Blockchain is the subject of considerable hype, thanks largely to the rise (and fall and rise...) of high profile digital currencies. Beyond this spotlight, development experts and innovators are exploring whether the technology behind cryptocurrencies can be leveraged to advance gender equality.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology that facilitates peer-to-peer transactions without using an intermediary. (The technology is also notoriously difficult to follow, but we find this brief video helpful and this talk explains blockchain well, if you have a bit more time.) Put simply, the system is maintained by collaboration, code and sometimes competition. Many experts refer to Google Docs to explain the concept: multiple users can access the same document simultaneously and they can all see the changes. This feature potentially makes it suited for validating records and processing financial transactions in the absence of strong institutions.
Over the past 15 years, China has emerged as one of the world’s financial inclusion success stories. While much attention has been paid to the rapid innovation and massive scaling of Chinese fintech companies, China’s successes in financial inclusion reach beyond fintech. Account ownership has increased significantly and is now on par with that of other G-20 countries. One of the largest agent banking networks in the world has been established. And a robust financial infrastructure has been developed that underpins these successes.
So what can policymakers in other countries learn from China’s experience? While China is in some ways a unique environment, there are still valuable lessons to be learned from both its successes as well as its remaining challenges.
A new report released last week -– Toward Universal Financial Inclusion in China: Models, Challenges, and Global Lessons - provides a wealth of data and information about the various initiatives and efforts that have contributed to China’s advances in financial inclusion. The report, which was jointly written by the People’s Bank of China and the World Bank Group, also outlines remaining challenges and distills lessons for policymakers in other countries.
"In Chad, young people increasingly turn to innovative entrepreneurship but often become demoralized when confronted with the common issue of lack of early-stage financing.” This is how Parfait Djimnade, co-founder of Agro Business Tchad, a leading e-commerce agribusiness and social enterprise in Chad, described the challenge many aspiring entrepreneurs face in securing the necessary capital to fund and grow their start-ups, specifically in the Sahel and West Africa.
The frustration Parfait highlights is common across the Africa region, where more than 40 percent of entrepreneurs cite access to finance as the major factor limiting their growth, according to World Bank Enterprise Surveys. West African start-ups and innovative young SMEs are indeed facing the classic ‘valley of death’ — the space between where the entrepreneur’s own resources from family and friends (“love money”) gets depleted and when the company is financially viable enough to attract later-stage investment and financing available on the market. The shortage of financing in the market starts from the pre-seed stage (US$20,000) to early-venture capital stage (US$1 million).
Eco-industrial parks (EIP) refers to putting in place serviced industrial infrastructure conducive to attracting new investments, especially in manufacturing, while at the same time promoting environmental sustainability.
The World Bank Group’s infoDev program has been working in Africa for years, helping to strengthen the ecosystem for digital entrepreneurs and seeding digital incubators in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa. Start-ups in these “mLabs” have developed or improved more than 500 digital products or services, and some 100 early stage firms raised over $15 million in investments and grant funding. But is this the answer to scaling growth entrepreneurs on the continent?
Incubators, accelerators and technological hubs have proliferated in Africa over the past 5 years to support early-stage African entrepreneurs. But many of these organizations remain relatively new and isolated, with varying levels of professionalism and limited means and tools at their disposal.
“Without the necessary efficiency, effectiveness and scale, incubators’ efforts will not be reflected in their beneficiary entrepreneurs’ ability to overcome the binding constraints in the ecosystem and scale up; and their impact in terms of business growth, disruptive innovation and job creation will remain limited,” said Christian Jekinnou, coordinator of Afric’Innov at the launch of the recent Conference on Innovation: International and Global South (Rencontres de l’Innovation International & Sud). “This is exactly why Afric’Innov was set up, aiming to professionalize these institutions supporting entrepreneurship, and why events such as the Conference on Innovation are crucial, enabling us to deploy our tools,” he added.
As part of its strategy to support growth entrepreneurship, the World Bank joined Afric’Innov’s steering committee as an observer member. This role will allow the Bank to analyze pilot schemes that support Africa’s incubators through training and interest-free loans, as well as by certifying mature incubators and conducting feasibility assessments to scale up projects.
A new project combining skills across the World Bank Group and IFC is taking advantage of disruptive advances in the energy and finance sectors to address these longstanding challenges for SMEs.
Current access to electricity remains woefully low and is a major impediment to economic growth. More than half of Africa’s population isn’t connected to the energy grid and has no access to reliable power. At the same time, fewer than 50% of adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
In recent years, however, two important developments have made it possible to begin addressing these challenges:
- Off-grid energy solutions—notably solar power—have fallen dramatically in price with new business models working to scale them
- New digital-based financing mechanisms, such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, psychometric testing, big data, and blockchain have emerged as tools for under-served finance markets.
There are strong parallels in these advances for both sectors. Whereas both energy and finance are traditionally provided by large-scale, centralized service providers—state-owned electricity utilities and large commercial banks, respectively—new solutions have effectively decentralized and democratized the provision of these services. Now a range of smaller,
How does my pension fund invest my money? More and more people around the world are asking this question. As the global population ages, it has becoming increasingly important to ensure that pension funds are efficiently and effectively managed so they can deliver a secure income in retirement.
At the same time, countries require more investment in productive areas such as infrastructure, housing and new businesses to continue to grow.
Globally, pension funds have some US$38 trillion in assets under management; the world’s 300 largest pension funds manage around $16 trillion. This ranges from the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) in Japan -- the largest pension fund in the world with $1.3 trillion in assets -- to funds such as the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) in Namibia which, though smaller in absolute terms (owning $7 billion), constitutes almost 70% of domestic Namibian GDP.