What are the key pain points smallholder farmers face? Gaps across the agriculture value chain—lack of access to affordable financial products, limited knowledge of high-quality inputs, low usage of technology and market data, and poor market links. Social enterprises (SEs) in the agriculture sector are successfully closing these gaps, believing that the cost of their services or products will be recuperated by the benefits and income gains that smallholders will achieve.
For example, SEs implement innovative solutions through information and communications technology (ICT) platforms. Esoko’s text alerts on weather conditions and crop market prices saves smallholders in Ghana both time and money. Shamba Shape Up is a “makeover” style farming reality show that gives advice on improving farms and increasing yields to Kenyan farmers. Digital Green recruits local, established farmers to share their farming techniques—from pest-control to seed treatment—in over 3,500 videos for peer smallholders in Africa and India.
Eco-industrial parks (EIP) refers to putting in place serviced industrial infrastructure conducive to attracting new investments, especially in manufacturing, while at the same time promoting environmental sustainability.
The World Bank Group has helped strengthen the ecosystem for digital entrepreneurs and seed digital incubators in several countries around the world, including Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa, just to name a few. Start-ups in these “mLabs” have developed or improved more than 500 digital products or services, and some 100 early stage firms raised over $15 million in investments and grant funding. But is this the answer to scaling growth entrepreneurs on the continent?
It is easy enough to find data on flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). There are also plenty of anecdotes out there that purportedly encapsulate what businesses worldwide are thinking. It is far more difficult, however, to establish rigorous connections between global investment trends and individual investment decisions by international companies. In the World Bank Group’s newly published Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017–2018, our team does just this, combining new survey data, rigorous econometric analysis, and extensive literature reviews to reveal what is going on behind the headline numbers.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
How a new green business facility in South Africa is connecting local companies to the global green economy
Traditional trade mission functions are becoming obsolete. Over hors d'oeuvres, business cards are exchanged, elevator pitches are delivered but, in most cases, entrepreneurs leave with empty promises to stay in touch and no useful contacts. This may sound a little cynical but the reality is that in an age of business models “ripe for disruption,” the ways to create viable business partnerships across borders have not changed for decades.
The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets. Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.
The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.
Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.
It’s now been about a month since the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group launched TCdata360, our new platform for open trade and competitiveness data from the Bank and external sources. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has included a mixture of the anticipated and the unexpected.
Egypt has been the most popular country page during this period, the indicator on the number of days to start a business has been the second most visited page (though it seems to be ceding its spot to the page on venture capital availability) and we have been struck by the number of people that have searched for information on countries that have laws against sexual harassment in the work place (it’s steadily been one of the top 10 most visited pages on the site). Our data stories have attracted attention as well, especially in social media and there has been consistent interest in the API.
The question now is: Where should we take TCdata360 from here? How does a platform grow after the initial excitement around its release has dissipated? How can you or your organization contribute to the growth of the platform?
Here are a few of our ideas at the moment:
- More data – we have a growing inventory of new datasets.
- Better user experience – we are tweaking several things, while keeping what people like (which is most of the site).
- More analytics – we have experimented with Datascoper, a tool to uncover hidden patterns in data, but work remains to make these tools more usable and meaningful.
- Better engagement with our users – we want to show off your work on the site. Tell us about the insightful work you do using our data; we will share it with all our users. And we are all ears about your ideas for other ways to collaborate.
- Continue contributing to the open data community – we plan to offer data literacy and other support; stay tuned for greater emphasis on applied data; we are working to make this and other data truly useful in an applied sense to governments, the private sector, and others.
- Better linkages with the open source world – we built the site on open source and want to share our work with the community; we are constantly looking for tools that we can either integrate into the site or that we should be using. Tell us about them.
An instructor at the Savar EPZ training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh, helps young women being trained to make shirts. Photo Credit: © Dominic Chavez/The World Bank
Increasing economic prosperity for developing countries is related not only to rising trade, but also – and more important – to transforming the traditional composition of what they produce and export. In the world today, many developing countries strive to diversify away from exporting commodities toward higher-value-added goods and services.
The evolution of trade and investment flows over the last three decades shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) can be a powerful driver of exports, a creator of well-paid new jobs and a crucial source of financing. More important, FDI may become a very rapid and effective engine to promote the transfer of technology, know-how and new business practices, helping to raise productivity and setting a country on the course of convergence. This is particularly the case of efficiency-seeking FDI – that is, FDI that locates productive processes in a country seeking to enhance its ability to better compete in international markets-.
The benefits of FDI are further leveraged when local firms can catalyze the presence of foreign investors to connect to global and regional value chains (GVCs). As a result of new international firms investing in a host country, great new opportunities arise for local enterprises to supply the inputs – be it goods or services – that their international counterparts need.
This has been the experience of Bangladesh, where local suppliers have grown in tandem with foreign investors in the garment sector. It is through linkages with international investors that local firms can gradually be lured into producing new goods and services that, until then, were not produced in the host country. This is how economic diversification and greater value added are generated.
Multinational enterprises (MNEs) and their key partners (Tier 1 suppliers) are generally keen to source locally if a competitive local supplier can be found. However, they are also reluctant to absorb high search-and-find costs, and they will typically not invest in assisting local suppliers with upgrading efforts. Likewise, local firms are generally keen to supply to foreign firms, but are often not ready to make the necessary investments in technology and in processes to meet strict quality standards without a clear line of sight on potential payoff for such investment.
“Globalization and technological change create huge challenges for modern economies, but they are not uncontrollable forces of nature. The economy we have is the economy we choose to build. It is time to make different choices, and show that capitalism can be remade.” — Prof. Mariana Mazzucato of the University of Sussex and Prof. Michael Jacobs of University College London, the editors of “Rethinking Capitalism.”
The shadows lengthen and the daylight shortens amid these elegiac end-of-summer evenings — but there’s a palpable feeling nowadays, in Washington and other capitals, that we’re approaching not just the sunset of a season, but the twilight of an era.
The sudden change in the policy discourse over the past year has shattered the familiar old contours of the globalization debate, with a “populist explosion” in the world’s developed economies forcing policymakers everywhere to reconsider the boundaries of “the art of the possible.” In many of the world's developed economies, a recalibration of globalization is under way.
In this insolite interim, the fraught phrase of Antonio Gramsci comes to mind: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot [yet] be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Three incisive recent analyses illustrate the impassioned arguments that underscore this end-of-an-era feeling. Together, the analyses set the stage for the imminent publication of a new book of essays by a group of eminent economists, whose ideas may chart the way toward a more durable, more inclusive approach to globalization.
- First: An eloquent “grand sweep of history” essay in The Guardian by Martin Jacques – critiquing the laissez-faire the policy package broadly known as “neoliberalism” – declares bluntly that “we are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era. It is not dead, but it is in its early death throes.” Jacques discerns that “the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 1970s . . . [that] embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital.”
- Second: Diagnosing how a phase of economic history may have run its course, Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz (a former Chief Economist of the World Bank) in Project Syndicate asserts that the laissez-faire approach to globalization has reached its (il)logical conclusion: “The failure of globalization to deliver on the promises of mainstream politicians has surely undermined trust and confidence in the ‘establishment.’ . . . Neoliberals have opposed welfare measures that would have protected the losers [of globalization]. But they can’t have it both ways: If globalization is to benefit most members of society, strong social-protection measures must be in place. The Scandinavians figured this out long ago; it was part of [their] social contract. . . . Neoliberals elsewhere have not – and now, in elections in the US and Europe, they are having their comeuppance.”
- Third: A series of insightful columns by Martin Sandbu in The Financial Times – tracing an “insurrection [that] has been a long time coming” – explores the links among economic stress and social-class anxiety that provoked this year’s social eruption: “Over the past generation, the trajectory of the white working class has no doubt changed the most for the worse, compared with the previous generation.”
The history-minded reflections of Jacques, Stiglitz and Sandbu underscore the fact that many economists are still pondering how so many of their policy prescriptions went so badly wrong, opening the way for the global financial crisis.
Policy persuasion is most effective when it draws on the evidence base of all the social-science disciplines. Every strand of the social sciences – not just the mathematical precision of economics, but also the nuanced interpretations of history and the subtle trajectories of sociology – has a great deal to contribute as policymakers balance competing priorities.
That multidisciplinary approach – emphasized in such recent works as The History Manifesto, in which Harvard and Brown University historians call for policymakers’ greater reliance on the combined reasoning of all the social sciences – was thoroughly borne out in the recent Development Economics Series lecture by economist David Autor of MIT (who is a scholar at the National Bureau of Economic Research). Presenting a research paper on trade policy, and underscoring the importance of public opinion in shaping policymakers’ approach to it, Autor’s presentation used the logic of political science to highlight the electoral mood swings that help shape countries’ position on international trade.
Using the perspectives of political science – in the paper, “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure” (co-authored with colleagues from the University of Zurich; the University of California, San Diego; and Lund University) – was a valuable way to help remind Autor's economics-focused World Bank Group audience that policymaking does not occur in an academic vacuum. Even though the Bank’s economics-heavy analyses may try to distill policy options into quantifiable formulae, the policymakers whom the Bank advises get their political mandate from their countries’ volatile voters – who do not always follow homo economicus’ coldly rational approach to decision-making.
Amid the topsy-turvy 2016 electoral cycle in many countries – in which voters’ fears about job losses due to international trade have been inflamed amid an upsurge of populism and protectionism – you don’t have to be a public-opinion pollster to affirm Autor's assertion in his analysis of recent U.S. voting patterns: “We detect an ideological realignment that is centered in trade-exposed local labor markets and that commences prior to the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. Exploiting the exogenous component of rising trade with China and classifying legislator ideologies by their congressional voting record, we find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import competition disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s.”
Translation: If you’re a pro-trade lawmaker in a district that has a high degree of imports from overseas, in a region that has endured what Autor calls “economic scarring,” then you’re likely to pay a heavy price at the ballot box – and, if you’re defeated, your successor just might be a strident protectionist. The Autor analysis shrewdly underscores the adjective “political” in the anodyne textbook phrase, “political economy.”