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Social Development

Gross Domestic Product Not Sole Indicator of Progress

Joe Qian's picture

What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.

These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.

Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.

Incentives and Values in Conflict-Prone Countries

Eliana Cardoso's picture

One of the most extraordinary examples of the use of economic principles comes from the beginning of the 19th century, when England used to send a huge number of prisoners to Australia. The government originally paid the ship captain a pre-determined amount for each prisoner that boarded the ship, but half of them would die during the journey. In 1862, Edwin Chadwik, knowing that people respond to incentives, told the U.K. government to pay captains according to the number of prisoners that actually disembarked in Australia. With this adjustment, the survival rate increased from 50% to 98.5%.

This example illustrates how incentives can do wonders in some circumstances. Yet, human actions are not always guided by the same calculations made by a profit maximizing ship captain. Behavioral economists have emphasized that we respond to a deep ingrained sense of fairness. Culture and values are crucial in understanding human behavior and promoting healthy and stable societies.

South Asia Advances on Visual Tool Comparing Development over Time

Joe Qian's picture

The World Bank released its Data Visualizer tool last week, which compares 209 countries through the lens of 49 development indicators utilizing data ranging from 1960 to 2007. Using three dimensional bubbles whose sizes are proportional to populations and are color coded to the different regions (purple represents South Asia), they move horizontally or vertically based on their achievements on a number of indicators that range from GDP per capita to the percentage of children that are inoculated against measles.

Users will find similarities with the groundbreaking Gapminder World tool that Swedish Health Professor Hans Rosling first presented to the TED Conference in 2006. He concluded that the world is converging and that old notions of contrasting developed country (generally small families and long lives) with developing country (large families and short lives) to be grossly out of date.

Act Responsibly to Save Our Children’s Planet

Dilinika Peiris's picture

“Responsible Actions”, “Scientific Thinking” and “Partnerships to Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change”…. These are some phrases from my loot bag of thoughts taken away from the World Congress of Environmental Journalists organized by the Asia Pacific Forum of Environmental Journalists in Colombo. The theme of this Congress was “Educate to End Climate Poverty” – Copenhagen Summit and Beyond…..

So what does this really mean to me? I learnt that I am much to be blamed for these changes that are taking place in the climate than any other person, organization or country that is blamed for contributing to this change whether deliberate or not. I felt that all participants in the forum learnt that when they point one finger at someone or a group to blame, they are actually pointing three fingers in the direction of his or herself. I learnt that it’s time to STOP BLAMING and START ACTING.

Ladies Specials

Darshana Patel's picture

The “Ladies Specials” are women-only commuter train recently launched in four Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta). While not a new practice, public transport exclusively for women is becoming popular. (Mexico City introduced women-only buses in January 2008 and commuters on Japanese trains know a thing or two about this too.)

Harassment on the train or bus is not just an annoying nuisance for women. It influences whether or not a woman chooses to enter the workforce in the first place. (Or maybe whether her family or husband will allow her.)

Changes in economic landscape of a country have led to shifting roles for women, who are increasingly moving outside of the household and into the workplace. These new women workers, often of a younger generation, are now re-shaping what it means to be women in their societies.

Universalizing Opportunities through Investing in Education in India

Joe Qian's picture

The World Bank released a report this week on the current state of the educational system in India and concluded that while investments and performance have improved at the primary and higher education levels, there remains a rather considerable gap in access, distribution, and achievement at the secondary level.

As India continuously develops and entrenches itself as a major player in the global knowledge economy, the majority of growth have been in the skilled services and manufacturing sectors. This requires that the 12 million young people who join the labor force every year have the necessary skills to access these more lucrative jobs and compete successfully in the global economy, especially as the IT sector has become an essential driver of the economy.

“Evidence from around the world suggests secondary education is critical to breaking the inter-generational transmission of poverty -— it enables youth to break out of the poverty trap.” Lead Education Specialist Sam Carlson said.

However, India's gross enrolment rate (GER) at the secondary level of 52% is lower than the GERs of countries like Sri Lanka (83%) and China (91%). However, I was quite surprised that the rate was also lower than countries with lesser GDP per capita such as Vietnam (72%) and Bangladesh (57%).

Talking with Teeth: Micro-Planning with Community Scorecards

Darshana Patel's picture

Coming together is a process
Keeping together is progress
Working together is success

This message, written on the wall of a public building in Gureghar village in Maharashtra, India, implies the significant changes that have recently taken place. Since 2007, 178 villages including Gureghar have been part of an innovative social accountability process that has redefined relationships between citizens, service providers and local government. Building upon two decades of experience with micro-planning, the innovation in this pilot project is that micro-planning has been combined with a community scorecard process to strengthen accountability.

Partnered with the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration and the World Bank, the project was spearheaded by then CEO of the District, S. Kadu-Patil.

(The primary role of a District CEO is to administer all development project and services, such as health and education services, for the District.) The project team and the CEO invested a lot of effort to build the political will of other decision-makers and service providers. In fact, many of these functionaries were then organized into Task Forces to actually implement the process while a cadre of facilitators underwent intensive 20-day training.

Accountability Alchemy

Darshana Patel's picture
A self-help group member shows us her paralegal identification (Medak District, Andhra Pradesh).

Alchemy is well known as the science of turning invaluable substances into gold. But it symbolizes transformation of the most radical kind. (From the Arabic word al-kimia, alchemy literally means "the art of transformation.")

So what does accountability have to do with radical transformation? According to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) , a government agency in Andhra Pradesh, India; accountability is key to ensuring transformation of the poor.

SERP is implementing the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project, locally known as Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP) in all the 22 rural districts of Andhra Pradesh. IKP is the longest running livelihoods program financed by the World Bank in South Asia but what makes the project unique is not large-scale spending. It is the slow, intentional process of building institutions of and by the poor that no amount of money alone has been able to accomplish. The idea behind this project is that accountability and sound governance practices must be embedded in the norms and culture of institutions rather than treated as after-thoughts.

Renewable biogas provides clean, affordable energy for rural households in Nepal

Environmental Specialist Javaid Afzal demonstrates supervision practices of Bank staff as he inspects the internal workings of a biogas plant currently under construction.

Trecking through the remote and rugged mountainous areas of Nepal, it was evident to me that the abundance of natural beauty starkly contrasted with the scarcity of access to affordable and environmentally sustainable energy sources.

In Nepal, Most households still rely on traditional energy sources for cooking and heating, such as firewood or agriculture residue with few having access to electricity.

The high demand for firewood has created a number of environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation, and flooding. Firewood also requires considerable time for families to collect and its use results in indoor air pollution which particularly impacts women and children.

A solution has been the introduction of biogas as a way to bring cleaner, safer, and more affordable energy to rural households. It is created when animal and human waste are converted into clean sources of cooking fuel, replacing the need for wood, dried dung, and fossil fuel based sources of energy. Its byproduct can also be used as a natural fertilizer to increase agricultural yield.

Full Speed Ahead: Internet Traffic Growth Unaffected by Financial Crisis

Joe Qian's picture

Reading about the financial crisis and the effects that have rippled around the world, it’s always heartening to find something positive in the midst of piles of red ink and pessimistic expectations.

Although the majority of industries and economies around the world have suffered due to the downturn, Internet traffic growth accelerated at an increasing rate in 2009 compared to 2008 with no discernible slowdown due to the crisis. According to data released by Telegeography, every single region around the globe registered growth in internet traffic, or flow of data. South Asia has registered over a 100% increase, higher than the 79% posted worldwide, although it must be noted that South Asia had a lower baseline capacity.

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