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Maya Brahmam's blog

No Money, No Worry

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Rafu, the chief of the fishing villageThe World Bank recently completed two surveys that confirm that large global banks are restricting or terminating relationships with other financial institutions and that banking services for money-transfer operators have become increasingly limited.

The risk is that a decline in correspondent banking services can lead to financial exclusion, particularly for remittance providers – poor people working in richer countries who send money home to their families in poorer countries. To a large extent, these restrictions have come about because of worries about money laundering or financing for terrorism and less appetite for risk.

However, there are alternatives. Mobile money is a fast-growing alternative to traditional banks. CBS’s Lesley Stahl recently reported on how MPesa has transformed financial inclusion in Kenya, where people- many of them poor- do most of their financial transactions via cellphone and outside of traditional banking systems.  She also pointed out that tech giants like Google, Facebook, PayPal and Apple are all exploring this new consumer market, where sending money can be as simple as sending a text message. Also, according to the Financial Times, mobile money is making serious inroads in Latin America, where 37 mobile money services are now operational across 19 countries. Unlike the experience of Africa, Latin Americans are using mobile money to support urban middle-class lifestyles.

Things I Learned from WikiStage WBG Lima

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The first WikiStage WBG was held in Lima on October 6 on the topic of social inclusion. You can view the entire show at World Bank Live.  

WikiStage Lima crewWhat’s a WikiStage?
This was a special event organized by the World Bank and produced under license from WikiStage. It featured an inspirational sequence of talks, performance, and films in a 3-minute, 6-minute or 9 minute format. The WikiStage Association in Paris is a non-profit organization that supports a global network of volunteers and event organizers. WikiStage is independent from Wikipedia or other “Wiki” projects and is a young knowledge sharing collaborative that began in 2013 and today represents a network of more than 50 event organizers in 10 countries.

Our goal was to create an interesting and tightly choreographed program that explored social inclusion through the perspectives of people from a variety of different backgrounds and disciplines. It was presented in English and Spanish to a live audience of 500 and livestreamed to a global online audience.

Here are three things I learned from organizing the WikiStage WBG Lima.

World Cup and making history for women

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Women's World Cup Championship 2015Today is the anniversary of the first World Cup, which was held in 1930 in Uruguay. Last Friday, almost 85 years later, the US Women’s Soccer Team was feted for their victory in a New York City ticker tape parade. A moment quite sweet to contemplate – I was surprised at how many people I saw tuning in and watching the final game.

The economic reality of women’s professional sports is not so sweet. According to PBS, the US Women’s soccer team got $2 million for World Cup win; German men got $35 million in 2014. That New York City ticker tape parade cost almost as much as the US Women’s winnings.

In an interview with the Guardian, Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s secretary general, has argued the men’s World Cup prize money pool is so much larger because the men’s tournament generates more revenue. The men’s World Cup “brings in $4.5bn direct to Fifa,” he said...But women’s soccer is newer, which means the women could be waiting a long time to earn a payout like the German men did last year.

New thinking on digital storytelling

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I have been reading with interest some of the questions posed on storytelling inside the World Bank. The recent blog post by Bruce Wydick is a case in point. Reactions ranged from positive to some uneasiness around the idea that we’re using stories to share results, when we’re generally more comfortable with a “Just the facts” approach. One concern seems to be that we might surrender our decision-making to the emotion of a good story versus hard evidence.

In fact, doesn’t the word fabulist mean someone who stretches the truth a bit, by telling stories? I was therefore not so surprised to find storytelling used as an explanation for NBC news anchor Brian Williams’ recent troubles. A Washington Post article about Williams noted, “Former colleagues reveal a man who took such delight in spinning yarns that he could sometimes lose sight of where the truth began and where it ended.”

We have examined brain science and other areas to figure out why stories are so compelling, and I’ve blogged about this in this space before. Storytelling is compelling because it’s memorable, shareable (nice feature in this digital world), and relatable (people respond and retain for longer material with an emotional content).

Aid Is Politics: We Need to Act

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Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist, of UK’s DFID gave a thought-provoking talk about Aid Is Politics last week, and he made the point that much of what passes as political economy analysis is pessimistic or refuses to make policy suggestions. However, people who work in development do not have that luxury. They are in a country to act, to make a contribution.

Dercon quoted Esther Duflo, “We can do lots of bad policies in good institutional settings, and lots of good policies in bad institutional settings.” He continued, “Development policy as well as aid is still about doing the ‘right things’ and not the ‘wrong things’.” What we need to admit is that the process is political. Development actions are constrained by politics today and will affect politics tomorrow.

By acting, we’re taking a stand. Therefore, we better get some of the things right. And to do that properly, we must take into account the power structures and politics that are endogenous to a particular place. We should think through economic advice based on what tomorrow will bring. This won’t be easy, but we can push for this, and by so doing, gain a better political equilibrium in the countries we advise.

Mandela on My Mind

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Last Friday, July 18, was Nelson Mandela Day, a day to recognize and remember his legacy to the cause of social justice – including the fight against extreme poverty. Mandela has inspired countless people with his ideas and actions.

The moment of personal inspiration came when I read a friend’s blog post several years ago in which he described a visit to Mandela’s prison cell, where he spent more than 20 years – a small cramped space that couldn’t constrain his larger vision. In Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography he began writing in prison, Mandela said, “It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”  I found these words compelling, as they challenge each of us to examine our own life and direction.

In a very visceral way, Mandela understood the concept of inequality. He established the “Train of Hope,” which made its first journey to deliver health care to underserved rural populations in 1994, the same year that he was elected as South Africa’s president. He also believed in the promise of education. In 2001, at the opening ceremony of a secondary school, he stated, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine…

Mandela is for my generation what Gandhi was for my parents: A legend in his own time.

The Importance of Learning and Climate Change

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While at the Carbon Expo in Cologne at the end of May, there was a great deal of interest in the climate change learning programs that we shared with attendees. The sense I got as I spoke with participants from a range of sectors (engineering, risk management, energy consulting) is that people are realizing that knowledge needs to be converted to learning to become practice, especially on a topic as complex as climate change. This was one of the drivers behind the development of our recent Massive Open Online Course on climate change.

The Digital Media Academy at the 7th World Urban Forum

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It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.

I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation for details.

Women Visible

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As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I was moved to write about the visibility of women. Women visible – or not – conjure up many images. Think about it.

Women in business.

We’ve heard about women not being sufficiently represented on the boards of major corporations. According to new polls of Fortune 500 companies reported by Anne Fisher on CNN, the numbers of women in leadership haven’t shifted much: “Women's share of corporate board seats, at 16.6%, hasn't grown at all since 2004. The percentage of female executive officers at Fortune 500 companies is even smaller -- 14.3% -- and has remained flat for three straight years…” Why’s that? It’s linked to women’s visibility: "Being visible and making your accomplishments known is essential to getting the kinds of experience that can move you up into senior management, but some corporate cultures penalize women for that.”

Storytellers Redux: A Development Slam

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We had an interesting experiment last month with our very first Development Slam – modeled on the idea of a Poetry Slam – that was held with Aspen Institute’s New Voices Fellows and the World Bank Group’s storytellers.

The Slam allowed people to share their experiences in an interactive way with their peers and allowed the audience to participate as well via an open mic.