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November 2016

In the custody of angst

Sina Odugbemi's picture

It has been building up for months… as events and data points have mounted. Now, in the global circles that I move in both physically and intellectually what people are experiencing can be summed up in one phrase and one phrase only: utter bewilderment. People are asking: What is happening to the world? Universities, schools, workplaces are organizing counselling and venting sessions. Families, particularly extended families, are being sundered by divisions over preferences in public affairs. The feeling persists that global affairs might have taken a dark turn, perhaps irretrievably. People look at the future with dread. They look at the global calendar of significant mass decisions and ask plaintively: Where is the next shock going to come from? Others, in utter despair, have given up all hope. They forecast a series of dominoes falling…and crashing.

In other words, we now have multitudes in the overmastering claws of angst. Existentialist philosophers describe angst as an unavoidable and ever present disquiet or dread or anxiety about life, the individual life. For, each human being on earth knows that tragedy is potentially just around every corner. There is so much about our lives that we cannot control and we know only too well that life can suddenly go awry. However, in this essay I use angst in a connected but slightly broader sense, as in the top definition of the word that Google offers: “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.”

The question is: why are so many people angst-ridden? I would argue that we have to look beyond particular events since the condition has been created by a series of political developments and decisions around the world.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
CIMA

Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.

Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
National Geographic

The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
 

Alternative procurement agencies to facilitate infrastructure investment

Michael Bennon's picture


Photo Credit: Myxi via Flickr Creative Commons License

In our last post, we highlighted a few examples of the innovative organizational structures that institutional investors have created to more efficiently invest in public infrastructure assets, but that is just one side of the equation. We also study programs and policies put in place by governments to more efficiently facilitate investment in the right projects and on the right terms for their constituents. That research encompasses several different topics, including enabling legislation, project risk allocation, stakeholder engagement and management, assessment frameworks for determining whether a Public-Private Partnership (P3) makes sense for a given project and others.

Integrated Financial and Procurement Audits for Bank Financed Projects - The China Experience

Jingrong He's picture
Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) for Bank financed projects have carried out financial and procurement audits. In Poland, this initially started more than a decade ago and there have been several other examples over the past years in other countries.

By the end of FY16, China National Audit Office (CNAO), the SAI in China, had successfully completed its third year of integrated financial and procurement audits for 27 Bank financed projects and accounting for 28% of the total active portfolio of China. This is a big leap from only 3 projects in the first year of FY14.

Rome was not built in a day. CNAO has been the external auditor of all Bank-financed projects in China since 1984. It conducts project audits in accordance with the Government Auditing Standards of the P.R. China and the International Standards on Auditing. The Foreign Funds Application Audit Department and the Audit Service Center of CNAO, and the Provincial Audit Institutions conduct audits on Bank financed projects and issue the audit reports in their names. There are about 120-130 financial audit reports submitted to the Bank every year. CNAO's audit reports not only include the auditor's opinion on project financial statements, they also include opinions on procurement compliance as this is an important aspect of the review of the eligibility of expenditures. This procedure is in full compliance with the Audit Law of P. R. China, which requires auditing of authenticity, legality and beneficial results of the budgetary revenues and expenditures or financial revenues and expenditures of public funds. It was under this context that in FY 14, we started piloting the use of CNAO for integrated financial and procurement audits in some Bank-financed projects.

Lessons from a crowdsourcing failure

Maria Jones's picture

We are working on an evaluation of a large rural roads rehabilitation program in Rwanda that relies on high-frequency market information. We knew from the get-go that collecting this data would be a challenge: the markets are scattered across the country, and by design most are in remote rural areas with bad connectivity (hence the road rehab). The cost of sending enumerators to all markets in our study on a monthly basis seemed prohibitive.
Crowdsourcing seemed like an ideal solution. We met a technology firm at a conference in Berkeley, and we liked their pitch: use high-frequency, contributor-based, mobile data capture technology to flexibly measure changes in market access and structure. A simple app, a network of contributors spanning the country, and all the price data we would need on our sample of markets.
One year after contract signing and a lot of troubleshooting, less than half of the markets were visited at the specified intervals (fortnightly), and even in these markets, we had data on less than half of our list of products. (Note: we knew all along this wasn't going well, we just kept going at it.)

 So what went wrong, and what did we learn?
 

Revisiting the Digital Native Hypothesis

Michael Trucano's picture
ertrt
some people claim that we're artificial constructs

It is conventional wisdom in many quarters -- indeed, for some people it approaches the level of 'incontrovertible fact' -- that young people are 'digital natives', possessed of some sort of innate ability to understand and utilize digital devices and applications merely because of their youth, because they have 'grown up surrounded by technology', in ways that older folks can't -- and perhaps never will. Anecdotes from amazed and proud parents and grandparents detailing how adept little Johnny (or Gianni, or Krishna, or Yidan, or Fatima, or Omar, or Maria) is at manipulating his (or her) parents' mobile phone or tablet "even though s/he doesn't even know how to read yet!" are commonly heard in conversations around the world.

In a very influential essay that appeared about 15 years ago ("Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" [pdf]), Mark Prensky coined the term 'digital natives', asserting that "students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet" and that, as a result, "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". In contrast, "[t]hose of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants." While Prensky's views on this topic have evolved over the years and become more nuanced (those interested in his particular views may wish to visit his web site), this original definition and delineation of what it means to be a digital native and a digital immigrant remains quite potent for many people.

At the same time, and for over a decade, this assertion has come under consistent challenge and criticism from many academics, who contest various aspects of the 'digital natives myth', as well as the policy and design implications that often flow from them. The observable differences at the heart of the digital native narrative relate more to culture, or to geography, to socio-economic status or even just to personal preferences than they do to age, critics argue. No doubt some of these folks may glance at this post and ask: 'Digital natives', haven't we moved on from that stuff? When it comes to related academic discourse, the answer to this question is probably a qualified 'yes, at least in some circles'.

That said, in my experience, the digital natives hypothesis remains alive and well in many educational policymaking circles (as it does with many parents -- and grandparents, and marketers, and with many kids themselves), especially in places around the world that are just now beginning to roll-out or consider the use of educational technologies at a wide scale. Indeed, while meeting with education ministries on three different continents over the course of the last month, I've had very senior education officials in three different governments explain to me how the concept of 'digital natives' was central for their vision for education going forward. These recent conversations -- and many others -- prompted me to write this quick blog post (as well as one that will follow).

Minimizing the risks caused by geohazards in South Asia

Yuka Makino's picture
 A man watches a piece of land fall into a river September 22, 2014 in the Kalashuna village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. In the past month Kalashuna village has had 600 homes washed away due to river erosion. In August severe flooding displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to rapid and severe river erosion which continues to wipe away hundreds of homes each week.
A man watches a piece of land fall into a river September 22, 2014 in the Kalashuna village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. Credit: Allison Joyce. 2014 Getty Images
Geological hazards – or geohazards, natural or human-induced disruptions of the earth surface that may trigger landslides, sinkholes, or earthquakes, present serious threats to communities, cost extensive damage to infrastructure and can bring traffic and services to a standstill.
 
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
 
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
 
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
 

 

South Asia: The link between location, quality, and growth in job creation

Sonia Madhvani's picture
Jobs and Development Conference: Interview with Martin Rama

Jobs drive development. They are the surest pathway out of poverty and are crucial for inclusive growth. South Asia is the world’s fastest growing region; however, this progress has not always translated to jobs that are inclusive and productive.

Strengthening the rules of the game: Bhutan’s alternative procurement experience

Hartwig Schafer's picture

When you think of Bhutan, you typically think of the tall mountains of the Himalayas, or you think of this nation adding the ‘Gross National Happiness’, or GNH indicator onto the global development agenda.  Well, from now on, you can also think of Bhutan as the first country in the world to have one of their agencies approved to apply “alternative procurement arrangements” or APAs.  This may sound trivial in comparison to 7,500 meter high peaks or collective happiness in the Dragon Kingdom. But for the way we do procurement at the World Bank, it’s a real breakthrough and an important step towards becoming a better Bank. 


 

More than a trend: Africa is becoming better by the year at reforming its business environment

Cemile Hacibeyoglu's picture

"Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity For All" was released on October 25, and it marked record progress for the business environment reform agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. Implementing 80 of the 283 reforms recorded globally, Sub-Saharan Africa once again claims the status of the world's top reforming region. Beyond the record reform count, this year is also marked as the year with the highest number of countries in the region having passed reforms (37 out of 48), confirming that more and more economies in Africa are putting private-sector-led growth at the heart of their development agendas.




There is actual transformation tied to those rankings. For example: It now takes 156 days to build a warehouse in Mauritius, compared to 183 days in France and 222 days in Austria. Rwanda ranks second globally on the Getting Credit indicator, not to mention that, years ago, it used to take 370 days to transfer a property in Kigali, while today it takes only 12 days.
 
But, beyond the figures, a few additional thoughts come to mind.

How has Africa become not only better at reforming, but also become home to some good practice that inspires many to reform?

First, one should mention the unique momentum for reform. Most African countries’ development strategies place the private sector as the engine of their growth, and recognize that creating enabling business environments is a key pre-requisite to attract investments and encourages business expansion. That is a timely move from African governments, especially in the context of the present commodity-price fall, which calls on African countries notably to move away from an exclusive dependence on minerals and to diversify their growth models.
 
Then, Africa countries are simply getting better at reforming. A good sign of this is that reforming today costs less in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recent analysis shows that it costs on average of $310,000 to implement a reform today, versus $730,000 merely four years ago. That is a clear sign of increased efficiency. The capacity-building and hands-on assistance of World Bank Group teams to governments and implementing agencies throughout the region is beginning to bear fruit.


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