I’m on my way to the 7th South Asia Economic Summit (SAES) in New Delhi, India. The summit* brings together leading analysts, academics, policymakers, the private sector and civil society from across the region and beyond, who meet to suggest solutions to South Asia’s economic issues and learn from each other’s experiences.
This year’s SAES takes place at a very opportune time. Regional cooperation momentum has been on an upswing. The theme of the summit, “Towards South Asian Economic Union” captures the renewed optimism of moving forward on the regional agenda and generating shared prosperity. Apart from that, the SAES is held between November 7 – 8, only two weeks before the 18th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit, where heads of state from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka will meet in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A number of incidents this year have highlighted the challenging circumstances in which girls attend school in developing countries. Nearly 300 adolescent school girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria by the Boko Haram group. Frequent attacks on schools have forced many parents to withdraw girls from education.
Development practitioners and donors are more convinced than ever that increasing opportunities, skills and resources for women and girls will lead to measurable improvements across a wide range of development indicators for all people, irrespective of their gender. The running assumption is that supporting adolescent girls is one of the most effective strategies available to achieve wider developmental outcomes.
The World Bank’s report, Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity launched two weeks ago, highlighted the close relation between female education and child marriage, noting, in particular, that girls with no education were six times more likely to enter into a child marriage compared to girls with high school education in 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages. However, the case of Bangladesh shows that improvements in female education are not a sufficient condition for reducing child marriage among women: two out of every three girls marry before age 18 in spite of a big jump in secondary school enrollment and a sharp decline in fertility rate in the last twenty years.
If the deluge of trend pieces tell us anything, it’s that the millennials are the most fussed over demographic in history. But behind the hype, there is real a tectonic shift. We are now witnessing the largest youth bulge in history. Over half the world’s population is now under thirty, with the majority living in developing and middle-income countries.
A youthful population can be source of creativity, innovation and growth –but only if employed and engaged in their societies. Unfortunately, for much of the world’s young people, reality is very different.
A number of hurdles prevent young people from contributing as productive, socially responsible citizens. As Emma Murphy of Durham University notes, “Poor education limits their skills, poor employment limits their transition to adulthood and political obstacles limit their voice and participation.”
The longer young people are excluded from participating in their economic and political systems, the further we are from realizing the ‘demographic dividend’.
It’s a no-brainer. A youth agenda, focusing on the issues that affect young people, must be a critical piece of any post-2015 framework. Where do we start?
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.