Pick any country in the developing world.
Where are the women entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
They start and manage digital-content creation firms serving international clients. They are sole proprietors of construction businesses bidding for government projects. They supervise tailors and embroiderers in windowless storage rooms that double as stitching units. They export high-end gems and jewelry around the world.
Women entrepreneurs in Pakistan lead cutting-edge, innovative businesses – but there are far too few of them. The recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report finds that only 1 percent of Pakistani women are engaged in entrepreneurship – the lowest proportion in the world.
Pakistan is not alone in its dismal ratio of growth-oriented (or indeed any kind of) women entrepreneurs. Even in the developed Asian economies of Korea and Japan, only about 2 percent of women are entrepreneurs. Sub-Saharan Africa does much better in this regard, with 27 percent of women, on average, engaged in entrepreneurship -- but they are mostly involved in low-productivity sectors of the economy.
Women entrepreneurs, in Pakistan and globally, have narrow networks of friends and family who provide them with some initial capital to start their small businesses, with little expectation of further financial support. Their export customers are located wherever they have extended family. And they rarely feature in local chambers of commerce activities.
Banks are often reluctant to extend lines of credit to, provide working capital to or lend to women-led enterprises. This makes it difficult for these enterprises to pursue growth. Perhaps this is why the average growth projections for women-led enterprises are seven to nine percentage points below those for their male counterparts.
Investments in education could spur economic growth in India (Credit: World Bank)
I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to my former professor Amartya Sen at the World Bank who attempted to answer this very pertinent question in the minds of many today. The fundamental question at the core is why is it that while we rate democracy as the better form of government, it is single party ruled China that has been more successful at bringing more people out of poverty than democratic India? The implications for India are clear; investing in education and health for all its citizens is the best solution for long term growth.
Agribusiness can help Nepal's products claim a larger share of the global market (Credit: World Bank)
Take a moment and think about where you would go for the best tea, coffee or dumplings. Would a country like Nepal rank high on your list, or for that matter even be on your go-to list? For a majority of people, maybe not immediately. Yet I would argue that the country should actually rank very high on your list (in full disclosure, this post and report are about agro-processing in Nepal).
On the flip side, the question for the Nepalese and interested agro-processors comes back to, well how do we make it rank at the top of anyone’s list? The food is already above standards and extremely palatable, thus it wouldn’t be very difficult to market. And imagine the type of marketing and branding that could be used; Himalayan grown, grown in the cool climates of the Tibetan mountains, and so on.
New approaches to medical care can improve health outcomes (Credit: World Bank, Flickr)
In many poor countries, a large proportion of health services is provided by the private sector, including services to the poor. However, the private sector is highly fragmented and the quality of services varies widely. Private health markets consist of providers with very diverse levels of qualification, ranging from formally trained doctors with medical degrees to informal practitioners without any formal medical training. According to Jishnu Das, in rural Madhya Pradesh— one of the poorest states in India, households can access on average 7.5 private providers, 0.6 public providers and 3.04 public paramedical staff. Of those identified as doctors, 65% had no formal medical training and of every 100 visits to healthcare providers, eight were to the public sector and 70 to untrained private sector providers.
Successful industrial parks can drive economic competitiveness (Credit: World Bank, Flickr)
Why do so many industrial park programs fail? They are popular across the developing world, inspired perhaps by China, where they are widely used as a policy tool and where their products are impressive to the visitor: functional parks with many firms and bustling activity. But horror stories abound, even in China, of empty parks, subsidized land speculation and tax erosion, and often no parks at all. This has not dampened enthusiasm, however. The theory is simply too seductive. By providing high-quality, shared infrastructure to firms in specific areas, industrial parks are meant to create pockets of competitiveness that eventually spill over onto the rest of the economy. For capacity-constrained governments, they have the further appeal of focus.
Local businesses can create jobs in Pakistan's conflict areas (Credit: Zerega, Flickr)
How can you effectively support areas shaken by years of regional instability? The Western border areas of Pakistan are one such region, where a 2009 insurgency and subsequent military operations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) led to one of the worst crises in the country's history. More than 2 million people were forced to leave their homes and considerable damage was caused to physical and social infrastructure. The unprecedented floods of 2010 only made the situation worse.
Will improved identification accelerate financial inclusion? ( Credit: Kkalyan, Flickr Creative Commons)
Wherever individuals are excluded from formal financial services the source of the problem is usually a lack of information. Without reliable information about a borrower’s identity or credit history, lenders will compensate for their inability to evaluate risk by raising collateral requirements, charging higher interest rates, or by refusing to lend to certain borrower groups altogether. This leads to financial exclusion, even among otherwise creditworthy borrowers. Technologies that reduce asymmetric information between borrowers and lenders are therefore some of the most powerful tools to reduce financial exclusion. In recent years, much progress has been made to improve credit reporting institutions around the world. But in many countries the challenge is much more basic: much of the world’s population lacks even the most basic identity proof. To address this problem, many countries have experimented with innovative solutions for improved personal identification.
The idea for looking into the issue of microfinance outreach to women in Pakistan had been of interest to the World Bank for some time. Outreach of the microfinance sector to women borrowers had always been extremely low – hovering between 50 to 60 percent of borrowers. Compared to the rest of the region, where we see outreach to women in the 90 percent range in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, it raised the question as to why similar targets could not be achieved in Pakistan. We reviewed a number of possible explanations, but none of them seemed satisfactory. On top of that, Pakistan is probably one of the most progressive microfinance sectors in the World. The central bank has developed the most enabling regulations possible, Pakistan continues to top the Economist Intelligence Unit list of the most enabling regulatory environment, innovations in branchless banking and new modes of financial service delivery are being incubated here, and the microfinance network in Pakistan continues to be regarded as world class. So, given all the positive attributes around the sector, why was it not possible to more effectively reach this important constituency?
How we took this approach to popularize SEZs in Bangladesh, against a backdrop of regional resistance
Imagine that you are starting an economic zones development program in a region while next door, riots are already flaring over a proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Imagine that news of the protests is already all over the media in the country you are operating in and your clients and other stakeholders are bound to take note. How do you assuage their concerns and move ahead with the design of your economic zones program?
The plight of refugees is in the news all the time, mostly as a result of war. But recently, I saw a post in Dot Earth, a New York Times blog, about a documentary called Climate Refugees. It suggests that climate change will lead to massive refugee problems, mainly as a result of flooding. Disasters in New Orleans, Bangladesh and Myanmar offer a glimpse of what might come.