President Jim Yong Kim outlined his plan for a leaner, more efficient and tightly knit World Bank Group in his opening address at the Annual Meetings — and listed several ways changes would be visible to countries working with the institution. Among them: reducing by a third the amount of time a project takes to get off the ground; gathering feedback from all beneficiaries on development projects; and openly sharing knowledge and experience, including making it easy to see exactly where the Bank is working and what it is doing. “Together, we must urgently lift a billion people from extreme poverty, help them to regain dignity, help them find hope, and help them change their own lives — and the whole world’s future — for the better,” said Kim. The Development Committee discusses the Bank Group’s new strategy on Saturday.
An excited crowd greeted Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old whose fight for girls’ education earned her the European Union’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination this year. In an often humorous, sometimes touching conversation with President Kim and young people in the audience on International Day of the Girl, Malala talked about her life before and after an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Her cause, education, is the best way to fight poverty and should be the top priority of development institutions, she said. “I believe that when we work together, that it’s really easy for us to achieve our goals,” she said. Kim pledged $200,000 to the Malala Fund on behalf of the World Bank. Replay the webcast and read our Youthink blog.
A recent regional study that focused on Roma and non-Roma in nearby communities from five Eastern European countries finds between 28 and 45 percent of Roma children attend preschool in four of the five study countries. However, the Roma preschool rate jumps to 76 percent in Hungary, where targeted policies have been in place; and this is about the average for non-Roma preschool rates across the five countries. Hungary’s experience offers promise because surveys show that preschool matters greatly to completing secondary school and staying off social assistance.
A while back, I visited a village in a country whose economy has been grown rapidly over the past decade. The country has been moving quickly from its lower income status to become classified as a lower-middle income economy. The village I visited was only some 50 kilometers from a bustling provincial capital on the border, but it might as well have been 500 kilometers away. The village took four hours to reach because we had to traverse three rivers or streams, and the roads were riddled with potholes the size of lunar craters. The shoulders of the road sometimes reached up to the top of the car windows.
There was no internet, no phone, and most definitely no technology superhighway and ‘push-one-button solution’ to development. As we went from house to house, it seemed as though everyone in the village was sick. Children were running a high fever. In one household we visited, I asked the mother who was cradling her ill son whether she had been to see a doctor. She said yes. She had managed to borrow money from her neighbor and taken three van rides to the closest health clinic with her son. One month later, however, the child had not recovered and was still running a high fever. He could no longer go to school, and the mother was having difficulty tending her fields because she had to care for her son. I asked her if she was considering taking her son back to the clinic, and she said that even if she had the money, she would not go back. The health staff had treated her and her son badly, talking down to them and belittling them because they were poor ethnic minorities. She and her son only felt worse after the visit, and vowed not to return, no matter how sick the child became.
Variants of this story of marginalization and social exclusion abound. In other countries, it may be the single female head of household who is stigmatized because of her lowly status, or the internally displaced person who falls through the cracks of national safety nets and household surveys, or the ethnic minority villager who cannot speak the official language and consequently is unable or ashamed to speak up at community meetings.
Women like Mussarat are at the forefront of our efforts to secure development by tackling climate change. On the one hand, they are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of extreme events. But it is also women who can make a difference to change entrenched behaviors. It is their decisions as entrepreneurs, investors, consumers, farmers, and heads of households that can put our planet on a greener, more inclusive development trajectory.
When I heard the news last autumn that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had been shot simply for standing up for her right as a girl to get an education, I was horrified.
It also reminded me how lucky I was.
When I was offered a rare scholarship to study abroad, it wasn’t acceptable for me, as a young married Indonesian woman, to live apart from my husband. My mother laid out two options: Either he would join me, which meant giving up his job, or I had to decline the offer.
I know it was her way to advocate for my husband to support me, which he did without hesitation. We both went to the United States to complete our master’s degrees. I combined it with a doctorate in economics, and we had our first child, a daughter, while we both were graduate students.
"Five years ago, I was no one," said Kunti Devi to me, sitting up straight against the wall of her one-room mud hut in Bara, a small village in India's eastern state of Bihar. "Now, people know me by my own name, not just by the name of my children."
I was sitting on the floor, across from Devi, a mother of eight, who belonged to one of the most vulnerable and socially excluded castes in India. She recalled how when her husband got injured and lost his job a few years ago, the family was pushed over the brink — from subsistence to hunger and poverty. At the time, Devi took a bold step for a poor woman used to living in the shadows of society. She joined a women's self-help group in her village and took a small loan to raise goats. With the income she generated, she repaid her first loan and took another one — this time to lease land to produce grain. She borrowed again when her family faced a health crisis. Today, Devi has several sources of income. She is also planning ahead. She wants to open a food outlet on a busy road. And now, with two of her sons married, she wants to find a larger living space for her growing family.
This week I had the pleasure of attending Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the largest global gathering of the decade to focus on the health and well-being of girls and women. The conference convened several thousand people from 140 countries — including many ministers and parliamentarians — to generate momentum and political commitment for girls’ and women’s rights and reproductive health.
We heard the voices of the wealthy and powerful — like Melinda Gates and Chelsea Clinton — as well as the voices that too often go unheard — including young people, sexual minorities, widows, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV and AIDS. I was really inspired by the passion of all the participants — of whom, by the way, 40% were male, quite a high proportion for gender events — and was reminded that the safe and healthy experience I had having my own kids is so far from the reality of many millions of women around the world.
For almost a year, the World Bank has been supporting the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) in Haiti, where much of the country is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake. Through this program, 1,000 low-income Haitian girls between the ages of 17 and 20 who did not complete secondary school have been able to receive vocational and technical training in areas of work not traditionally open to women.
The program seeks to ensure that these young Haitian women can enter the labor force with skills and experience. Internships are an integral component of the training they receive. In this context, the acquisition of technical skills suited to labor market needs and a change in mindset are critical to altering this situation in tangible ways.
I had the opportunity to go to Port-au-Prince when the program was launched and meet the future beneficiaries. I returned a few weeks ago to observe the progress made.
In a new study on gender equality, researchers asked 4,000 people in 20 countries to describe the gender norms in their communities and the influence those norms have on their lives and their every-day decisions. The researchers spoke with men and women, youth and adults, living in villages and cities in developing countries, as well as higher income countries.
Here, three of the researchers describe their most memorable experiences from the interviews and the findings that surprised them the most.