Note: Everyone is welcome to join a Google+ hangout – focusing on women’s empowerment – on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The event is sponsored by UN Women, UNDP and the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law.
It’s easily taken for granted, but our essentially constant access to the Internet never ceases to amaze me. I use the Internet to stay in touch with my friends and family living abroad, to get my news, to shop for almost anything and to research laws from around the globe. But even more astounding are the revolutionary examples of how the Internet is being used as a tool to combat poverty worldwide.
Some of the most incredible illustrations come from India, where “cloud schools (without teachers) are being piloted to offer a new education channel for the poor in the remotest areas.” In countries such as Kenya, the social enterprise SamaSource is using the Internet to connect women and youths living in poverty to employment opportunities. One World Bank Group study even showed that simply increasing access to high-speed broadband Internet can accelerate economic growth by 1.4 percent.
Another exciting way to harness the transformative power of the Internet to eradicate poverty is as a platform to enable dialogue between advocates for change from all over the world. Women’s-rights activists, along with all those dedicated to women’s empowerment, have been taking their advocacy to the Internet in such high numbers that they are arguably coming to define a new wave of feminism. The tools bringing together such advocates to brainstorm strategies for empowering women include Google Hangouts, Twitter-chats and e-discussions.
The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law recently leveraged the Internet as a platform for exchanging ideas by co-organizing an e-discussion with UN Women and UNDP. The e-discussion, Women’s Employment: Enabling Environment and Legal Incentives, took place from January 15 to 29 and was hosted on UN Women’s Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment. Experts were also invited to join the e-discussion, coming from such organizations as the IMF, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, OECD Development Center’s Wikigender, the International Labor Organization, the International Trade Union Confederation and Hogan Lovells.
I often find that a sure way to generate rather heated discussions in many quarters is to bring up the topic of teacher salaries. They're too low! or: They're too high! They should be linked to [insert some sort of 'performance indicator']! or: Attempts to link them to [insert name of a performance indicator] are misguided (and perhaps even dangerous)!
I'll leave it to others more informed and expert than I am to weigh in on such (often quite contentious) debates. However one might approach such discussions, and whatever conclusions one might draw from them, there isn't a lot of debate about one issue related to teacher salaries that has been well documented, and widely (and rightly) deplored.
Many teachers around the world suffer as a result of poorly-functioning systems to pay the salaries [pdf] they are due [ppt]. This is especially problematic, and notable, given that teacher salaries have for many decades constituted huge percentages of the overall education budgets in many countries. As a World Bank publication from a few years ago (Teachers for Rural Schools : Experiences in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda) laments, "Teachers in remote schools are [compared with their colleagues in more urban areas] more likely to be the direct victims of administrative failures, which undermine teacher morale and damage the system. One frequently mentioned administrative failure is the delay in paying teachers’ salaries and allowances." An 'administrative failure' of this sort can have many causes. Even where sufficient budget exists to pay teachers, flawed teacher salary systems, poor internal controls, logistical challenges related to transport, and corruption can conspire to ensure that in many places, especially in rural areas in poor countries, teacher salaries are sometimes paid only infrequently, often with great delay. The results of this can be devastating for education systems -- to say nothing of the impact on individual teachers, schools, students and local communities.
Back when I worked with the World Bank's infoDev program, one of my responsibilities was to serve as a point person on 'mobile money' issues, briefing groups on emerging lessons and experiences from nascent activities to use mobile phones to transfer money from one person to another. I left infoDev in 2008, just as activities in this regard were really starting to heat up (Kenya's M-Pesa program, the best known 'mobile money success story', launched in 2007), but continued to meet semi-regularly with folks -- colleagues from the World Bank and other international donor agencies, government officials, NGOs and foundations, businesspeople, researchers -- who were interesting in exploring how new mobile payment options might be used in inventive ways to help address some longstanding developmental challenges. (Those totally new to the topic may benefit from watching this short video from CGAP, which demonstrates how mobile money activities look in practice.) Most of these conversations, as it happens, included considerations of how money transfers via mobile phones might be used to ensure that teachers got paid, in full and on time. As I prepare for a trip next week to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I realize haven't fielded one substantive information request related to this topic in the past three years.
Up until about 2010, I met quite often with groups who were looking for creative ways to help address the 'paying salaries to teachers in rural areas challenge' and who had seized on the idea of taking advantage of the increasing ubiquity of mobile phones in such areas to help fashion some sort of 'solution'. In the last three years, however, the volume around these sorts of discussions in many quarters has almost died out. Part of this might be explained by the fact that there are now many 'experts' on mobile money issues, people much more expert and well informed than I am about related issues, and so I simply might be 'out of the loop'. (Back in the 'early days' of work on this topic, I could never shake the nagging feeling that the reason that I was approached by so many groups for related information and advice was at least partially a result of the 'in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king' phenomenon.) That said, given that a regular part of my daily work at the World Bank is to field questions related to the use of new technologies in education in all sorts of ways around the world, and that a lot of my job isn't so much about in providing answers, but about helping people formulate better questions, the fact that this question seems no longer to be a topic of much discussion makes me wonder:
Whatever happened to the idea of paying teacher salaries with mobile phones?
Last month, I paid a visit to the Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill located 18 km south of Jenin City in the northern West Bank. I was impressed with the status of solid waste management in this part of the West Bank and inspired by how various local governments were cooperating despite the volatile political environment.
The Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill near Jenin in the West Bank (Photo by Farouk Banna)
When I arrived in Jenin on the morning of January 29, the head of the Joint Service Council (JSC) and his staff welcomed me and took me up to the education center located atop the building. This room provides an extraordinary aerial view of the landfill.
There is plenty of evidence that even in relatively sophisticated middle class settings such as in Buenos Aires, ‘traditional’ gender roles survive – women, particularly women with children, have more complex travel patterns than their male counterparts. They travel more, they have more travel needs at off-peak hours than men, and these non-work travel needs are often associated with fixed destinations (e.g. child care). The mobility survey confirmed that the trends observed in Buenos Aires were similar to findings across the world including Europe, US[i], as well as nations in the global south like Peru and Vietnam[ii].
Comparing men and women’s mobility patterns: Women spend as much time commuting as men, but cover shorter distances
We were interested in finding out how these constraints may affect women’s job opportunities. Somewhat to our surprise, our initial look at the data did not highlight any significant differences; average commute times for men and women in the labor force were about the same (47.47min and 47.10 min respectively) across all income and socio-economic groups. This similarity of men and women’s average commute time is consistent with a body of evidence[iii] that suggests that average commute times across societies, trip types, travel time dispersions and income levels remains quite stable.
However, once we started taking a closer look at our data, we found out that those similarities in men and women’s commuting patterns were largely deceptive: as geo-coded trip patterns reveal, men and women’s average commuting times may be roughly the same, but men actually travel at significantly faster speeds and, as a consequence, cover larger distances. In general, trips made by women, particularly women with children were made at significantly lower travel speeds. (see table below: women with children, for instance, travel an average distance of 7.92km at an average speed of 9.98km/hr, as opposed to an average distance of 9.96km for men with children, which translates into a speed of 12.27km/hr).
In our messy, multipolar world, daunting problems like responding to climate change, feeding a growing population, and fostering viable states in the wake of conflict were among the topics covered in yesterday’s conversation between Madeleine Albright and Kaushik Basu at the World Bank. Adding levity, the former US secretary of state also spoke of Kim Jong Il’s elevator shoes and bouffant hair, her role in lifting a ban on Iranian caviar, carpets and pistachios, and the byzantine math of the UN Security Council.
Kaushik held up an interesting mirror for Albright, given his own multidisciplinary perspective as a former economic policy advisor for India (a big cacophonous democracy), as a professor keen to ignite young minds to think creatively about the world, and as a big thinker at an international institution. Most fascinating to me were his questions about the moral imperatives that guided her decisions in the Balkans as well as her ability to grapple with everything from nuclear negotiations to sanctions to a tenuous mission to Pyongyang in October 2000.
According to the World Bank report, "Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential", eliminating gender-specific barriers can help boost trade and increase productivity in Africa. Behind the research for this report were women who shared their personal stories of how they overcame gender discrimination at work in order to realize their potential.