The majority of the poor in the world are gaining access to these technologies for the first time. The real question remains: does having access to a cell phone, the Internet, or social media have any tangible benefits for the living conditions of the most marginalized among the poor?
Is the “digital divide” widening or narrowing the “economic divide”?
The World Region
Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.
To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong: the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:
“There has been a broad recognition amongst economists that “institutions matter”: poor countries are not poor because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions”. Francis Fukuyama, the Origins of Political Order, Vol 1 (2009)
For development professionals, there is no getting away from the fact that politics shapes the environments in which we work—that our programs can and do fail when we don’t take politics into account. But despite growing evidence that political economy analysis (PEA) can contribute to new ways of working and ultimately better results, the politics agenda remains what Thomas Carothers calls an “almost revolution” in mainstream development practice.
There are many factors at play: limited staff capacity to engage with politics, bureaucratic incentives to meet lending targets, a preference for best practice solutions and institutional blueprints. Many continue to argue that it is not the business of development banks or aid agencies to analyse politics, let alone act on key findings. This resistance is posited on several arguments—or myths—which I address below.
In August 2014 the Public Integrity and Openness Department (PIO) of the Governance Global Practice (GGP) established a Task Force to design a comprehensive and actionable strategy to rebalance implementation support and institutional development and capacity building. The Transition Strategy is a culmination of dialogues, contributions, and advice from World Bank colleagues.
It is bold and ambitious while remaining grounded in reality and what is feasibly possible. It seeks to demonstrate that procurement is a powerful tool that, when executed well, can have profound, positive repercussions for governance and inclusive economic growth in countries. The Transition Strategy envisions that this will be realized through mainstreaming four Transformational Engagements and creating Global Talent Pools (GTPs).
The ideas set forth in the Transition Strategy are under the backdrop of the four trends at the World Bank: the new twin goals, the new structure which allows for a global approach, the emphasis on output and results-based aid, and the new Procurement Policy Framework. This is an opportune time to implement the Transition Strategy!
Give people the ability to engage, and they will change the world. Or will they?
The massive expansion of political voice and social activism over the past several decades -- ranging from the mushrooming of citizen-led initiatives for transparency and accountability, to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and the eruption of protest movements in countries as diverse as Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico – has generated great enthusiasm about the transformational potential of popular participation.
The reality, however, is more complex than that.
Think back to the Arab Spring and the extraordinary mobilization of so many people who managed to topple one authoritarian regime after another. The streets were theirs, but in most of these countries ousting dictators has turned out to be much easier than building political systems that are more democratic and open for citizens to engage. While much in demand,
I recently prepared a module on Citizen Engagement and Development Outcomes for a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on “Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?”, just launched by the World Bank Group and partner organizations in both Washington, DC and London.
“When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies,” says Michelle Bachelet, the president of Republic of Chile. It’s true.
Over the last few decades, the world has seen an increase in number of women leaders. It’s key to our progress.
For the first time in history, the majority of people now live in cities, and . This rapid urbanization is a phenomenon almost entirely concentrated in developing and emerging countries- in fact, , and at a much faster pace than developed countries urbanized in the past.
What does this ‘metropolitan century’ mean for cities, governance, and development?
I like entertaining my western friends with stories of growing up in the post-communist Kazakhstan limbo, when everything ended, but nothing had yet started. Stories of how my friends and I would collect old newspapers to trade for books and Moscow magazine subscriptions. And later on, selling empty milk bottles back for some cash to buy candy and chewing gum in the newly opened Chinese shops. The audience goes “oohh” and “ahh”, and oh do I feel like I’ve seen a lot and know what life is like!
I have to admit – attending the Fragility Conflict and Violence (FCV) Forum 2015 that took place at the World Bank HQ last week was an experience that changed my perspective on hardships of life in developing countries. There are developing countries and then there are fragile and conflict-affected countries.
Every year World Bank Group conducts country opinion surveys (COS) to better understand how its work is being perceived on the ground. These surveys help World Bank Group improve its operations, results, and bolster its engagement with countries.
These surveys also allow the Bank Group to get a sense of development priorities, and what kind of projects people think can contribute to poverty reduction and shared prosperity. We looked at these surveys to see how survey respondents view governance’s role in reducing poverty and whether they view governance as a development priority.
Survey respondents are opinion leaders who typically come from national and local governments, media, academia, the private sector and civil society. They are also from multilateral/bilateral agencies.
As you can see in the maps below, for example, in the 2014 survey, in Zimbabwe, 40% of respondents believed governance should be the top development priority and 34% of them believed that governance is the top contributor to poverty reduction.
A few weeks ago, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) concluded a three-day visit to the Bank with a presentation by its Chief Economist, Stefan Dercon. ‘Aid is Politics’ traversed the big picture debates in economics, politics and development with ease, but the focus was the practice of aid.
Once we’re on the ground at scale, we become part of the politics. Not only do domestic politics shape the impact of our interventions, our programs today affect politics tomorrow. Economic policy, although seemingly about ‘removing market failures and correcting distortions’, impacts upon the distribution of rents or income, at times adversely affecting political equilibria by benefitting already powerful groups.
Since walking away from politically fraught environments is not an option (aid practitioners are “the intervention squad”), we need to constantly analyze, adapt programing to politics, be creative, make political engagement endogenous, and try to nudge aspects of the political settlement to a better place.
Although Stefan gave a lively presentation, what struck me was not the content -- over the last decade, a virtual consensus has formed in development praxis that political drivers shape development outcomes, and that effective interventions require both deep understanding of the distribution of power and resources in a given country and the flexibility to adapt to changing context. Most striking was the mission underlying Stefan’s comments.