We know that numbers are useful. We rely on them to analyze global economic trends, but also to count calories, create passwords, manage schedules and track our spending. Numbers give order to the chaos of our lives. And that means we can use numbers to reflect, learn, and re-discover ourselves.
We’ve launched a new YouTube series called ‘My Favorite Number,’ that shows how a single digit can give us unique insight into global development and humanity. A number can have a profound effect on human lives.
Many people have the misconception that my field -- global development -- is just about do-gooders and charities helping the poor. To be sure, many charitable groups are doing generous, laudable work. But global development extends far beyond charity and has a greater impact on the global economy than most people think.
Strong economic growth in developing countries became an engine for the global economy after the 2008-09 financial crisis, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all global growth. In addition, fully half of the United States’ exports now go to emerging markets and developing economies.
Global economic development can be good for your bottom line. Our focus is on helping more than a billion poor people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and on boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 percent in developing countries. To do that, we need to find economic growth strategies that help all segments of society in emerging markets -- reaching even fragile states striving to put years of conflict behind them and to create good jobs for their people.
The question I ask my team all the time is, what’s our plan? Increasingly scarce public funding isn’t enough to get the job done. We need to attract private sector investment that creates jobs. Ninety percent of all jobs in the developing world are created by the private sector. If we have high aspirations for the poor and vulnerable, there is no argument: We need the private sector to flourish, even in the poorest countries.
After more than two hours stranded at a small town train station near Tokyo, Japan, with record snowfall and freezing temperatures outside our windows, the train driver addressed us for the third time – no new updates. “Our personnel are working to fix the problem,” the voice said. At that moment, an older man seated next to me leaned over and told me, “We have to do our part; the people working in the snow are trying their best to fix the system, so we can move. We should remain calm and wait - we cannot be part of the problem.” I was starting to understand why Japanese are so resilient.
This adventure began last February, following my participation in the launch of the new, $100 million joint program between Japan and the World Bank for disaster risk reduction. This program, implemented by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will benefit a large number of especially vulnerable countries around the world. As part of this new initiative, the World Bank also launched the Disaster Risk Management Tokyo Hub.
The launch for the Tokyo Hub was held at a high level symposium at the Japan Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on February 3, which attracted more than 400 people and had substantial media coverage. The Senior Vice-Minister for Finance/Senior Vice-Minister for Reconstruction Jiro Aichi (a native of Sendai) spoke of Japan's commitment to disaster risk management (DRM) and thanked the World Bank for its strong support, before kicking off an intense program of inter-agency meetings to better utilize Japanese expertise in DRM practices.
My experience with Japanese solidarity and resilience, however, was best highlighted the day I was returning home. On February 9, as I was trying to get to Narita airport, more than 27 centimeters of snow fell on Tokyo and other areas of Japan, the heaviest of 40 years. Many buildings in the city collapsed, leaving at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country.
Building social movements. I often hear about the need to create social movements to tackle a number of entrenched global challenges such as ending extreme poverty, promoting greater income equality, and combatting climate change.
History is full of social movements that have succeeded and failed. The lessons from one ongoing movement that I know well – the fight against AIDS – should be examined closely by those looking to build movements today.
Lesson No. 1 from the AIDS movement is to believe only in the possibility -- not the inevitability -- of success. Opponents will fight and appear immovable. As those of us who lived through the early days of the AIDS fight, it was always far from certain that we would reach our goals.
The green energy revolution used to look pretty far off. Today, businesses are starting to factor the cost of climate change into their planning, countries have set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy, and wind farms and solar panels are popping up everywhere. But large-scale renewable energy development is still a challenge – especially in the absence of government incentives. Large-scale renewable power such as solar, wind, and wave power, though technically viable, is often seen by investors as too expensive to develop and too risky.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, is working to overcome those concerns. In Chile – a country with considerable renewable energy potential – these efforts are starting to have an impact. As the video below shows, Chile plans a significant shift in its energy equation – from 37% renewables today to 55% by 2024. Though still a very small percentage of the overall energy mix, non-conventional renewable power such as wind and solar is starting to happen there, without government subsidies.
Right now, as you read this, wherever you are, we are in uncharted territory. Our global population of 7.1 billion is headed for more than 9 billion by 2050. With our growing numbers and aspirations for shared prosperity comes a growing demand for energy to power homes, businesses, industry and transport. Our continuing reliance on fossil fuels is generating pollution and a dangerously high amount of greenhouse gas emissions – this past summer, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed levels not seen in 3 million years.
If you were in Beijing last week, you felt the impact in your lungs: Just 16 days into the new year, the city woke up to its first “airpocalypse” of 2014, the latest in a series of dangerously high smog days. Beijing’s mayor announced plans the same day to cut coal use by 2.6 million tons and ban heavily polluting vehicles.
That was an important local step, and we are seeing forward-thinking cities and national governments make similar moves as they develop the architecture for a cleaner, low-carbon future.
International Green Week in Berlin, the world's largest exhibition for agriculture, food, and horticulture, is the sort of place where you can taste food from all over the world, see animals of all shapes and sizes (ever heard of a Pustertaler Schecken?), and explore the latest innovations in GPS-guided agricultural machinery. The event attracts not only 400,000 curious visitors, it also draws global decision-makers from government, the private sector, science, and civil society, including some 70 ministers of agriculture.
Established in 1926, this event could probably make a reasonable claim that it has seen it all before. But, of course, it hasn’t. This year, the focus was on resilience.
The already present impacts of climate change are demanding innovation and partnership in agriculture on a scale never seen before. It is not an academic discussion about some uncertain future – it is posing challenges to farmers today, and it’s having an impact on their bottom lines.
But nothing stays the same forever.
SEOUL, Republic of Korea — I was born in this country in 1959, a time when the per capita income was not much more than $100. Today, Korea's gross national income is roughly $23,000 per person. Everywhere I travel in the developing world, leaders ask me, how did Korea lift itself out of such dire straits? One of the reasons is that many Koreans are never satisfied with success; they always seek improvement. Watch this blog to learn more.