Bangladesh's economy is currently subject to probably the harshest test of resilience it has faced in recent memory. In the past, growth continued to be resilient despite several external shocks that slowed exports, remittance, and investment. Bangladesh’s resilience to global shocks came from strong fundamentals at the onset of the crisis, competiveness of exports and migrant labor, relatively under-developed and insulated financial markets, and a pre-emptive policy posture. Bangladesh has a robust disaster management capacity to deal with natural disasters, undertake rescue operations, and conduct post-disaster relief and rehabilitation.
Considering the costs, it was never obvious to me how investments in a national identity program might add development value in a resource-crunched country like Nepal with so many competing priorities. It clicked when a senior official at Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) said, “The national identity program has allowed us to construct one big family tree of all Pakistani nationals. It is helping Pakistan establish a relationship between each member of our extended family and to redefine our obligations to one another — state to citizen and citizen to citizen.”
It is hard to talk about South Asia without invoking its demographics. The region will contribute nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working age (15-64) population, and will need to add a staggering 1 to 1.2 million new entrants to the labor market every month for the next two decades. Absorbing the influx of youth into the labor force is one of South Asia’s core challenges. But while economists grapple with employment statistics and economic policy, jobs are created at the grassroots. Entrepreneurship is the spark that lights the fire, and the engine that generates opportunities in local communities.
India has been a beacon to the world on how a thriving and vibrant democracy can transform itself into an economic powerhouse. The metamorphosis that took place in the Indian economy after the reforms of the early 1990s is nothing short of spectacular. The Indian economy was transformed into a dynamo of innovation and diversification. This fundamental transformation unlocked two decades of explosive growth in which poverty rates fell by nearly 20 percent, exports as a share of GDP increased nearly five-fold, and standards of living increased by a factor of almost four. This trajectory received but a glancing blow from the 2008 global financial crisis—this resilience was a testimonial to the benefits of the economic reforms of the previous 15 years.
Challenges to India’s Growth
But now, India’s economy once again faces formidable challenges and the fear is that it is considerably less well placed to deal with these challenges than at any time over the past two decades. The global economy is facing a new phase of the crisis characterized by an extreme bout of uncertainty, risk aversion and volatility, this time originating in the Euro Area. Some skeptics have recently questioned: Will India weather this storm as well as it did in 2008-09 and will the story of “Incredible India” remain credible?
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.
Saleha Begum was determined. Over the last couple of years, a number of children in her village had tragically died, their families left behind shocked and shattered. Memories were all that remained of these young lives cut short, and Begum was now determined to do her bit to stop the untimely deaths and accidents caused by the proximity of a highway to a community school.
We had arrived at Baishakanda Union Parishad in Dhamrai just before the local community meeting started. (Union Parishads are the lowest tier of local government in Bangladesh.) Begum had already taken her place among men and women from her village. A number of women threw anxious looks toward her. That day, Begum was going to play a vital role in advancing their agenda.
Did you know that the World Bank Group actually wants to listen to the men and women of Sri Lanka and their views on Sri Lanka’s development and ensure that their voices are taken into account whenever development activities are carried out? Most of you like me (some months ago), would probably answer in the negative. Having joined the World Bank this year and having being tasked with assisting with the preparation of Sri Lanka's next Country Partnership Strategy for Sri Lanka, I have come to realize that some of my own perceptions about public involvement in World Bank activities have not been entirely accurate.
My current role in the Bank has enabled me to understand firsthand the efforts undertaken by bank staff to ensure that development activities remain sustainable. One of the ways in which this is achieved is through active engagement with as wide a group of stakeholders as possible prior to the commencement of any new project. All of us who are a part of the Bank Group strongly believe that it’s only by invoking the ownership of development among citizens that long term sustainability is achieved.
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:
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.