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Life in the Slow Lane - The Nairobi Grind

Apurva Sanghi's picture

I’ve lived in cities famed for their gridlock: 1990s Bangkok (gridlock was as bad as it could be); Los Angeles (gridlock + pollution); New Delhi (gridlock + pollution + honking galore); Nairobi’s gridlock is surely up there.

But is traffic “bad”? What sort of question is that you ask? Surely, the answer is 'yes', you say: time wasted stuck in traffic, the frustration, the needless idling of vehicles which creates both local (and global) pollution and so on. But let me suggest this: traffic congestion is also a sign of development. In fact, the more vibrant and dynamic the city as Nairobi surely is, the more traffic congestion you might paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, “Traffic is…good”!

Corporate Social Responsibility or Corporate Self Promotion?

Apurva Sanghi's picture
Changing the dialogue on CSR

Image by Njeri Gitahi

The modern era of CSR – corporate social responsibility – arguably began in 1953 when Howard Bowen published his seminal book Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, in which he queried “what responsibilities to society may businessmen reasonably be expected to assume” (clearly, businesswomen were off the hook – or they did not exist). Since then CSR has evolved into a term that embraces a range of activities from the superficial, and even irrelevant, to ones that are changing the way in which business interacts with the society in which it operates.

Is Burkina Faso facing its Golden Hour?

Todd Moss's picture

One of my favorite books about the World Bank is Michael Holman’s Last Orders at Harrods. It’s a satirical novel about trouble brewing in a fictional Kenya during the visit of the World Bank President Hardwick Hardwicke (and his sidekick speechwriter, Jim “Fingers” Adams). What’s great about Holman’s book is that the author, a former Africa editor at the Financial Times, shows in a humorous manner how the Bank interacts with clients and how the view from Washington can sometimes be oblivious to what’s really going on in the country.
I’ve tried to follow in Holman’s footsteps with The Golden Hour, my new thriller about a State Department crisis manager fighting chaos in West Africa and bureaucracy in Washington DC. The hero Judd Ryker has just 100 hours to reverse a coup in Mali, rescue a kidnapped Peace Corps volunteer, and save the U.S. embassy from a terrorist attack. In the novel, shifting forces in Bamako and competing interests at headquarters conspire to shield the truth and complicate resolution.  Ryker’s first task is simply to figure out what’s really going on.

Can the Internet Solve Conflict?

Laura Ralston's picture

Buildings in need of repair Over the past decade there has been growing interest in using the internet and other communication technologies for conflict management and peacebuilding. Two key areas have emerged: (1) using publicly available data on events and social dynamics to monitor and predict escalations of tensions or violence, and (2) harnessing the increased access to the internet and mobile telephones to promote positive peace. In both areas exciting innovations have developed as well as encouraging results.

In the first area, perhaps the most comprehensive information source is Kalev Leetaru’s “Global Database of Society” or GDELT Project that “monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news from nearly every corner of every country in over 100 languages and identifies the people, locations, organizations, counts, themes, sources, and events driving our global society”. The event database alone covers 300 categories of peace-conflict activities recorded in public media since January 1979, while the identification of people, organizations and locations enables network graphing of connections in media records.

Why Just the Why?

Germano Mwabu's picture

Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog

I have extracted what I find to be the key points in Shanta’s blog post “It’s not the How; It’s the Why” and have commented on them:
1. “Bad policies or institutions exist and persist because politically powerful people benefit from them.” 

Bad policies or institutions are bad for those who are excluded from their benefits in the short-run, but they also harm the supposed beneficiaries in the long run. Further careful analysis can corroborate this, and show the long-term harm caused by bad policies to virtually everyone in a particular country.

Growth Without Apology

Shanta Devarajan's picture

 Chhor Sokunthea / World BankFrom time to time, countries experience rapid economic growth without a significant decline in poverty. India’s GDP growth rate accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s, but poverty continued to fall at the same pace as before, about one percentage point a year. Despite 6-7 percent GDP growth, Tanzania and Zambia saw only a mild decline in the poverty rate. In the first decade of the 21st century, Egypt’s GDP grew at 5-7 percent a year, but the proportion of people living on $5 a day—and therefore vulnerable to falling into poverty—stagnated at 85 percent.

In light of this evidence, the World Bank has set as its goals the elimination of extreme poverty and promotion of shared prosperity. While the focus on poverty and distribution as targets is appropriate, the public actions required to achieve these goals are not very different from those required to achieve rapid economic growth. This is not trickle-down economics.  Nor does it negate the need for redistributive transfers. Rather, it is due to the fact that economic growth is typically constrained by policies and institutions that have been captured by the non-poor (sometimes called the rich), who have greater political power. Public actions that relax these constraints, therefore, will both accelerate growth and transfer rents from the rich to the poor.

Some examples illustrate the point.

What the 2004 WDR Got Wrong

Shanta Devarajan's picture

The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain.  This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People.  In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider.  I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that. 

Pushing the Envelope

Laura Ralston's picture

Giving Cash Unconditionally in Fragile States

2012 Spring Mtgs - Close the Gap There have been many recent press articles, a couple of potentially seminal journal papers, and some great blogs from leading economists at the World Bank on the topic of Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs). It remains a widely debated subject, and one with perhaps a couple of myths associated with it. For example, what is cash from UCTs used for? Do the transfers lead to permanent increases in income? Does it matter how the transfers are labelled or promoted? I am particularly interested in whether UCTs could be a useful instrument in countries with low institutional capacity, such as fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS).

Why UCTs in FCS? UCTs present a new approach to reducing poverty, stimulating growth and improving social welfare, that may be the most efficient and feasible mechanism in FCS. A recent evaluation of the World Bank’s work on FCS recognized, “where government responsiveness to citizens has been relatively weak, finding the right modality for reaching people with services is vital to avoiding further fragility and conflict”. Plus there is always the risk of desperately needed finances being “spirited away” when channeled through central governments. UCTs may present a mechanism for stimulating the provision of quality services, which are often lacking, while directly reducing poverty at the same time. As Shanta Devarajan’s blog puts it, “But when they (the poor) are given cash with which to “buy” these services, poor people can demand quality—and the provider must meet it or he won’t get paid.” We should explore more about this approach to tackling poverty: where and when it has worked, what made it work, and whether we can predict whether it will work in different contexts.

How to Make Difficult Decisions … a bit Easier to Take

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

There is a fine line between legitimate caution and needless un-decisiveness. At work it’s easy and tempting to get frustrated when you feel that colleagues (or worse your boss) simply can’t make up their mind. You feel your work is being delayed for no good reason and there can come a point when a clear-cut “no go” seems better than more waiting and uncertainty.

In his best-selling book, “7 habits of highly successful people”, Stephen Covey identifies the ability to make decisions on time as a key driver of success. Poor performing and unaccountable leaders enjoy living in ambiguity. They don’t disclose the parameters of their decisions either. By contrast, strong performers are those who recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect decision (otherwise there would be nothing to decide about). Michael Joseph, the former CEO of Kenya’s Telecom giant Safaricom, clearly belongs to the latter group. He is a decider. When asked about the secrets of Safaricom’s spectacular success at a meeting with World Bank staff in Nairobi he explained: “You need to make decisions. Even if you only get 7 out of 10 right, you are fine.”

Can Outer Space Tell Us Something Useful about Growth and Poverty in Africa?

Tom Bundervoet's picture

Imagine you lived in a world where night lights from satellite images tell you instantly about the distribution and growth in economic activity and the extent and evolution in poverty. While such a world is probably still far off, night lights as observed from space are increasingly being used as a proxy of human economic activity to measure economic growth and poverty. In a fascinating 2012 paper in the American Economic Review, Henderson and colleagues found a strong correlation between growth in night lights as observed from space and growth in GDP, basedon data on 188 countries spanning 17 years. They use their estimates for two main purposes: (i) to improve estimates of “true” GDP growth in countries with weak statistical capacity and (ii) to estimate GDP growth at levels where national accounts are typically non-existent (sub-national or regional levels; coastal areas;,…).

African CityThe added value of such an approach for Africa is obvious. Most African countries rank low on the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicators, with some countries lacking national accounts altogether. Some African countries are huge (in size), and having sub-national estimates of GDP growth would help identifying leading and lagging areas, and why. For a country such as Kenya, which is starting an ambitious decentralization project, the approach could estimate GDP growth for its 47 newly formed counties to help in their economic planning. Nightlights can even be used to show where the Pirates of Somalia are spending their ransom money.