Considering Bangladesh’s lack of development and a predominantly rural context, it would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago that an elderly widow living in a remote corner of this impoverished South Asian country could be receiving money from her son living in Dubai sitting right at home or making petty payments through her mobile phone. Not any more, though.
Bangladesh has recently emerged as a curious case of digital innovation to widen coverage and reach remote pockets. The country reached the lower middle income country status in 2015, and has showcased the potential of combating rural poverty through inclusive digital financial services.
This has proved to be an effective weapon to eliminate poverty and secure the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while the country advances towards Vision 2021 — lifting millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty. Innovation and digitization will surely set Bangladesh firmly on the path to becoming a middle-income country. Although ambitious, it is exactly what both the government and private sector are working towards.
Access to the formal financial system remains a challenge for the rural poor in Bangladesh even though the central bank announced a plan for inclusive digital financial programmes in 2015.
Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.
As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.
Much to be proud of—a lot more remains to be done
South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds.
However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?
What kind of leader can bring people together for the common good, even amid clashing opinions or real conflict?
That question was at the heart of the 2017 Global Leadership Forum March 6 on the growing need for “collaborative leadership” in an age of increasingly polarized societies.
The event at the World Bank was organized with the Global Partnership for Collaborative Leadership in Development. It explored how to bridge often wide divides to arrive at inclusive solutions, and featured guests such as Festus G. Magae, a former President of Botswana and a South Sudan peace negotiator, and Frank Pearl Gonzalez, Chief Negotiator in the Colombian Peace Talks.
Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.
This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.
So what are the pathways to this new employment?
During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.
Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.
2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?
The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.
Jobs are what we earn, what we do, and sometimes even who we are. For the poor and vulnerable of the world, jobs are key to ending poverty and driving development. But not all jobs are equally transformational. Good jobs add value to society, taking into account the benefits they have on the people who hold them, and the potential spillover effects on others. For example, inclusive jobs, such as those that employ women, can change the way families spend money and invest in the education and health of children.
- Private Sector Development
- Latin America & Caribbean
- The World Region
- South Asia
- South Africa
- Burkina Faso
- Cote d'Ivoire
- West Bank and Gaza
- Sri Lanka
“Why would I want to?” Because in poor countries, chickens are everywhere, they are pooping wherever they want, and chicken feces is dangerous for young children.
Last November, when the SAARC summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan was canceled, I thought regional cooperation in South Asia would lose its momentum. Tensions between members not only postponed the SAARC Summit, but also hampered the South Asian Economics Students (SAESM) meet. SAESM was scheduled to be held in India in December where I was supposed to be a participant. I started believing in news, media and opinion pieces that said ‘there’s no future for South Asian integration as there is so much mistrust in the region.
After a concerted effort from the economics professors from across South Asia with the support of the World Bank, the 13th SAESM of economics students (selected based on top paper submissions) was successfully held in Kathmandu last week. The meet brings together students to share their research, learn from one another, participate in academic competition, and make friends from across the region. Despite regional dynamics, SAESM has never missed any year since its inception in 2004, and it may well be unique in that respect in South Asia.
Jeyaranjini lives near Kilinochchi in Northern Sri Lanka with her husband and daughter. They have been rebuilding their lives through the North East Local Services Improvement Project (NELSIP), which uses a Community Driven Development (CDD) approach to tailor projects based on community needs in this conflict affected region.
The project has helped build 611 km of roads, 23 km of storm drains, 400 community public spaces such as markets, parks, and playgrounds, as well providing improved access to water and electricity across Sri Lanka.
“Each community member used to be alone, but now we learn, exchange ideas, and make decisions together,” she said.
South Asia has a strong tradition of local participation
Let me offer a couple of other examples: Nepal’s Self Governance Act in 1999 decentralized services delivery to villages and districts. In Afghanistan, Community Development Councils (CDCs) receive funds, in which they then manage to support their villages.
In post-disaster contexts, CDD has shown to be fast, flexible and effective at re-establishing basic services. In fragile or conflict-affected states (FCS), the approach has also helped rebuild trust within communities, and between communities and governments.
Projects incorporating CDD approaches give control over planning and investments to community groups, and aim to empower communities to deliver services to the poor and vulnerable.
CDD principles can contribute to the realization of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a roadmap for the international development community to promote sustainable economic, social, and environmental development by 2030.
Currently, the World Bank has 41 active CDD projects worth $6.1 billion in South Asia, including 21 projects in India worth $4.2 billion.
An instructor at the Savar EPZ training center in Dhaka, Bangladesh, helps young women being trained to make shirts. Photo Credit: © Dominic Chavez/The World Bank
Increasing economic prosperity for developing countries is related not only to rising trade, but also – and more important – to transforming the traditional composition of what they produce and export. In the world today, many developing countries strive to diversify away from exporting commodities toward higher-value-added goods and services.
The evolution of trade and investment flows over the last three decades shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) can be a powerful driver of exports, a creator of well-paid new jobs and a crucial source of financing. More important, FDI may become a very rapid and effective engine to promote the transfer of technology, know-how and new business practices, helping to raise productivity and setting a country on the course of convergence. This is particularly the case of efficiency-seeking FDI – that is, FDI that locates productive processes in a country seeking to enhance its ability to better compete in international markets-.
The benefits of FDI are further leveraged when local firms can catalyze the presence of foreign investors to connect to global and regional value chains (GVCs). As a result of new international firms investing in a host country, great new opportunities arise for local enterprises to supply the inputs – be it goods or services – that their international counterparts need.
This has been the experience of Bangladesh, where local suppliers have grown in tandem with foreign investors in the garment sector. It is through linkages with international investors that local firms can gradually be lured into producing new goods and services that, until then, were not produced in the host country. This is how economic diversification and greater value added are generated.
Multinational enterprises (MNEs) and their key partners (Tier 1 suppliers) are generally keen to source locally if a competitive local supplier can be found. However, they are also reluctant to absorb high search-and-find costs, and they will typically not invest in assisting local suppliers with upgrading efforts. Likewise, local firms are generally keen to supply to foreign firms, but are often not ready to make the necessary investments in technology and in processes to meet strict quality standards without a clear line of sight on potential payoff for such investment.