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Think behaviorally to boost impact

Carolina Sánchez-Páramo's picture
In Guatemala, Program Leader Marco Hernandez and his team tested behaviorally informed messages in letters to non-compliant taxpayers. © World Bank
In Guatemala, Program Leader Marco Hernandez and his team tested behaviorally informed messages in letters to non-compliant taxpayers. © World Bank
Behavioral science can provide creative solutions to difficult challenges, often at low cost. Behaviorally informed policy emphasizes the importance of context for decision making and behavior, paying attention to the social, psychological, and economic factors that affect what people think and do.

Since the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, behavioral science approaches have been spreading across the World Bank Group’s work. Several staffers recently gave “lightning talks” about how they’re applying behavioral science to seemingly intractable problems that matter to all of us. Here are a few takeaways from the speakers who offered important lessons on incorporating human behavior into program design:

FinTech Adoption and its Spillovers. Guest post by Sean Higgins

Development Impact Guest Blogger's picture
During my last trip to Mexico, I bought tamales from a street vendor and paid by card—something that would have been impossible not long ago. The vendor, who had a Bluetooth card reader connected to his cell phone, told me that his potential customers are not always carrying cash, and as a result, accepting card payments has increased his sales. This anecdote illustrates a broader trend: as the adoption of financial technologies (FinTech) increases on both the supply and demand sides of the market (see Figure 1), both consumers and small retail firms benefit.

Numbers (and Alessandro Volta) don’t lie: Anaerobic digestion as a potential solution towards sustainable wastewater re-use and renewable energy for Mexico

Christian Borja-Vega's picture
Example from part of a biogas plant
By Bertold Werkmann via Shutterstock

In one of Mexico City’s most populated areas, Iztapalapa, there is a street named Alessandro Volta. With little knowledge about who this man was, we researched a bit and found that Alessandro Volta concluded, in 1776, that there was “a direct correlation between the amount of decaying organic matter and the amount of flammable gas produced”. Sir Humphry Davy determined 32 years later (in 1808) that methane was present in the gases produced during the anaerobic digestion (AD) of cattle manure. The first digestion plant was built at a leper colony in Bombay, India in 1859 (just 83 years later!).

Anaerobic digestion (AD) as a renewable resource has been growing since, in the international context, and has the potential to be a sustainable, affordable solution for wastewater management. In the 21st century, we are still fascinated with the idea of the benefits of biogas production. In modern times, AD is being used as a reliable energy source, and sludge resulting from AD processes can be used as fertilizer. Countries like the UK are producing enough biogas to power 1 million homes, 210 years after Sir Humphry Davy’s discoveries. In fact, according to a new report from the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA) of the UK, in 2017 the total energy generation from anaerobic digestion plants reached 10.7 Terawatt-Hour (TWh) / year.

Fighting Poverty with Cash Transfers: Do Conditions Improve Targeting? Guest Post by Katy Bergstrom

Development Impact Guest Blogger's picture

This is the seventh in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs), cash transfers targeted to poor households made conditional on investments in children's human capital, have become increasingly popular over the past two decades (Bastagli et al, 2016). However, CCTs have been criticized as some argue that the poorest households may find the conditions too costly to comply with and thus be excluded from receiving aid (e.g., Freeland, 2007, Baird et al, 2011). Unconditional cash transfers (UCTs), cash transfers with “no strings attached”, are therefore thought to be superior at alleviating current poverty. Consequently, when deciding whether to impose conditions, governments are thought to trade-off the extent to which they increase human capital investments in children versus the extent to which they alleviate current poverty.

Sowing the seeds for rural finance: The impact of support services for credit unions in Mexico

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Low and volatile agricultural incomes, poor connectivity, low population density and limited information are just a few reasons that have kept commercial banks away of rural areas in developing countries, where nonbank financial institutions (such as MFIs, cooperatives, or credit unions) have played an important role.

However, these rural institutions tend to be small and often suffer from bad risk management, poor governance, and weak technical and managerial capacity. These constraints are in turn passed on to the borrowers in the form of higher interest rates and credit rationing. The lack of human and organizational capital among lenders is a type of market failure where public interventions may be both effective and market friendly (Besley, 1994).

Maternal Depression and Stunted Children: An Avoidable Reality

Patricio V. Marquez's picture



Accumulated scientific evidence shows that proper nutrition and stimulation in utero and during early childhood benefit physical and mental well-being later in life and contribute to the development of children’s cognitive and socioemotional skills.  Yet, a critical but often overlooked fact in policy design and program development across the world is the association between maternal depression and childhood stunting -- the impaired growth and development measured by low height-for-age.

Creating new opportunities for young women in the digital economy

Mamadou Biteye's picture
Developing gender-inclusive digital jobs programs for youth is the subject of a new report, Digital Jobs for Youth: Young Women in the Digital Economy. Photo Credit: © Visual News Associates / World Bank 

Young people struggle to find jobs. Landing that first job is particularly challenging even for youth with quality education. In 2016, 100 young women under 25 in the Gjakova and Lipjan municipalities in Kosovo were seeking their first opportunity after completing university-level education. They  enrolled in the World Bank’s Women in Online Work (WoW) pilot, a training program that aims to equip beneficiaries with the skills they need to find work in the online freelancing market. Within three months of graduation, WoW’s online workers were earning twice the average national hourly wage in Kosovo. Some graduates even went on start their own ventures and hire other young women to work with them.

Fostering Student Socioemotional Skills in Mexico

Pablo Peña's picture
Interventions aimed at fostering socioemotional skills continue to grow in number and scope. However, many questions remain about the extent to which these skills are malleable and exactly how they can be cultivated. Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Socioemotional skills (also referred to as non-cognitive skills, character skills, or soft skills) have recently become part of the discourse on how to improve educational outcomes. There is growing evidence that those skills may be as important as intelligence in determining academic and professional success. There is already some evidence indicating that socioemotional skills can be encouraged.

5 inspirational youth you should follow this #YouthDay 

Bassam Sebti's picture
Refugees take wood working courses at the Kalobeyei Youth Training Center in Kalobeyei, Kenya.
© Dominic Chavez/International Finance Corporation

Youth are the engine of change. Empowering them and providing them with the right opportunities can create an endless array of possibilities. But what happens when young people under 25—who make up 42% of the world’s population – lack safe spaces in which they can thrive?
 
According to the United Nations, one in 10 children in the world live in conflict zones and 24 million of them are out of school. Political instability, labor market challenges, and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth. 
 
That's why the United Nations theme for International Youth Day this year focuses on “Safe Spaces for Youth.” These are spaces where young people can safely engage in governance issues, participate in sports and other leisure activities, interact virtually with anyone in the world, and find a haven, especially for the most vulnerable.

Why cultural heritage matters for urban resilience

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture

Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.

A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have undertaken major efforts to protect cultural heritage sites, including through its Plan Verde, which works to reduce seismic and other disaster risks in Mexico City’s historic center.

On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.

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