Bangladesh. STEP’s support has proven very effective to help the institutions to improve their training services.
The Bangladesh government wants to enhance support for university research as a part of its strategy for higher education (Strategic Plan 2006-2026). Supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), researchers in Bangladeshi universities are conducting advanced research on some of the most pressing economic challenges in key sectors of the country such as agriculture, environment, and health. With upgraded research facilities and equipment, Bangladeshi faculties are publishing more on international scientific journals and training competent PhD graduates.
The University of Kelaniya, my seat of higher education, sadly was never considered the ‘cream of the crop’ in Sri Lanka when I attended; certainly not the Departments of Humanities and the Social Sciences! After listening to decades of unproductive lip service on the need for marketable graduates, I encountered a remarkable transformation in higher education at my very own university.
I witnessed a complete shift in attitude, professionalism and drive, among academics and students at a launch of The Certified Professional Marketing Graduates (CPMG) Program organized by the Department of Marketing and Management. It’s one of the many projects implemented by the Ministry of Higher Education under the Higher Education for the Twentieth Century (HETC) Project, with support from the World Bank. It was not just the launch of this new degree program that moved me, but it was the total quality and professionalism in the event management. It was indeed knowledge in action.