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Financial risk, resilience and realism: ‘New Economic Thinking,’ amid ominous tremors from the eurozone

Christopher Colford's picture



How safe and how stable is today’s international financial system? Eight years since the global bond markets started quaking – and almost seven years since the Lehman Brothers debacle triggered a worldwide meltdown – is the financial system resilient enough to recover from sudden shocks?

These are not just rhetorical questions, but urgent ones. Amid the ominous recent tremors within the European Union – with the intensifying risk that insolvent Greece could soon “crash out” of the eurozone if it fails to extract more bailout money from its exasperated rescuers – the global financial system may be about to get another real-life lesson in riding out traumatic turbulence.

So mark your calendars for this Wednesday, May 6, when a top-level conference with some of the world’s leading financial luminaries will be livestreamed online at (click here) this website from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Many of the world’s top regulators, policymakers and scholars – brought together by the Institute for New Economic Thinking – will gather at the International Monetary Fund for a day-long exploration of “Finance and Society.”

A sense of déjà vu might seem to surround the conference agenda, especially for World Bank and IMF colleagues who recall the nonstop financial anxiety that consumed the Spring Meetings just a few weeks ago. A similar economic dread reportedly pervaded last week’s Milken Global Economic Conference in Los Angeles.

Yet the INET conference may be poised to offer a somewhat different perspective. The Spring Meetings featured the familiar lineup of business-suited, grim-and-greying Finance Ministers – mostly male, mostly middle-aged, mostly mainstream moderates – but the group of experts at the “Finance and Society” conference will reflect a welcome new dose of diversity. Every major speaker on the agenda is a woman.

The economists at the pinnacle of the world’s most powerful financial institutions – Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Janet Yellen of the U.S. Federal Reserve System – will keynote the conference, and the proceedings will include such influential financial supervisors as Sarah Booth Raskin of the U.S. Treasury and Brooksley Born and Sharon Bowen of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There’ll also be a pre-conference speech by the woman who has suddenly galvanized the Washington economic debate: No, not Hillary Clinton, but Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The new global roster of financial leaders – in this conference's case, all of them women – illustrates how economic policymaking is now, at last, drawing on the skills of an ever-wider-ranging talent pool. The economic expertise featured this week is bound to mark a positive step forward, considering the ruinous impact of the recent mismanagement by middle-aged mainstream men. (Sorry, guys, but can you really blame people for noticing that the pale-stale-and-male crowd allowed the world to drift toward the Crash of 2008?)

This week’s conference agenda is admirably forthright about the challenge: “Complexity, special interest, and weak systems of governance and accountability continue to interfere with the ability of the financial system to serve society's needs.” With Lagarde and Yellen setting the tone – and with Warren adding an injection of populist vigor – this week’s INET conference seems likely to offer some imaginative insights that go beyond the familiar Spring Meetings formula.

If ever there were a time when an INET-style dose of “new economic thinking” might be needed, it’s now. Growth is sluggish and sometimes even stagnant in many developed nations, amid what Largarde calls “the new mediocre.” Markets are fragile and currencies are volatile in many developing countries. A commodity-price slump may drain the coffers of many resource-rich but undiversified economies. As mournful pundits have been lamenting seemingly ad infinitum and sans frontières, the global economy is suffering from a prolonged hangover after its pre-2008 binge of irrational exuberance.

As if the worries about “secular stagnation” were not enough, there’s also the tragedy of Greece, where an economic calamity has unfolded like a slow-motion car wreck as financial markets breathlessly await the all-too-predictable collision. Regular readers of this blog will surely have noted that fears of Greece’s potential crashout from the eurozone have been nearing a crescendo – and the possible default-to-the-drachma drama may soon reach its catharsis.

Closing the gender finance gap: Three steps firms can take

Heather Kipnis's picture
Despite eye-opening market potential — women control a total of $20 trillion in consumer spending —  they have somehow escaped the notice of the private sector as an engine for economic growth.  Women are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. Yet a bank account is the first step toward financial inclusion.

Why is it important for the private sector to help with this first step?
 
In increasingly competitive global markets, companies are searching for ways to differentiate themselves, to deepen their reach in existing markets and to expand to new markets. Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies. The size of the women’s market, and the resulting business opportunity, is striking:
 
  • Business credit: There is a $300 billion gap in lending capital for formal, women-owned small businesses. Of the 8 to 10 million such businesses in 140 countries, more than 70 percent receive few or no financial services.
  • Insurance Products: The Female Economy, a study in the Harvard Business Review, reported that the women’s market for insurance is calculated to be worth trillions of dollars.
  • Digital payments: Women’s lack of cellphone ownership and use means that millions cannot access digital-payment systems. Closing the gap in access to this technology over the next five years could open a $170 billion market to the mobile industry alone.
 

Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies.


For the past several years at IFC, I’ve been working with the private sector, namely financial institutions, to address the supply-and-demand constraints that women face when trying to access the formal financial system. IFC tackles these constraints in three ways:
 
  • Defining the size of the women’s market, female-owned and  -led SMEs, and as individual consumers of financial services
  • Showing financial institutions how to tap into the women’s market opportunity by developing offerings that combine financial products, such as credit, savings and insurance, with non-financial services such as training in business skills
  • Increasing women’s access through convenient delivery channels, such as online, mobile and branchless banking

'Understand clients': The major theme from a World Bank forum on microcredit

Erin Scronce's picture



The conference panel of leading scholars and practitioners on microcredit: From left to right: Esther Duflo, Kate McKee, Lindsay Wallace, Carol Caruso, and Peer Stein.
Photo credit: Michael Rizzo.

On Friday, February 27, researchers, policymakers, investors and practitioners joined forces to move forward in the dialogue around microcredit’s impact on the lives of the poor. Many themes emerged from the day, but perhaps the most salient came from Dean Karlan, who summed things up in 2 words: “Understand clients.”



The Evidence

The conference began with six presentations from researchers Orazio Attanasio, Abhijit Banerjee, Jaikishan Desai, Esther Duflo, Dean Karlan and Costas Meghir, who completed randomized control trials (RCTs) in six countries examining the impact of microcredit. Lindsay Wallace, of the MasterCard Foundation, noted, “These studies may not be new, but they are incredibly important.” While specific findings varied from country to country, the studies confirmed with evidence what many in the field already assumed: that, while microcredit can be good for some, it is no magic bullet for tackling poverty.



 

Activism and Advocacy 'Sans Frontières': Mobilizing Lawyers to Champion Development and the Rule of Law

Christopher Colford's picture
The challenge of global development is so vast, and the need to deliver high-impact services is so urgent, that the drive to create a social movement to build shared prosperity must enlist people with every type of skill – marshalling all of the many kinds of expertise that drive the private sector as well as the public, academic, social and philanthropic realms.

“We need everybody,” as World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim has passionately argued. “We need writers who can write about this. We need engineers. We need doctors. We need lawyers. We need artists. We need everybody who can capture the imagination of the world to end poverty." There’s a role in development for public-spirited people from every profession who seek to contribute to the cause.
 
Take It On: Enlisting In The Development Cause



Deep legal knowledge and deft legal reasoning are certainly part of the skill set needed to eradicate poverty and promote development. That’s because “you can’t have justice without advocates for justice,” as the Justice Community of Practice at the World Bank Group recently learned from the leader of an energetic initiative to link public-spirited legal practitioners with the nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that need their skills.

The legal acumen that helps for-profit law firms succeed in the marketplace is often sought by nonprofits, human-services groups and human-rights advocates. Lawyers' skills can often make a crucial difference for organizations that deal with social prorities – whether it’s by tackling complex challenges like protecting refugees or defending prisoners of conscience, or by pursuing routine tasks like negotiating an office-space lease or reviewing an employment contract.

Matching the needs of social organizations with the capacity of lawyers who have a bit of time to commit to pro bono publico ideals – and thus to “strengthen the global pro bono community” for the long term – is the goal of PILnet, the Global Network for Public Interest Law. PILnet president Edwin Rekosh recently told the Bank’s justice-focused group that “promoting voluntarism among lawyers” often starts with the simple question, “Do you care about doing something good with your free time?” If so, “What do you care about?”

Lawyers within some of the world’s largest international law firms, in particular, often find that they have some spare capacity when they're in-between client assignments. Putting those flexible hours to good use for a pro bono client can both satisfy the lawyers’ altruistic aspirations and reflect well on their firms’ commitment to devote time and talent free of charge to worthy social causes.

It’s Everybody’s Business – So Make Social Issues Strategic: The Private Sector’s Stake in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

Christopher Colford's picture

If you’re in the private sector, and if you somehow imagine that social issues don’t have anything to do with your business, then you’d better think again. The dollars-and-cents costs of chronic social problems and dysfunctional behavior have a direct impact on private-sector productivity and profitability.

As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told a World Bank Group audience not long ago, explaining his theory of “creating shared value”: If business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth – and about the long-range stability of the economy – then the corporate sector had better prioritize pro-active steps to address serious social issues as a significant part of their strategy.

Social issues might not readily rise to the top of corporate leaders’ in-boxes, since many hard-headed businessmen – and I use the suffix “men” advisedly – might presume that “soft” human concerns aren’t central to day-to-day business operations. Yet the painful human toll inflicted by social dysfunction is everybody’s business. Corporate executives who truly aim to fulfill a positive leadership role in society, to which they so often aspire rhetorically, have a duty to raise their voices about the many kinds of social trauma that impede socioeconomic progress.

If a sense of social responsibility isn’t enough to get corporate leaders thinking pro-actively, they should at least consider their business’ long-term enlightened self-interest. A workforce that’s de-motivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale and higher absenteeism, will trigger higher health-care costs, will be distracted from seizing new business opportunities, and will fall short of fulfilling its full productive potential. That economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.

An event on Wednesday at the World Bank Group will offer a reminder of how one vicious form of extreme antisocial behaviorviolence against women and girls – acts as a drag on society, a drain on the economy and an impediment to achieving every development priority. The 2 p.m. event in the J Building auditorium will launch a new World Bank Group report – the “Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide” – that surveys a wide range of analyses on the human suffering and social pain caused by gender-based violence.

Jointly sponsored by the Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute based at George Washington University, the afternoon event will follow a morning panel discussion – at 10 a.m. in GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium – featuring the authors of a landmark series of analyses of gender-based violence in The Lancet, the UK's pre-eminent medical journal.

Recognizing gender-based violence as a medical and public-health emergency – and reinforcing the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that gender-based violence is a global threat “of epidemic proportions” – The Lancet’s special edition is blunt about the grim toll of violence that deliberately victimizes women and girls: “Every day, millions of women and girls worldwide experience violence. This abuse takes many forms, including intimate physical and sexual partner violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, sex trafficking, and rape.”

Yet the special edition of The Lancet asserts that this social scourge is preventable. The analyses “cover the evidence base for interventions, discuss the vital role of the health sector in care and prevention, show the need for men and women to be involved in effective programmes, provide practical lessons from experience in countries, and present a call for action with five key recommendations and indicators to track progress.”

In a parallel, practical initiative, the government of the United Kingdom – through its Public Health England arm – has published a “toolkit” to help businesses identify, analyze and take protective action for those who may have been victimized by domestic abuse, psychological trauma or gender-based violence. PHE’s toolkit and awareness-building initiatives redouble the efforts of the UK’s Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence.

In the spirit of the United Nations’ recent observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and occurring amid the current “16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence” campaign – the Wednesday discussions with experts from The Lancet, the Global Women’s Institute, the IDB and the World Bank Group will help highlight the pervasive gender bias that hardens social inequality, and that can take the extreme form of violence targeting women and girls.

Corporate leaders who aim to take a leadership role in society have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment: by rededicating their organizations to activist steps to mend a society too often torn by violence and the causes of violence: economic insecurity, social-class stratification, winner-take-all rapacity, misogyny, discrimination and exclusion – all of which threaten the ideals of eradicating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity.

Wednesday’s forums on gender-based violence will remind us that building a stronger, safer, more inclusive society is everybody’s business. That challenge should inspire private-sector leaders to include the long-term welfare of society as one essential factor as they calculate their bottom-line summation of success.

 

#TakeOn Violence Against Women and Girls

Credit for All: Increasing Women's Access to Finance

Nisha Nicole Arekapudi's picture
Financial inclusion is important for accelerating economic growth, reducing income inequality, and decreasing poverty rates. Unfortunately, women face more difficulty than men in access to credit, limiting the development of their full market potential and hindering economic gain and entrepreneurship. Discriminatory practices in the granting of credit may mean that qualified applicants do not have the same opportunity to receive credit simply due to their gender.

Monitoring Legal Pathways to End Violence Against Women

Garam Dexter's picture

Did you know 25% of economies covered by the 2014 Women, Business and the Law pilot indicator on protecting women from violence have no laws in place on domestic violence?  The Women, Business and the Law dataset and report provide a breakdown of the legal framework affecting women’s ability to contribute to entrepreneurial and economic activity in 143 economies.  

The report, which is fully available online for download as of today, covers legal differences that affect women’s economic empowerment including areas such as personal capacity, property, and employment legislation. For the first time, the report also includes data on violence against women legislation.

It is important that men are part of the discussion about the inequalities faced by women and girls around the world. The actor Emma Watson, in her speech on behalf of the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations this week, called on men to be part of the change. But the process of change should not stop there—around the world, women need enforceable legal protection and mechanisms that guarantee their rights.   
 

O que é preciso para criar uma economia próspera para todos?

Paula Tavares's picture



Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014

A pergunta foi o foco do Fórum de Mulheres realizado este ano nos dias 26 e 27 de maio, em São Paulo, Brasil. Em um país movimentado com a Copa do Mundo e se preparando para eleições presidenciais, o tema ‘Criar uma Economia Próspera para Todos’ foi bastante propício. Mais de quinhentos homens e mulheres participantes, entre políticos, empresários, membros da sociedade civil e acadêmicos de todos os cantos do Brasil, de países da América Latina, dos Estados Unidos e da Europa se reuniram para colocar em pauta – e no centro do palco – a questão da plena participação das mulheres na economia e na sociedade. O cenário foi bastante adequado: um país em que as mulheres conquistaram grandes avanços e cada vez mais estão em posições de destaque. Do mais alto cargo - da Presidente do país - e em todos os setores da socidade e da economia, as mulheres estão atuantes e continuam a assumir cargos de liderança, com muitos bons exemplos presentes nas sessões plenárias e durante todo o evento.

O Fórum foi de fato próspero e marcante. Começou com um apelo pela libertação das estudantes Nigerianas sequestradas seguido da palestra de abertura, dada pela Ministra da Secretaria de Políticas para as Mulheres, Eleonora Menicucci, focando na conquista da autonomia econômica para as mulheres no Brasil e em iniciativas como a campanha “Eu Ligo” pelo fim da violência contra as mulheres.

As sessões plenárias e painéis que se seguiram, todos compostos de brilhantes exemplos de mulheres em posições de destaque e de liderança em empresas brasileiras e internacionais, pequenas e médias empresas e no governo e na sociedade civil, como a presidente da Boeing Brasil, a presidente da companhia aérea TAM, a presidente do Fórum de Mulheres e a diretora para Mulheres e Crianças da Clinton Global Initiative, abordaram temas relevantes como negócios e direitos humanos, casamento, machismo, e investimento social em mulheres, incentivando talentos, entre outros.

What does it take to have vibrant growth for all?

Paula Tavares's picture



Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014

The question was posed at this year’s Women’s Forum Brazil held in São Paulo, Brazil, on May 26 and 27. In a country bustling with the World Cup and gearing up for presidential elections, "Vibrant Growth for All" was a fitting topic. As more than 500 women and men involved in politics, business, civil society and academia from all regions of Brazil, countries of Latin America, the United States and Europe gathered together, women’s full participation in the economy and society was center stage in the discussions. The setting was quite appropriate: Women have made great strides and have increasingly taken the stage in the country. And starting from the top – the country’s President – and in all sectors of society and the economy, women are present and continue to take on leading positions, with many good examples present at the plenary room and throughout the two-day event.

Kicking off with an impassioned plea for the release of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and the keynote address given by Minister of State of Public Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci, focusing on the achievement of economic autonomy for women in Brazil and initiatives to end violence against women such as the “Eu Ligo” campaign (with the double meaning in English: “I call / I care”), the forum throughout was indeed a vibrant event.

The plenary sessions and panels that followed were brilliantly composed of high-level women in leadership positions from Brazilian and international companies, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and of government and civil society, including the CEO of Boeing Brazil, the CEO of Brazilian Tam Airlines, the CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, and the Clinton Global Initiative Director for Women and Girls, to shed light on topics such as business and human rights, marriage, machismo, and social investment in women, incentivizing leadership and talent, among others.

Partager les expériences pour renforcer l'égalité hommes-femmes en Afrique subsaharienne

Paula Tavares's picture



Le 27 Février, un atelier régional de haut niveau a débuté à Lomé (Togo), avec la participation des ministres en charge de la promotion de la femme et des représentants de 11 pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest et Centrale. Le thème principal de l’atelier était le rapport du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, « Les Femmes, l’Entreprise et le Droit 2014 : Lever les obstacles au renforcement de l’égalité hommes-femmes ». Un dîner de bienvenue précédant l'ouverture officielle de l'événement a révélé le dynamisme des ministres participants - toutes des femmes -, de même que les réalités et enjeux communs à leurs nations. La plupart se réunissaient pour la première fois et cette occasion unique a permis le partage des expériences et des points de vue sur les lois, les normes culturelles et les rôles traditionnels au sein de la famille.

Les discours d'ouverture de l'atelier reflètent bien l'importance de l'égalité hommes-femmes pour la région. En accueillant l'événement, Monsieur Hervé Assah, Représentant Résident de la Banque mondiale au Togo, a noté que : « Sous-investir dans le capital humain que constituent les femmes est un véritable frein à la réduction de la pauvreté et limite considérablement les perspectives de développement sur le plan économique et social ». Ces préoccupations ont été reprises par la Ministre de l'Action Sociale, de la Promotion de la Femme et de l'Alphabétisation du Togo, Mme Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, qui a souligné l'importance de la participation des femmes dans la société et dans l'économie, à la fois au Togo et dans le monde. Le ton était donc donné pour cet événement de deux jours, qui visait à la fois à mettre en évidence les récentes réformes adoptées par les pays de la région et à promouvoir le partage d'expériences, les défis et les bonnes pratiques entre les participants pour promouvoir l'inclusion économique des femmes.

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