Many countries, developed and developing, that want to become more competitive in global markets tend to jump to a quick conclusion that they need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in transport sectors like ports. But while many regions, including South Asia, do face important infrastructure gaps, massive new investment is not the only way to improve regional competitiveness. Countries should realize that they also have significant potential to make more efficient use of the infrastructure they already have.
Building megaports all along the coast might reduce a country’s trade costs, but it also requires hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Improving the performance of existing ports, enabling them to handle higher levels of cargo with the same facilities and in a shorter time, can be a far more cost-effective approach to reducing transport and trade costs. Closing the infrastructure gap does not just require more infrastructure, but also better infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure.
The report Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports, which we launched today, provides the first comprehensive look at the 14 largest container ports in South Asia, which handle 98 percent of the region’s container traffic. It focuses on port performance, drivers, and costs.
Private Sector Development
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!
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.
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.
My visit to Pakistan began last week at the enormous Tarbela dam. Straddling the Indus River, this earth- and rock-filled structure is almost 500 feet high and 9,000 feet wide. It is a monument to Pakistan's scientific and engineering ability. It also illustrates the opportunities and challenges facing Pakistan.
I was last in Pakistan in 2011 and I can see that big changes have happened since then.
The country has worked through three tough years that brought improvements in security and a more stable economy. Much of the economic growth has benefited poor people and Pakistan's levels of inequality compare favourably to many middle-income countries.
Speaking to leaders in government, political parties, civil society, the private sector and various thought leaders, I sensed an optimism that the country had found its footing and is moving up the ladder of development.
This optimism is good news. But optimism needs to be supported by actions. Pakistan can move to a higher level of economic growth that reaches all parts of society, including the most marginalised, and thus fulfilling the dreams of a better life for all.
Three opportunities and challenges for Pakistan
In my discussions with the government in Pakistan we focused on three areas of opportunity and challenge: the first is higher growth and jobs. The government wants annual economic growth of 6 to 7 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent achieved in fiscal year 2016. But this will only happen if investment doubles to 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Investments in energy, such as Tarbela, to end constant power cuts, as well as improvements in the business environment, so that companies hire more people, will be critical to success. A more favorable environment for private investment would open up opportunities for women, youth, and the underserved.
“… If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million …”
Agriculture Sector: Creating Opportunities for Women
In Afghanistan, agriculture continues to be the backbone of the rural economy – about 70% of the population in rural areas is engaged in on-farm activities. At the same time, large share of the employment generated in non-farm and off-farm sectors, such as manufacturing, are also closely linked to agriculture and food-processing.
Women’s participation in the labor market has been generally low in rural Afghanistan. For the last decade, the country had one of the world’s lowest rates (19%). In recent years, however, the rural labor market in Afghanistan has experienced an impressive influx of women, increasing the rate to 29%. Yet, a large share of the working-age female in rural Afghanistan (71%) remains out of the labor force. In 2013/14, out of 5.2 million women of age 14 or above, only 1.5 million (29% of total) were in the labor force, about one-third of that 1.5 million workers remained unemployed, and the other two-third were employed – which accounts for only 22% of total rural employment (Figure 1). Of the employed female workers, majority are employed in agriculture (11%) and livestock (59%).
There is no doubt that Bangladesh is a modern day success story—a far cry from Henry Kissinger’s label of a “basket case.” Its growth has been steady, even impressive in the context of feeble global growth, and it has now joined the ranks of a lower middle-income country. Its poverty reduction record is even more impressive, with over 20.5 million people escaping poverty between 1991 and 2010.
But the next phase of growth and poverty reduction becomes harder, since the more obvious sources of growth have largely been exploited.
Omer Ahsan is a chartered accountant in the making from Waziristan. He first heard about the Youth Employment Program, a free digital skills program offered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board, from discussions on a group chat over Whatsapp, and applied immediately. Within two weeks of completing the digital skills program, Omer has built an online profile and has successfully earned money as a professional content writer.
Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is emerging from decades of instability and conflict, and would seem an unlikely place for digital workers to thrive. But with nearly 16 million youth in the province, and few available jobs locally, there is a pressing need to think outside the box in terms of equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to take on the future.
In 2015, together with the World Bank, a series of pilot programs were conducted to test a model of digital skill training for youth. Growing connectivity, cloud technology, and the emergence of new business outsourcing models have lowered the barriers to entry for global employment, even for youth in remote parts of Pakistan. The key ingredients to accessing this employment: access to the internet, basic skills, and awareness, and the pilot program tested different approaches to supporting youth to develop online work skills.
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