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January 2016

The secret life of a World Bank actuary

Barry Maher's picture


As actuaries working in development, my colleagues and I in the Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Program (DRFIP) are constantly looking for innovative ways to apply actuarial science in the fight against poverty. Because the DRFIP is a fairly new initiative — it was established in 2010 to improve the financial resilience of governments, businesses and households against natural disasters — a lot of questions are still to be asked, and lessons to be learned, about helping client countries better calculate financial risk and improve programs that change lives.

That said, exciting advancements are under way, as we learn through exchanging knowledge with experts across the World Bank and partners from other sectors. For example: Once, while on mission in Nairobi, I passed a local Social Protection colleague in the corridor and struck up a conversation that quickly turned to a challenge she was facing. The government of Kenya was aiming to develop a mechanism that would enable its Hunger Safety Net Program, a cash transfer program, to scale up financial assistance to poor families in the case of drought. However, in order to do this, they needed a better understanding of the financial costs of such a mechanism. As droughts are, by their very nature, unpredictable, trying to estimate this cost in advance was a challenge. 
 

How can actuaries best contribute to the development agenda?


My colleagues and I thrive on looking for answers to this type of question every day. While there are other actuaries, both in the Bank and across the sector, the role we are developing from a risk-financing perspective is to help client countries quantify the financial value of unknown risks and develop financial strategies to manage them.

Microfinance needed in Iraq more urgently now than ever

Nadine Chehade's picture
On December 17, 2013, Prof. Raj Chetty gave a talk on “Improving equality of opportunity” at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. I have always found the concept of equality of opportunity fascinating.

A world where your future does not depend on where you come from, how much your family earns, what color your skin is, or whether you are male or female” sounds like a good world to me - a world I am sure we all would want to live in.

And, wearing the hat of a development worker, I know that with “equality of opportunity” I can always reach the heart of even the toughest policymaker: who can argue with giving children a fair start in life?

Do polls capture public opinion or manufacture it?

Jing Guo's picture

Proud Iraqi Women Vote in NasiriyahIn 2012, U.S. Gallup polls predicted that Mitt Romney would beat Obama in the presidential election with a slight edge in public support. More recently, in 2015, public opinion surveys in Turkey predicted only trivial gains in vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during the country’s November general election.
 
In both cases, the polls missed the mark. President Obama blindsided Romney, winning a second term by five percentage points—a result even Romney’s own polling experts did not see coming. Turkey’s AKP won back its parliamentary majority with 49.5% of the vote and an unexpected 8.5% rise in public support, a rebound even the best polling companies in the country had barely foreseen.   
 
Inaccurate poll results are not rare nowadays. An increasing number of disproven poll predictions, particularly in the context of elections, fuels the growing scrutiny over political polls. Cliff Zukin, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Rutgers and past president of American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) said in his article for the New York Times, “election polling is in near crisis.”

Is polling facing some major challenges? And what are they?

Being strategic with sustainability

Bertrand Badré's picture
A manager at a power substation in Kabul, Afghanistan. © Graham Crouch/World Bank


To get the pulse of an institution’s financial management and its room for growth, we must first look at its financial statements. The information in these statements is, of course, essential but often provides only a partial picture focusing on short-term returns.

To understand the true value created by an organization, we need to look more broadly. This necessitates going beyond traditional financial reports and spending time understanding how the institution manages its non-financial resources.

Myth-busting: What happens when you link payments to results in education projects

Peter Holland's picture
 Wael Zakout

I just came back from a trip to Russia. Back in 2006 and 2007, I had traveled to Russia frequently as the lead for the Cadastre Development Project. This time - as a Global Lead for Land and Geospatial at the World Bank - I saw something I did not expect to see.

Privatization of real-estate properties and protecting property rights became two important pillars of transformation following the end of the Soviet era. But, while they were important policy goals in the 1990s, the system did not really function properly: rights were not fully protected and people waited for many months to register property transactions.

Informality and formality - two ends of the employment continuum

Shanthi Nataraj's picture


Photo: Scaling Solar project in Zambia

What is a common thread between Argentina, Maldives, and Zambia? In each of these countries, the World Bank provided guarantees to support transparent auctions for renewable energy. Through these, I have seen how the Bank’s involvement helped increase private investors’ confidence, attract world-class developers, and ultimately reduce tariffs.

Drawing on 10 years of diverse experience in the power sector in both public and private organizations, my role is to help bridge the divide between public and private parties and help each side better understand the other. The World Bank is ideally positioned for this. Both sides understand the World Bank carries out a detailed due diligence and ensures the auction meets international standards. Both sides appreciate the World Bank will be an honest broker if issues arise. Because of its long term and continuous involvement in our client countries, the World Bank can help identify and solve issues early on. As such, no World Bank project-based guarantee has ever been called.

How public-private partnerships can play a constructive role in global economies in 2016

Geoffrey Keele's picture

With 2015 firmly behind us, it’s time to reflect on the past year’s global economic trends -- while looking forward at the challenges and opportunities facing countries around the world. Check out the articles below for diverse and thought-provoking perspectives on how public-private partnerships can play a constructive role in global economies throughout 2016 and beyond.   

Latin America's unemployed and out of school youth

Tariq Khokhar's picture

This blog is part of the series "Small changes, big impacts: applying #behavioralscience into development".

Access to an extremely large amount of data has enabled us to pursue research endeavors that just a couple of years ago seemed unimaginable. Examples of amazing big data applications in the field of economics are all over the place: using job-portals data to inform labor market policies; analyzing citizens’ reactions to public policies using Twitter; creating daily inflation data using billions of records from online retailers around the world; and even measuring economic growth from outer space!

The data revolution is open to anyone with the right tools, and big data can be useful to answer policy questions. Pairing big data with some of the traditional methods of data gathering such as household surveys can yield timely information and can help shape appropriate policy responses. For instance, traditional household surveys, from which unemployment estimates are calculated could carry outdated employment data by the time they become available. But big data can complement this effort in places where unemployment rates correlate with the frequency with which people use Google to search for jobs, as in the case of Brazil, that could be used to estimate real-time unemployment rates.

Monthly unemployment rate and google searches for “looking for a job” in Brazil, 2006-17


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