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How to make grants a better match for private sector development

Cecile Fruman's picture



From the Yemen Enterprise Reviltalization and Employment Pilot Project.

In December 2016, the 18th  replenishment of the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, put private sector development squarely at the heart of our organization’s commitment to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. In addition, the Internal Finance Corporation’s 3.0 strategy placed new emphasis on creating and catalyzing markets and scaled up the role of advisory services in providing firm-level support.

This new focus makes it even more important to answer the following question: Do we have sufficient evidence about the efficiency and effectiveness of the tools used by the World Bank Group to help firms grow in our client countries?

Building on a broad evaluation of the Bank Group’s support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), published in 2014, a recent report by the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, supported by the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program, reviews the experience to date of supporting SMEs through matching grant schemes. The report looks at the how and why of an instrument that has been used in more than 100 Bank Group projects since the 1990s.

Matching grants are short-term, temporary subsidies, provided to the private sector on a cost-sharing basis (typically 50 percent). The grants generally aim at building firms’ capacity and knowledge through the procurement of business development services (BDS), which include a wide variety of non-financial services such as employee and management training; consultancy and advisory; marketing and information services; and technology development and diffusion. For example, a matching grant initiative in Uganda targets businesses in priority sectors such as tourism, agribusiness and fisheries with the goal of diversifying their products and increasing exports. A similar facility in Afghanistan operates in four cities – Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Herat – and helps SMEs and business associations to improve product quality and processing technologies, and to gain market knowledge in order to expand their presence in domestic and international markets.

The economic rationale for subsidies to private firms is usually a perceived underinvestment in BDS. This could be due to market failures preventing a profitable investment in such services (e.g., lack of financing for intangible activities, insufficient awareness of the potential benefits or perceived high risk), or to positive externalities from an otherwise unprofitable private investment (e.g., knowledge spillovers). If these conditions are not present, however, matching grants could create distortions in resource allocation, could have limited additionality and spillovers, or could have non-durable impacts if they fail to address the underlying market failure.

The Trade & Competitiveness report reviewed virtually all matching grant projects financed by the Bank Group over the last two decades. Most of these have focused on SME development while some have also supported rural development. Over half of the reviewed projects are in Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. The average size of matching grant schemes is $11.5 million, with grants for agriculture projects typically being significantly larger than for SME development. The average number of beneficiaries per project is 450 and the average maximum cumulative funding going to a single beneficiary is $112,000, although this amount is much lower in many projects.

In terms of how, the report examines a number of common variables of matching grant projects, such as type of implementing agency and eligibility criteria. A key conclusion is that there appears to be no obvious correlation between the design features of matching grants and either positive or negative outcomes. Rather, matching grants need to be tailored to local circumstances and capacities.

The report does find that personalized technical assistance to beneficiary firms can increase the odds of success. In addition, contrary to perceptions, public implementing agencies generally outperform private consulting firms. Public agencies do particularly well in lower income countries where procuring large international contracts can be difficult and where the agencies know the local context. Whether public or private, strengthening of local capacities, broad stakeholder engagement, and transparent communication increase the chances that a matching grant will achieve its goals.

In terms of why, the report also examines how projects define what constitutes a successful outcome.  About three quarters of the reviewed projects received a positive outcome rating. However, the definition of success varied widely, and rarely reflected measures of broad and sustainable economic benefit. Projects should articulate a sound economic rationale identifying a specific market failure. Otherwise, the benefits of a grant may not extend beyond the recipient firm or be sustainable in the long term.

For this reason, the report recommends that, when considering the use of matching grants, development practitioners identify a clear economic rationale, consider alternative instruments, carry out an economic analysis, assess the potential for additionality and spillovers, and establish a realistic exit strategy that would leave sustainable benefits. A strong monitoring and evaluation system is an equally important requirement and an essential tool for real-time assessment of impact, potential course corrections and learning. Strengthening these elements could help development practitioners and their clients maximize the benefits of this potentially powerful tool for private sector development and competitiveness.

To gain access to the full report, click here.

Home-grown technology firms help drive eGovernment expansion in East Africa

John Wille's picture



Over the past five years, we have seen the emergence of a number of eGovernment applications and platforms in East Africa, leveraging the growth of internet and smartphone penetration to improve the reach and quality of government service delivery. While a number of these technology solutions, particularly in tax administration, trade facilitation and financial management systems, have been sourced from international providers – based in the United States, India and Singapore – African information and computer technology (ICT) firms have also played a major role in this surge in online service delivery to citizens and businesses.

The use of various “managed service” models, such as eGovernment public-private partnerships (PPPs) and cloud hosting, has allowed even governments with limited in-house ICT capacity to deliver services online in a sustainable manner. The World Bank Group (WBG) has also played an important role in developing the ability of local firms to effectively provide services to government clients by sharing good international practices and by funding the development of these locally grown technology solutions.

Kenya e-Citizen improves revenue generation as it cuts compliance costs for citizens and businesses

This digital services and payment platform – https://www.ecitizen.go.ke/ – was initially piloted in 2014 with seed funding from the Kenya Investment Climate Program of the WBG's Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice. The technology platform was developed and is now managed through an outsourcing arrangement by government with a local ICT firm. It has grown organically, expanding from eight government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) services to more than 100 today, covering such areas as driver’s licenses, passport and visa applications, company and business name registration, work permit administration and civil registration. Citizens are able to register and obtain login credentials online, through a validation process involving the national ID and SIM card registry databases. They can also pay for services using a variety of methods, including bank transfers, credit cards, MPesa (“mobile wallet”) and other mobile money systems.

Tourism ecosystems: A way to think about challenges and solutions to tourism development

Shaun Mann's picture

Ecosystem: A complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space.
Tourism: A social, cultural and economic phenomenon that entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal, business or professional purposes.

I was part of a tourism ecosystem, once, when I built and operated a small lodge on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. While I was living in a tent in the bush building the lodge, life was simple: My little ecosystem was the land around the lodge and the tribulations of fending off monkeys and snakes by day and leopards, hippos, elephants and mosquitoes at night. The sun and rain beat down hard, and tools and workers broke down regularly. The generator was a particular pain in the neck.

Apart from supplies coming in, I was not really connected to the outside world. Money ran out for awhile and I had to rush to Kampala and persuade the bank give me a bigger overdraft (at 26 percent interest – thieves!).
 
Once the lodge was finished, I had to join another ecosystem: the world of registering the company, getting licenses, drawing up employment contracts, getting a bank overdraft, getting a tax ID number – all the elements of the enabling environment for me to do business. Then I had to join another one: I needed bums on beds, and I had to link my wonderful product to local markets; I had to develop promotional materials and packages; I had to interact and contract with tour operators and local travel agents to supply me business; I needed market access. 



Nile Safari Camp: home for two years

Then, guess what? My business plan wasn’t panning out. I didn’t get the occupancies or the rates that I projected from the local market. I had to step into yet another ecosystem: the world of international long-haul travel. I needed more and better-paying customers. I had to understand how the big international tour operators sold their product, what they were looking for in new product and how they contracted. I had to join another ecosystem to make that happen. Turns out my little product wasn’t enough to attract international customers on its own, I had to team up with other lodges and offer a fuller package; we had to cluster our products. I had to diversify and innovate and find ways to add value to my accommodation offer – birdwatching, fishing, guided walks, weddings and honeymoons, meetings and workshops. . . . Well, there are whole ecosystems around each of those market segments. You need to understand them before you can do business with them.        

The evolution of startup competitions: The case of Pivot East

Nicolas Friederici's picture


One of the winning 'startup' teams at Pivot East2013 (Credit: PivotEast)

Innovation competitions of all sorts have become prevalent throughout Africa, from hackathons to ideation challenges, demo days, code jams, bootcamps, roadshows, and pitch fests, the list is endless. This development is almost parallel to the rise of tech hubs (BongoHive counts about 100 African hubs) that have sprung up from Dakar to Dar Es Salaam.

While it’s evident that events and competitions are valuable opportunities—especially for young innovators looking to leave their mark—more advanced ecosystems, like Nairobi’s,  have already begun to show signs of competition fatigue and competition hopping.