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For Love of Jobs or Money?

Michael Strauss's picture

As part of the launch of the World Bank’s World Development Report, a distinguished panel (including MIGA’s own Edith Quintrell) convened at IFC to discuss the topic of Private Sector Growth and Job Creation. Jyrki Koskelo chaired the panel and asked for a lively and frank discussion. He got more than he bargained for.

In addition to Ms. Quintrell and Mr. Koskelo, the panel included:

  • Arnold Ekpe, CEO of Eco
  • Rosalind Kainyah, Vice President, External Affairs, Tullow Oil
  • Justin Lin, senior Vice President and Chief Economist, World Bank
  • Jay Naidoo, World Development Report Advisory Council Member, and, most provocatively
  • Mohamed Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

 


The panel quickly transformed into the Mo Ibrahim show. Mr. Ibrahim set the tone by challenging the panel’s very purpose. The private sector, he mused, does not wake up every morning wondering how it can create more jobs, but rather how it can make more profits.

His observation should not surprise anyone, and certainly Mr. Ibrahim has created many a job while making money on telecoms in Africa. His larger point, when it came, was an important one: Investment in job-creating industries in poor countries will come when entrepreneurs recognize that money can be made in providing services even to the poorest of the poor. This might have left the audience wondering how they, as World Bankers, could spur this type of entrepreneurship where it was most needed. But this is not an entrepreneur’s concern, of course, and that alone is a valuable lesson.

Emerging from Mr. Ibrahim’s central point was a corollary observation that we are living in a world where there can no longer be any secrets. Since, he asserted, in the age of WikiLeaks, "we are all naked", he exhorted companies who sign contracts with governments to make those contracts public. This is a noble goal, but it may end up being a nightmare in practice, as it could create road maps for litigation and might serve as a straitjacket for future contract negotiations.

But did we digress from the topic of jobs? Or the topic of making money? In the places most in need of development, we can only hope that Mr. Ibrahim is right that the two goals are coterminous, and that they will be achieved in parallel and in due course.

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