Against the backdrop of low oil and gas prices and fiscal consolidation, economic diversification and private sector development is a top policy priority for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is central to this agenda.
Inadequate access to finance, especially bank lending, is constraining SMEs in GCC countries. Only 11% of SMEs have access to credit and some 40% of SMEs cite a lack of financial access as a major constraint.
Bank competition in the GCC is among the lowest in the world. Strict entry requirements, restrictions on bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and a lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions all contribute to weak competition in the banking sector.
How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets.
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday.
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle.
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority.
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important. As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.
South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20. Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.
So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.
To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees.
We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.
Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). As in most countries, Korean SMEs play a pivotal role in the national economy, accounting for 99% of all enterprises (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.
On a fine Tuesday morning Roghan Devi, a routine road maintenance worker from Dhanusha district visits the local branch of Mega Bank - a commercial bank in Nepal, to receive her monthly salary. She was notified about this through a text message in her mobile phone. Just a few years back, it was unimaginable for her, and for most of the women from her community, to have a personal bank account.
This initiative is part of a World Bank-supported Strengthening National Rural Transport Program (SNRTP) project that works in 33 districts employing over 1,800 routine maintenance workers- over 70% of them are women - to enhance the availability and reliability of transport connectivity for rural communities. To support this initiative, SNRTP forged a joint collaboration with the private sector.
In many countries Government is the biggest procurer of goods and services, which makes them an attractive client for small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) seeking to get a leg up in business.
Recognizing the important role that the public sector plays as a purchaser of goods and services, as well as the critical role SMEs have for the economy, Governments frequently use Public Procurement to incentivize, support and otherwise sustain local SMEs.
Also, as in many of our client countries, where the vast majority of SMEs are informal, the lure of a significant Government contract can serve as a strong motivator to register and formalize – bringing these companies in from the shadows.
But there is also a significant downside in many countries. Cash-strapped governments frequently don't pay their bills on time and, in some countries, payment delays of 12 months or even two years are not uncommon. Such delays can seriously compromise the position of a small scale enterprise which – with limited access to formal bank financing – relies critically on cash flow from its clients to sustain its business. A six month delay in receiving payment on a contract can easily put a small firm out of business.
The recent global financial crisis has highlighted the impact of credit markets on the real economy, in particular on employment. While an extensive literature exists on how finance can affect corporate investment and overall economic growth, comparatively little is known about the effect of finance on labor market outcomes.
In a recent paper, entitled “Access to Finance and Job Growth: Firm-Level Evidence across Developing Countries” Meghana Ayyagari, Pedro Juarros, Sandeep Singh and I use comprehensive firm-level data across a large set of developing countries to analyze the impact of access to finance on job growth and the heterogeneity in this relationship across firm size. In particular, we study the differential impact of access to finance on MSMEs’ ability to create jobs relative to that of larger firms.
I recently attended an SME Conference in Jordan around SME Finance and Employment – extremely important issues in a troubled region. All participants agree that much more needs to be done to address the lack of jobs in the region and to increase financial access at all levels, to individuals, households and small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
Only 4% of unbanked adults in the Middle East say that they don’t have an account because they don't need one. In other words, it is clear there is widespread unmet demand for financial services.
A person living in the Middle East is less likely to have a bank account than is a low-income person living in Africa or South Asia, and significantly less likely than a person living in Latin America, Eastern Europe or East Asia from comparable middle income country or region. This poses a dilemma – why?
The most recent International Women’s Day focused on accelerating gender parity, which makes it a perfect time to highlight the urgent need to boost women’s economic participation worldwide. One way of doing that is by tapping into the power of digital payments and digital financial services.
There are an estimated 1.5 billion people around the world, largely in Asia and Africa, who do not have an officially recognized document to prove their identity. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than a third of its population faces this challenge and over 40% of births (in the 0-4 age group) are left unregistered.
Having a formally recognized form of identity provides the poor and vulnerable with the opportunity to climb out of poverty. This is critical for achieving a wide range of development outcomes: from opening a bank account and paving the way for broader financial inclusion to accessing education services, tracking childhood vaccinations, and empowering women. It can also strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the state in providing critical services, such as government to person (G2P) payments, and reduce unnecessary waste of resources through better targeting.
With the advances in technology including biometrics, data management, and the ubiquity of mobile connectivity, there is an unprecedented opportunity to deliver services faster and more efficiently than ever before. And a country like India has also shown how, with these advances, a unique identity can be done at a scale not previously possible.
To reach the transformational potential of digital identification, the World Bank Group launched the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative to support progress towards identification systems using 21st century solutions. We are shaping country priorities through technical assistance, financial support and global expertise. At present we are engaged with approximately 20 countries – either supporting through financial and technical advice, or through our assessment to determine gaps and help develop a forward looking roadmap.
It’s a secret to no one that getting things done in fragile and conflict-affected (FCS) situations is more difficult than in normal, peaceful environments.
A recent World Bank report “The Small Entrepreneur in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations” looked into the motives and challenges of small entrepreneurs in FCS countries and made a number of interesting discoveries. They found that compared to entrepreneurs elsewhere, entrepreneurs in FCS have different characteristics and face significantly different challenges. FCS enterprises tend to be small, informal and to be engaged in sectors that are trade and service oriented.
Three other things they found are illustrated in the charts below. These findings came as quite a surprise to us.