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‘Smartest Places’ via smarter strategies: Sharpening competitiveness requires ingenuity, not inertia

Christopher Colford's picture

Seeking an antidote to the gloom-and-doom bombast of this election year? Try a dose of optimism about urban“hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool” – with a book that champions smart public policy, delivered through a shrewd approach to Competitiveness Strategy.

Gazing into the rear-view mirror is a mighty reckless way to try to drive an economy forward. Yet backward-looking nostalgia for a supposedly safer economic past – with voters' anxiety being stoked by snide sloganeering about “taking back our sovereignty” and “making the country great again” – has infected the policy debate throughout this dispiriting election year, in many of the world’s advanced economies. Scapegoating globalization and inflaming fears of job losses and wage stagnation, populists have harangued all too many voters into a state of passivity, lamenting the loss of a long-ago era (if ever it actually existed) when inward-looking economies were, allegedly, insulated from global competition.


Optimism has been in short supply lately, but an energetic new book – co-authored by a prominent World Bank Group alumnus – offers a hopeful perspective on how imaginative economies can become pacesetters in the fast-forward Knowledge Economy. Advanced industries are thriving and productivity is strengthening, argue Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, now that many once-declining manufacturing regions have reinvented their industries and reawakened their entrepreneurial energies.

Welcome to the brainbelt,” declares “The Smartest Places On Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” (published by Public Affairs books). Now that brainpower has replaced muscle-power as the basis of prosperity in an ever-more-competitive global economy, the key factor for success is "the sharing of knowledge." Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, “Smartest Places” is receiving well-deserved attention among corporate leaders and financial strategists – and it ought to be required reading for every would-be policymaker.

The era of “making things smart” has replaced the era of “making things cheap” – meaning that industries no longer face a “race to the bottom” of competing on costs but a “race to the top” of competing on creativity. Knowledge-intensive industries, and the innovation ecosystems that generate them, create the “Smartest Places” that combine hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool.





Those optimistic themes may sound unusual to election-year audiences in struggling regions, which are easy prey for demagogues manipulating populist fears. Yet those ideas are certainly familiar to readers at the World Bank Group, where teams working on innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness have long helped their clients shape innovation ecosystems through well-targeted policy interventions that strengthen growth and job creation.

“Smartest Places,” it strikes me, reads like an evidence-filled validation of the Bank Group’s recent research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth.” That report, published last year, offers policymakers (especially at the city and metropolitan levels) an array of practical and proven steps that can help jump-start job creation by spurring productivity growth.

Olympic-sized ambition: Halt the Games' economic excess by building a permanent site for the Olympics — in Greece, their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Build it well, build it wisely, and build it only once — How investing to create a permanent site for the Olympic Games, ideally in their historic home of Greece, could reduce waste, deliver economic stimulus, and avoid "white elephant" monuments to extravagance.


The jeering of angry taxpayers and frustrated favela-dwellers may drown out some of the cheering of sports enthusiasts this weekend, as the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Brazil and local officials in Rio have certainly done their best to stage the Games successfully, addressing a range of challenges that include the Zika virus outbreak, the doping scandal among athletes and the country’s prolonged economic slump and political traumas. Yet an enduring scandal in international finance — the chronic design flaw in the way that the Games are planned for and paid for — has again imposed an enormous economic burden on the Olympic host city. Struggling economies can ill afford the extravagance of repeatedly building use-once-throw-away sports facilities.

It was surely startling to see the deep degree of scorn and sarcasm with which many workaday Brazilians, who are now enduring a deep economic downturn, hurled derision at the arrival of the Olympic torch in Rio this week. They evidently saw that Olympic arrival ceremony as a symbol, not just of athletic ambition, but of financial folly.

The anxieties that Brazil has endured on the road to Rio 2016 should underscore a longer-term, Olympic-sized concern: Mismanagement by the Games' promoters has now been thoroughly documented, underscoring the abusive way that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the global sports-industrial complex have habitually foisted reckless costs on the taxpayers of hapless host cities.

By goading Olympic-wannabe cities to make ever-more-extravagant financial commitments – stoking their dreams of a media moment of purchased publicity – the mega-event industry has helped shatter the finances of one host city after another. No wonder that so many cities are now shunning the IOC’s bidding process, dreading the deadweight losses that are almost certain to burden any Olympic host.

Welcome as the IOC’s recent “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform proposals may be, it’s long past time to rein in the financial excesses of mega-event promoters. With a claque of financiers and flacks who are ready to manipulate the gullibility of the would-be hosts, the Olympic spirit has fallen victim to the self-interest of construction firms, property developers and publicists who seek to profit from host cities’ overspending.

An invaluable book documenting this Olympic-scale threat – discussed in detail at a World Bank’s InfoShop book-and-author seminar in June 2015 – should be top-of-mind for Olympics-watchers this week, as Rio de Janeiro enjoys its moment in the spotlight. “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” — by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College — can help other cities avoid an impulsive rush for momentary Olympic notoriety. A video of Zimbalist’s InfoShop presentation is archived at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/PUBLICATION/INFOSHOP1/0,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html 

Philippines pioneers approach to monitor and evaluate the national financial inclusion strategy

Helen Luskin Gradstein's picture



National financial inclusion targets, better data availability, and transformative business models to provide financial services are helping to accelerate financial inclusion across the globe and in Asia – where more than a billion of unbanked people live.

Countries set national financial inclusion goals to increase the pace and impact of reforms. For this to be effective, it’s critical to have in place a robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system to track progress, identify obstacles, and demonstrate success.  However, it’s often difficult to evaluate and track the extent and quality of the national financial inclusion strategy implementation, and to aggregate the results of multiple actions at the national level.

The Philippines has adopted a fresh approach to this challenge by designing a comprehensive M&E system that will report on headline and national-level indicators, as well as track progress of the regional and program-level performance indicators.

The Philippines is one of the 25 countries that are part of the World Bank Group’s Universal Financial Access 2020 initiative, whose goal is to provide access to a transaction account to the 2 billion unbanked people worldwide.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Philippines improved access to bank accounts by 4 percentage points. This resulted in some 2.7 million adults gaining access to formal financial services. Potential demand is significant, considering that an estimated 10 million Filipinos keep savings outside of the formal financial system.

Championing interoperability for financial inclusion: carrot or stick?

Thomas Lammer's picture
Mobile payments at Hawala Market in Daykundi, Afghanistan. Photo: Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion

Interoperability – a term used in a variety of industries, including telecommunications and financial services – is generally understood to refer to the ability of different systems and sometimes even different products to seamlessly interact. For payment systems, “interoperability” depends not only on the technical ability of two platforms to interact but also the contractual relationships between the entities wanting to interact. Traditionally, interoperability has been established by the same type of institutions, by banks’ participation in a central retail payment infrastructure (e.g. a central switch or an automated clearing house) and adhering to a payment scheme (e.g. a card scheme or a credit transfer scheme).

These days interoperability in retail payments is no longer limited by national borders and the overall ecosystem has become more complex. Non-bank payment service providers have emerged (many of them mobile network operators-MNOs) and there are new types of payment instruments (e.g. mobile money). Innovative payment instruments often start as proprietary solutions, processed in-house rather than via a central platform. In that regard, interoperability can help tear down barriers by enabling transactions between customer accounts of different mobile money solutions. In some countries, interoperability even facilitates transactions across different type of accounts (e.g. deposit transaction accounts held with banks and mobile money accounts held with non-bank service providers).

Breaking down barriers to competition: Unlocking Africa’s potential through a regional platform for cooperation

Klaus Tilmes's picture



The cement industry in Africa is one of the sectors that would benefit from stronger competition policies, which can help strengthen the economy by preventing anti-competitive behavior and collusive price-fixing. 
Photo by Simon Davis / DFID — U.K. Department of International Development

What determines whether a country is able to reap the benefits of deepening regional integration and the related increases in trade, cross-border investment and economic opportunities from participating in global value chains? One of the key points in this timely discussion is ensuring that the gains from integration are not nullified by anticompetitive business practices or distortive government interventions. As economies become more interconnected, it will become ever more important to allow all businesses to compete on a level playing field. Some African economies, for example, have not benefited as expected, in part because of the continued existence of barriers to competition in domestic markets.

These concerns lie at the heart of a new publication developed by the World Bank Group in partnership with the African Competition Forum (ACF). The report explores competition issues that affect the performance of key markets in Africa, and it reviews the status of competition policy and its implementation across the continent. It is the first report to take a broad regional perspective on competition issues – and the first to be built on a partnership between the World Bank Group and a regional network of government agencies and ministries responsible for competition.

Among its findings, the report shows that reforms in input sectors, such as professional services, can boost the export competitiveness of downstream firms that use those inputs intensively. However, in many cases, trade is restricted when governments impose non-tariff barriers, including product standards or testing regimes that are more restrictive than necessary, which prevent the entry of new, lower-cost products. This is the case with fertilizer markets in both East and West Africa. Even when such non-tariff barriers are removed, it is important to prevent anti-competitive behavior, such as collusive price-fixing and market-allocation agreements among competitors – as was seen in the case of cement in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

The report also highlights that, in some sectors in Africa, the same firms operate in many countries and some firms may locate themselves in areas that allow them to supply markets across borders. These factors hold potential efficiencies – for example, where it leads to economies of scale – but it also makes it vital to view competition dynamics through a regional lens as well as a national one.

What is the business community recommending to the G20's leaders on SME development?

This blog post was originally published on the website of the World SME Forum, at  http://worldsmeforum.org/blog/what-is-the-business-community-recommendin...

This coming September, the G20 Leaders will meet in Hangzhou, China, at a time of increasing volatility in global markets and political uncertainty. Across G20 economies and beyond, there is a pressing need to unlock growth, investment and jobs. Unlocking the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) provides one of the best opportunities to achieve all of that.


In most countries, SMEs of all sizes contribute more than 50 percent of GDP and three quarters of formal employment. They are important for social stability, innovation, equitable growth and poverty alleviation, and they form the backbone of the working middle class.

However, SME development has historically been constrained by a lack of access to markets, critical resources such as finance and skills, and a complex set of regulations and standards.

In the last few years, G20 governments have made SME development a priority. This has been strongly encouraged by the Business 20 (B20), the premier dialogue platform of the business community with the G20 policymakers representing the most important economies of the world.

The 2016 China B20 SME Development Taskforce (“SME Taskforce”) builds on the work of the 2015 Turkey B20. Established under the Chair of Mr Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, with Accenture as Knowledge Partner and the World SME Forum as Network Partner, more than 100 senior executives from SME businesses, entrepreneurs and business associations contributed to the Taskforce.

Housing is at the center of the sustainable development agenda

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira's picture
UN Habitat - Cover image from Housing at the Centre report

Clearly, a lot of what has gone wrong with cities is related in one way or another to housing. The future of urbanization will therefore depend on how countries and cities position housing as a priority in the public debate around sustainable development.

From slums to gated communities, from overcrowding to sprawl, from homelessness to the vacant houses, there is much evidence that housing is shaping cities worldwide, regretfully, in many cases, by producing fragmentation and inequalities. The resulting models are leading to social, environmental and financial costs far beyond what the majority of cities can afford.

UN-HABITAT: Housing at the Centre of the New Urban AgendaWhile the most common problem is the shortage of adequate and affordable housing and the unprecedented proliferation of slums, other important challenges lay in the poor quality and location of the stock usually far from job and livelihood opportunities, lack of accessibility and services. The housing challenge the world is facing today is likely to persist with six out of every ten people expected to reside in urban areas by 2030. Over 90 per cent of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is estimated that the struggle to obtain adequate and affordable housing could affect at least 1.6 billion people globally within a decade.

We cannot overlook this reality. This is why, towards Habitat III, UN-Habitat has increased efforts to re-establish housing as a priority in the debate around sustainable urbanization. We are proposing the 'Housing at the Centre' approach to shift the focus from simply building houses to a holistic framework where housing is orchestrated with national and urban development in a way that benefits all people.

Banking consolidation in the GCC requires attention to competition

Pietro Calice's picture
Also available in: Arabic | French
National Bank of Abu Dhabi - Ijanderson977 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
National Bank of Abu Dhabi, UAE. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gulf banking markets may have entered an important phase of consolidation, with the potential to dramatically reshape both the role and the intermediation capacity of the industry. A few days ago, two large banks in the UAE, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank, agreed on a tie-up to create a national champion and regional powerhouse with $170 billion in total assets. In Oman, Bank Sohar and Bank Dhofar are in advanced merger talks. Bank mergers are expected to take place in Bahrain and Qatar as well.

The protracted downward trend in oil prices is threatening economic growth and fiscal sustainability in the region. This is having an impact on the banking systems. Banks are increasingly facing pressure on liquidity in the face of both private and public deposit outflows. This coupled with a low interest rate environment in the context of pegged currencies is eroding margins. Capital buffers are strong yet asset quality may deteriorate if oil prices remain low for a prolonged period and economic growth decelerates further. Therefore, in a context largely characterized by fragmented markets, consolidation may help achieve efficiency gains and ultimately preserve financial stability.

However, it is important that banking consolidation in the Gulf does not come at the detriment of competition. International experience shows that healthy bank competition generally promotes access to finance and improves the efficiency of financial intermediation, without necessarily eroding the stability of the banking system. Bank competition in the region is traditionally weak largely due to strict entry requirements, restrictions to bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions. While increased market concentration does not necessarily imply greater market power, there is a risk that the current and prospective wave of industry consolidation may have long-lasting negative effects on competition if left unchecked.

New dataset explores how citizens engage with governments on new regulations

Melissa Johns's picture

More than a billion people live in countries in which the government does not consult openly on new business regulations (see Figure 1). There, officials don’t engage chambers of commerce, civic groups or the broader public on draft regulations. They don’t test out whether a draft regulation is a good idea, whether it targets the right problem or whether it is feasible to comply with. Moreover, more than half of the world's countries do not conduct formal assessments of the possible effects that a new regulation might have – socially, environmentally, or on compliance costs to businesses.



Source: Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance dataset


We’re not talking here about top-secret national-defense regulations or emergency-response measures. We’re talking about plain-vanilla, basic, run-your-small-business types of regulations that thousands of constituents will need to follow.       
 
A new dataset, Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, explores how governments interact with the public when shaping regulations that affect their business communities. Concerned stakeholders could be professional associations, civic groups or foreign investors.

The project charts how interested groups learn about new regulations that are being considered, and the extent to which they are able to engage with officials on the content. It also measures whether or not governments assess the possible impact of new regulations in their country (including economic, social and environmental considerations) and whether those calculations form part of the public consultation. Finally, the project assesses two additional components of a predictable regulatory environment: the ability of stakeholders to challenge regulations in the case of an adverse decision, and the ability of people to gain access to the laws and regulations that are currently in force in a single place that is frequently updated. 

Start talking, and let’s get to work: Dialogue and climate action in industries

Anja Robakowski's picture



Bangkok, Thailand — November 25, 2011: A flooded factory in the Nava Nakorn Industrial Estate at Pathumthani.
Photo @ photonewman



“No one can tackle climate change alone.” Those words, by Abdelouahed Fikrat, General Secretary of the Moroccan Ministry of Environment, aptly summarized the challenge that we face today in dealing with climate change. He made that declaration at the recent Dialogue for Climate Action event in Vienna, organized by The World Bank Group and the Government of Austria on May 24 and 25.

The Vienna event marked the launch of six Principles on Dialogue for Climate Action — a set of tenets aimed at guiding businesses and governments as they embark on productive conversations on how to cooperate effectively to fight climate change.
 
The World Bank Group and 12 international partners got together to collaboratively formulate the six principles: Inclusion, Urgency, Awareness, Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability.

In endorsing the principles and signing on to the Community of Practice (CoP) for Dialogue for Climate Action, Fikrat said, “The principles of dialogue launched at this event hold potential to contribute significantly to the COP 22 agenda and offer a tool to policymakers for engaging the private sector. We need to build on the current momentum to speed up the implementation of concrete actions.”
 
The tone for the event was set by Dimitris Tsitsiragos, Vice President of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), who stressed in his keynote address that “stopping the catastrophic impact of climate change requires urgent, comprehensive and ongoing public-private dialogue”.
 
Dialogue for Climate Action in Practice

So what does this mean in practice? How do we avoid pursuing a dialogue that is devoid of action? There is significant pressure on all actors to avoid “post-Paris blues” and stagnation. There is also a need to avoid actions in a vacuum, where everyone is doing something but without cohesion and coordination.

The six principles for climate action are based on the premise that all actors, working together, will create greater results. Bangladesh PaCT (Partnership for Cleaner Textiles), a project managed by the World Bank Group, makes a strong case for that approach. The project, which was launched in 2013, aims to introduce cleaner, more environment-friendly production methods in the textile sector, and dialogue is a key pillar of its project design. 

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