How large is the share of public procurement to GDP in middle-income and low-income countries and how it is evolving? If sizable, can public procurement be used as a policy tool to make markets more competitive, and thus improve the quality of government services? Can it be used to induce innovation in firms? Can it also be a significant way to reduce corruption?
, and a major player in poverty alleviation.
As we observe the International Day for Tolerance this month, let’s remind ourselves that tolerance for diversity represents the first step on the path to social inclusion, and that .
Yet, around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people confront multifaceted challenges that prevent them from fully participating in markets, services, and spaces. In some countries, although tolerated, these groups are often at risk of increased discrimination, exclusion, violence, and other vulnerabilities. This robs them of dignity and prevents them from capitalizing on opportunities to lead a better life.
For instance, Thailand is a country with multiple regional linguistic, geographical and socio-economic diversities, natural beauty and historical riches, and many localized traditions and cultural practices. Often called the “Land of Smiles,” Thailand, in the eye of the outsider, is a paradise of tolerance, where many sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions are truly to be seen. However, while the demand and support for positive self-identity are growing in Thailand, people with diverse sexual orientations, gender expressions, and identities experience varying degrees of social inclusion.
Will cash and checks still exist 15 or 20 years from now given the increasing digitization of money? Is the smartphone our new bank? Will many people working in the financial sector industry lose their jobs due to growing use of technology, robots, algorithms, and online banking? Is financial technology (FinTech) the solution to providing financial services to the 2 billion people in the planet that still lack access to finance? Will digital currencies and other innovative FinTech products pose systemic risks in the future? What is the best approach to regulate FinTech companies?
Despite Thailand’s success in expanding educational access, new empirical evidence suggests that much more needs to be done to maximize the potential of its students. The 2012 PISA reading assessment reveals that almost one-third of Thai 15 year-old students were “functionally illiterate,” lacking critical skills needed for employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level. Furthermore, the performance gap among schools has been widening in recent years. Unsurprisingly, the disadvantaged and poorer-performing students are concentrated in small rural village schools.
As in much of the rest of the developing world, developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP) have made progress in closing many gender disparities, particularly in areas such as education and health outcomes. Even on the gender gaps that still remain significant, more is now known about why these have remained “sticky” despite rapid economic progress.
Ensuring that women and girls are on a level playing field with men and boys is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. It is right because gender equality is a core objective of development. And it is smart because gender equality can spur development. It has been estimated, for instance, that labor productivity in developing East Asia and Pacific could be 7-18% higher if women had equal access to productive resources and worked in the same sectors and types of jobs as men.
There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations. Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.
But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.
Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).
Thailand has come a long way and represents an impressive development story: it has drastically reduced the number of poor people from nearly 70% of the population in 1986 to 11% in 2013 and its economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5% in the late 1980s and early 1990s, creating jobs that helped pull millions of people out of poverty.
However, challenges remain as there are still 11% – 7 million – of the population living below the poverty line, and another 7 million or so who remain highly vulnerable to falling back into poverty. Although inequality has declined over the past 30 years, the distribution in Thailand remains unequal compared with many countries in East Asia. Significant and growing disparities in household income and consumption can be seen across and within regions of Thailand, with pockets of poverty remaining in the Northeast, North, and Deep South. Today, the Thai economy faces headwinds, and growth has been modest. Export competitiveness is sliding, and a severe drought is expected to weigh on off-season rice production. Poverty is expected to continue to fall at a slower rate, with poor households concentrated in rural areas affected by falling agricultural prices. The country is now at a critical time since the new draft constitution won approval by a majority.
, improving educational outcomes, safeguarding food and minimizing its waste, improving healthcare, and supporting countries’ digital ambitions (that computer of yours heats up pretty fast). And all of this, from improved productivity to education to health, is vital to eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity across the globe.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) differ from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs universally apply to all countries and they are holistic and integrated. Moreover, their delivery is to be achieved by governments, civil society, and the private sector all working together to achieve their success.
The SDGs also recognize the central role of justice in achieving development, with Goal 16 specifically guaranteeing “equal access to justice for all.” Governments, in partnership with other stakeholders, must make necessary national reforms to provide access to justice to the billions who currently live outside of the protection of the law. They must commit to financing the implementation of these reforms and be held accountable for their success.
Regional and sub regional bodies are uniquely placed to assist governments with implementing and monitoring justice commitments made through the SDGs. Learnings from the MDGs show that countries that integrated the MDGs into existing regional strategies were far more successful in meeting the MDGs’ objectives than countries that did not have the support of an existing regional strategy.
I’m finally in Thailand celebrating our Development Marketplace for Innovation award from the World Bank Group and the nonprofit Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) to prevent gender-based violence. Just one month ago, our team members, consisting of Sex Workers IN Group’s (SWING) leaders, Surang Janyam and Chamrong Phaengnongyang, and Mahidol University researcher, Dusita Phuengsamran, were at the awards ceremony in Washington DC, humbled by the words and encouragement of World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. Today, half a world away, at SWING’s colorful conference space, the passion for violence prevention that infused the awards ceremony is still with us.