Economic and social development should not be left to economists and specialists only.
This message is manifested in “Window of Opportunity,” a video highlighting the ambitions and goals of the World Bank’s 2015-19 Country Partnership Strategy in Pakistan.
Truck drivers, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers and thousands of other citizens from Pakistan shared their ideas and helped identify opportunities and challenges to guide future policies and action areas.
These individuals come from a myriad different backgrounds but are united by a common drive to open up windows of opportunities for Pakistan.
As Pakistan readies to celebrate its independence day, we can all feel satisfied about progress in restoring macroeconomic stability, but should also realise that the country can and should do much better. Pakistan has many assets, of which it can make better use — from its vast water and river endowment, to its coastline and cities, to its natural resources. And there are upsides: a growing middle class, a lively informal economy and a strong influx of remittances. Pakistan can also be proud of the first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian governments. But to reach its full potential, Pakistan needs to focus on two critical areas, both obvious and urgent. It needs to ensure that its people have the means to fully participate in and contribute to the economy. And it needs to integrate itself more, globally and regionally.
The first challenge is demographic. As a result of rapid population growth, 1.5 million youngsters reach the working age each year. The question is, will the private sector be able to provide the jobs they need and want? And will the youth have the skills to get good jobs? Pakistan must do far better in education. Primary school net enrollment is about 57 per cent, well below other South Asian countries. Enrollment drops by half in middle school, with much lower levels for girls and children from poor families. This is not a good foundation to build on.
It is not surprising then that Pakistan also struggles to give all its citizens the opportunity to participate in building better lives for themselves. Only 25 per cent of women participate in the labour force, compared to 50 and 80 per cent in most developing countries. Women and girls deserve better. Research shows that girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, and live in poverty. This harms not only them, but also their children, their communities and the economy. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity and improve development outcomes for the next generation. It is smart economics.
Pakistan has taken steps to empower women. The Benazir Income Support Program, supported by the World Bank, has provided millions of women with national ID cards and makes direct payments to them, strengthening their ability to take decisions and move out of poverty.
“I am proud today to have acquired technical skills to get an edge in a constantly changing global job market. In 2014, I was lucky to get the chance to participate in the skills competition organized by Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). After a month of hard-work, I was the winner. This motivated and inspired me to pursue my future career. Technical skills helped me achieve personal and professional fulfilment,” said Jarin Tasnima, a student of Computer Engineering Department of the Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic.
Following the footsteps of students like Jarin Tasnima, Bithi, an architecture student is planning to participate in the next skills competition, scheduled for the end of 2015. She is the youngest member of a family of four and lacked the financial means to pay for her school.
Her brother, an accountant found out that having technical skills led to better pay and increased social respect. He motivated his younger sister to choose a technical career path in which she selected architecture. After achieving a secondary school certificate, her dreams came true due to a stipend program at the Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic supported by STEP which paid her fees. “I am thankful to my brother for advising me to join Polytechnic Institute to enhance my career,” said Bithi.
It has been 50 days since the devastating earthquake struck Nepal on April 25. With another powerful aftershock on May 12, a combined 9,000 lives were lost, making this the worst disaster in Nepal’s history in terms of human casualties. One in three Nepali has been affected by the earthquakes. One in ten has been rendered homeless. Half a million households have lost their livelihoods, mostly poor, subsistence farmers. Everyone has been affected in one way or the other – women, men, children, the elderly, the differently-abled. A large part of the country is in ruins.
Nepal is grateful to her friends in the international community for the rapid humanitarian response in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. We owe you our deep respect for your generosity and heroism.
Early estimates from our Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) price the damages and economic losses at US$ 7 billion, roughly one-third of our economy. The economic growth rate this fiscal year ending mid-July is expected to be the lowest in eight years, at 3.04 percent. Revenue collections will be off-target by at least 8 percent and result in a lower base going into the next FY. The immediate priority is to restore the productive means of livelihood for millions of people in agriculture, services and industry.
On April 25, the day of the earthquake, my colleagues and I were organizing the final student exhibit to mark the end of our 12-week school session. There were 12 kids and their parents when the earthquake struck. Our first instinct was to keep the kids safe; we managed to stay calm, gathered everyone into an open space and stayed strong. After the aftershocks subsided, we got news of how devastating the earthquake actually was. We immediately called our loved ones. It was a relief that everyone we knew was safe.
I am a teacher at Karkhana, an education company that designs and delivers hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths)-based content to middle school students in Nepal.
The first two days after the quake, we quickly realized that people without any specialized skills such as first aid, sanitation, nursing, construction, and rescue were not of much help in the immediate relief efforts.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh
Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.
To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.
Establishing a world-class genetic research environment
The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.
“With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.
AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
Ahmad Sarmast may owe his life to a fumble with his cellphone. He bent down in his seat to pick up his mobile just as a suicide bomber detonated his charge behind him at a music and theatre performance at the Institut Français d’Afghanistan in Kabul.
The founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music survived the December blast that killed one and injured more than 10. Dr. Sarmast suffered perforated ear drums and shrapnel in the back of his head. But the experience has not deterred him from his ambition of reviving and rebuilding Afghan musical traditions through establishing and leading the country's first dedicated music school.
“Music represents the right to self-expression of all the Afghan people,” he told me during a tour of the modest building in a suburb of Kabul where ANIM is housed.
The institute’s young musicians, many of them former street vendors or orphans, have toured the world to showcase Afghan music and present a more positive face of the war-torn country. An ensemble played at the World Bank in 2013 and went on to perform amid great acclaim at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
The Digital Youth Summit 2015 (May 7-9, 2015, Peshawar) will explore the potential of e-lancing.
The vibrant city of Peshawar is getting ready to host the 2nd Digital Youth Summit (May 7-9, 2015, Shiraz Arena). Co-organized by the KP IT Board, Peshawar 2.0 and the World Bank, the Digital Youth Summit is a tech conference and startup expo gathering participants from Pakistan and all over the world passionate about tech entrepreneurship. While there is a lot of excitement about how technology fuels entrepreneurship, there has also been a quiet and steady rise of the ‘e-lancer’
What is e-lancing? Exactly what you think it is. E-lancing is free-lancing for the digital age. Powered by ICT tools and the internet, e-lancing allows independent tech savvy workers connected to the internet access to the global labor market. Over the past years, even ‘physical’ workspaces have started to get virtual through tele-conferencing, video meetings etc. Many are very convinced by the benefits of ICT-enabled remote work and the flexibility that comes with it while others caution that it may not be the holy grail people tout it to be. However everyone is in agreement about one thing: ICT reduces barriers and distances making the global market more accessible than ever.
All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Thanks to ICTs, e-lancing is booming and there are multiple platforms where employers and e-lancers can “meet” and do business. These virtual marketplaces functions like a Craigslist for skilled tasks: employers post tasks and e-lancers respond to posted tasks and submit offers. Once selected, the e-lancer starts working remotely for his/her client. In most cases, the e-lancing platforms remain the center for all main interactions (payments, reviews, messaging, etc.) between the employer and the on-line worker so to ensure transparency and avoid frauds.