The countries of the Western Balkans – which include the states of the former Yugoslavia, along with Albania – are not exactly world-famous for their entrepreneurial spirit. Yet if you look at their societies more carefully, you’ll soon find a surprising number of new companies dotted throughout the Western Balkans. They’re already setting their sights beyond smaller domestic markets: They’re looking to Europe, and the world.
Europe and Central Asia
You’d probably be skeptical if I told you that the Western Balkans – a region that has long suffered from social and ethnic fragmentation – now has a strong opportunity to boost shared prosperity by promoting research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Your views might not even change if I showed you that such idea is validated by preliminary studies linking research and innovation to the performance of firms and countries in the region.
You might be surprised – yet your initial assumption might be unchanged – if I told you about the kind of companies that are starting to build a different economic landscape in the region: firms like UXPassion, Pet Minuta, Strawberry Energy or Teleskin, which are all technology-based startups created by young researchers who became entrepreneurs. Click on this link (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2013/10/22/western-balkans-research-and-development-for-innovation), or on the video embedded below, to meet them and other innovators from the Western Balkans.
Indeed, the transition to a market economy and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia starting in 1991 had a severe impact on the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans. Research capacity narrowed significantly, and R&D’s links to the productive sector of the economy disappeared. The new industrial structure has naturally a lower propensity to invest in research while the current business environment promises low returns to the enterprise investments in innovation. Efforts to revamp the region's research and innovation sector were most of the time short-lived.
As a result, the performance of the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans is gloomy. The region’s current investment in R&D are roughly the same amount as the investment by just the second-largest university in the United States. (In 2012, for example, only 38 patents from the region were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office – compared to the average of 27 patents registered by each American university.) At the same time, very little of those investments are efficiently transformed into wealth. For example, for each invention that received a patent, the region spent, on average, three times more in R&D resources than does the United States.
Building on a continuing series of efforts to reform their national innovation systems, in the hope of changing their gloomy prospects, the Western Balkan countries in 2009 committed to develop a joint regional research and innovation strategy. That strategy, developed between 2011 and 2013, was formally endorsed last month by the ministers responsible for science and education from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The preparation of the strategy, which benefited from technical assistance by the World Bank and from the financial support of the European Commission, involved representatives from the region’s leading universities, research institutes, private sector firms and government agencies. Discussions of the draft proposal were pursued in all seven countries as part of a large outreach exercise.
"Project Greenback 2.0 – Remittance Champion Cities" was launched on October 29 in Turin, Italy.
A team from the World Bank's service line on Financial Infrastructure, hosting the launch event, was thrilled to welcome a room full of migrants, market paricipants, public officials, policy researchers and private-sector observers.
Since March 2013, in partnershp with the Turin city government, the World Bank team has been preparing for the launch of Project Greenback 2.0, which aims to foster the development of a sound and efficient market for remittances. The project pursues an important new approach: It focuses on remittance senders, and its priority is meeting their needs.
In the first months of our efforts in Turin, we have been working on a survey among remittance senders, and we have been mapping and monitoring the services that are available to them when they seek to send money home. The survey focused on Romanians, Moroccans and Peruvians – the most numerous immigrant groups in Turin, who together account for more than 60 percent of the city's immigrant population.
Talk about timing! This week has seen back-to-back initiatives that underscore the growing importance of Islamic finance – and the significant role that the World Bank Group can play in unleashing its potential for financing international development.
This Tuesday, October 29, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom announced that the U.K. will become the first non-Muslim country to issue a Sukuk or Islamic bond, with a £200 million issue planned for early 2014. Cameron also announced plans for a new Islamic index on the London Stock Exchange. These initiatives are all part of a grand plan by the U.K. government to turn London into a global capital of Islamic finance.
The very next day, on Wednesday, October 30, World Bank Group President Jim Kim inaugurated the World Bank Global Islamic Finance Center in Istanbul. Envisioned as a knowledge hub for developing Islamic finance globally, the center will conduct research and training as well as provide technical assistance and advisory services to World Bank Group client countries interested in developing Islamic financial institutions and markets.
An injection of much-needed investment funds awaits Croatia when it joins the European Union on July 1: An amount equivalent to about 4 percent of the country’s GDP will become available to Croatia through the EU Cohesion Policy when it becomes the EU’s 28th member nation. The funds offer Croatia a unique opportunity for financing strategic investments, aiming to restore the country’s growth prospects and generate better employment opportunities.
Experience shows, however, that seizing this opportunity is not easy: New member countries of the EU have often allocated those funds to projects with low economic and social returns, or have simply failed to effectively deploy these funds.
Success doesn’t just happen automatically – not in the economy, and not in any competitive arena of life. But by focusing your resources realistically in the areas of your greatest strength, you can maximize your chances of coming out on top. Perhaps in some long-vanished world of effortless monopolies and protected markets, passivity might once have been enough – but in a world of relentless global competition, a lazy laissez-faire abdication cannot deliver optimal results.
That lesson has come through clearly amid these elegiac end-of-summer days, as the world continues to bask in the Olympic afterglow of the Summer Games in London. The games lifted the spirits of sports-watchers worldwide – and the postgame analysis of just how the host country, Great Britain, ran up its highest medal count in 104 years has provoked some intriguing ideas about creating an “Olympic effect” for economic development.
Economists usually enjoy working on economic data and writing up reports. But Sudharshan Canagarajah also likes giving conventional economic thinking a nudge — in this case, on migration.
As the World Bank’s Lead Economist for Tajikistan, Sudharshan noticed that Tajiks were on the move. In response to the country’s various crises, they sought new opportunities, mainly in Russia. They had no support from government, and little attention from donors, but the money they sent home created a huge economic impact.
On a recent trip to Ireland, stories about the impact of the continuing economic crisis were abundant. Newspapers ran stories about the substantial loss of wealth and purchasing power, such as the increase in 'negative equity' as the value of homes owned by the middle class fell significantly below their mortgages. Cab drivers explained how jobs had been shed throughout the economy, and bemoaned the resulting rise in the number of drivers and increased competition for fares. The reality of the recession and fiscal collapse following the banking crisis of late 2008 was clear.
However, anecdotal evidence about a different aspect of Irish finance – foreign direct investment – suggested a more positive story. I walked through one neighborhood in Dublin that houses the European headquarters of Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. The latter two were established after the onset of the economic crisis, and Google is in the process of expanding its presence in Dublin. Lawyers at large corporate law firms were excited to discuss FDI, citing it as a key driver of Ireland’s future growth. One firm even maintains a FDI index that highlights large inflows and the positive perception of Ireland as a destination for US investment.
Might FDI in Ireland be the best indicator to consider the strength of the economic fundamentals that enable long-term growth? Ireland has historically benefitted from large inflows of FDI relative to its size. And despite the recent economic crisis, these inflows have largely continued.
Over the past 10 years, inflows of FDI into Ireland tend to be substantially higher as a percentage of GDP than inflows into other OECD economies (see Figure 1). In 2009 and 2010, the two years immediately following the banking collapse, Ireland attracted three to four times more FDI proportionately than other OECD economies. These inflows were not just large in relative terms – they were equivalent to 11.7% of GDP in 2009 and 12.9% in 2010. The negative inflows in 2005 and 2008 do indicate that more money was disinvested out of Ireland than newly invested in the economy those years. However, such outflows are mostly loans or dividend payments from foreign-owned firms in Ireland to their affiliates abroad, at least some of which were likely caused by a 2004 change in the US tax rate on foreign profits.
Figure 1: Net inflows of FDI as percentage of GDP, Ireland vs OECD
Source: UNCTAD and author’s calculations
I pay through the nose for health insurance for my family, and I’m not happy about it. As a U.S. citizen, I don’t have the luxury of government-backed healthcare. Since I’m technically self-employed, I have to pay the full premium myself. Want some figures? It costs me $830 a month for a family of four, with a high deductible. Besides being expensive, it takes a huge effort to deal with insurance issues, and I find that my provider is expert at finding reasons not to reimburse me for medical expenses. This is chewing a gaping hole in my budget. The only way I’ll ever get value for my money is if I’m hit by a bus.
In a previous post written jointly with Arvind Jain, Arvind and I highlighted some recent findings concerning businesses in Azerbaijan. Below, I extend the discussion to another country, Russia. What follows is a brief summary of our main findings, with more details available in the country note, found hereThe note is based on newly collected firm-level data on various aspects of the business climate and experiences of a statistically representative sample of firms Enterprise Surveys. The data also contain information on various measures of performance and the structures of the firms. The main findings are as follows.