My Exfam colleague Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics is launched today, and I think it’s going to be big. Not sure just how big, or whether I agree with George Monbiot’s superbly OTT plug comparing it to Keynes’s General Theory. It’s really hard to tell, as a non-economist, just how paradigm-changing it will be, but I loved it, and I want everyone to read it.
Down to business – what does it say? The subtitle, ‘Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist’, sets out the intention: the book identifies 7 major flaws in traditional economic thinking, and a chapter on each on how to fix them. The starting point is drawings – working with Kate was fun, because whereas I think almost entirely in words, she has a highly visual imagination – she was always messing around with mind maps and doodles. And she’s onto something, because it’s the diagrams that act as visual frames, shaping the way we understand the world and absorb/reject new ideas and fresh evidence. Think of the way every economist you know starts drawing supply and demand curves at the slightest encouragement.
In 2010, 15 days after graduating from college, with nothing but a backpack and an old water bottle, I stood in front of a large gate with a rusted sign welcoming me to the “Pench Tiger Reserve.” The same reserve that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s, Jungle Book. None of the mock interviews or standardized testscould have prepared me for the job at hand. I was there to set up a small nonprofit whose mission was to involve youth from the local community near the tiger reserve and instill in them a love and passion for the environment. Specifically, instill in these young minds a commitment to safeguard the 41 tigers that roamed wild in the reserve.
As a 21 year old, my employers were entrusting upon me this responsibility based on a simple philosophy – if you want to inspire young people – give the opportunity to someone young! In the two and a half years that I spent in the reserve, with the help of the forest department, three local schools and community members, we were able to invite leading conservationists, teachers, innovators and environmental enthusiasts to conduct hands-on workshops with children aged 10-16 from within the community. Every workshop answered questions on the importance of environmental protection and the rationale behind how simple, local efforts can have positive impacts globally. These curious minds absorbed knowledge like sponges and within a few years, we had the next set of forest protectors and tiger champions. They are influencers in the community and are currently involved in small enterprises that help the local economy and preserve the tiger habitat in and around the Pench Tiger Reserve.
Since leaving the Reserve, I have been active in many youth groups around the world. One such organization is the 2041 Foundation whose mission is to provide leadership training to young people especially from developing countries to help preserve the environment. As a part of this training, on an expedition to Antarctica, I was able to see firsthand the effects of climate change on our fragile ecosystems. This experience had a profound influence on my commitment to conservation.
According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017,” Hong Kong dropped two notches to rank as No. 9 in its Global Competitiveness Index. The decline occurred mainly because the city faces challenges to “evolve from one of the world’s foremost financial hubs to become an innovative powerhouse.”
One might argue this is an unfounded worry: After all, as a developed economy with a GDP per capita of US $42,000, Hong Kong has recorded an impressive GDP growth rate, over the last five years, of about 3 percent annually. This growth rate is higher than many developed economy.
However, if we look at the economic figures more closely, some worrisome early warning signs are already emerging – especially in terms of the factors that will drive Hong Kong’s future economic growth.
Apart from finance and insurance, the majority of Hong Kong’s GDP growth nowadays is contributed by “non-tradable” sectors that have less knowledge and innovation content, such as the construction and public-administration sectors.
According to the World Bank’s latest research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth,” long-term economic success and job growth in cities are usually driven by “tradable” sectors – economic sectors whose output could be traded and competed internationally. Firms in tradable sectors are exposed to fierce competition which, in turn, exerts pressure on them to invest in research and knowledge-intensive sectors so that they become more productive and innovative in order to remain competitive internationally. Hong Kong is now lagging behind its Asian and world peers in the critical features of knowledge and innovation.
Although the urgency to act to increase the knowledge-driven content of the economy is obvious, there seems to be a limited number of actions taking place here on the ground in Hong Kong. How can Hong Kong forge ahead and start making changes?
Staying competitive in today’s global economy is like sailing against the current: Either you keep forging ahead, or you will fall behind.
The World Bank’s Smart Cities Conference – held in Yokohama, Japan last month – presented some good examples from around the world on how to use a bottom-up approach with active citizen engagement to increase the chance of success in implementing changes. The audience was interested in learning about the successful transformation of Yokohama through the cities many initiatives, such as the development of the Minato Mirai 21 central business district.
Can the ability to sustain rural water systems be captured by a simple score? A new multipurpose four-page tool seeks to measure the likelihood of sustainability by assessing the capacity of a village water committee. Previously, such tools were often either too lengthy and academic or the assessment was left to the discretion of local officials with the risk of omitting critical components. Now a more practical model has been developed that aims to be user-friendly but detailed enough to detect gaps and prioritize interventions for village water committees.
This journey started in a rural village in the district of Karatu, Tanzania where a new water system had just been commissioned. The district water engineer was about to inaugurate the water scheme after a five-day training of the village water committee, giving them full ownership of their water scheme. During the opening ceremony, one question kept puzzling her: “Was the village water committee fully equipped to manage, operate and maintain their newly installed water scheme?”
I’ve suggested recently that although high economic growth in recent decades has greatly improved average life expectancy, infant mortality, and other leading indicators policymakers and development practitioners were still worried about the sustainability of these trends and whether people in developing countries would eventually enjoy the high standards of living of high-income countries. This, against the background of a planet under increasing stress, particularly as a result of climate change. In this blog, I explore some of the actions needed to sustain our global economy.
Oxfam’s private sector adviser Erinch Sahan is thinking through the implications of inequality for the businesses he interacts with.
Mention inequality to a business audience and one of two things happens. They recoil in discomfort, or reinterpret the term – as social sustainability or doing more business with people living in poverty. Same goes for the private sector development professionals in the aid community (e.g. the inclusive business crowd).
A good example is the UN Global Compact, which steers companies on how to implement the SDGs. They completely side-step the difficult implications of inequality on business and redefine the inequality SDG as boiling down to social sustainability or human rights / women’s empowerment goal. All good things that we at Oxfam also fight for, but these can all happen simultaneously with increasing concentration of income and wealth amongst the richest – i.e. rising inequalityWe know that rising inequality is one of the great threats to our society and economy. So why is business and the aid world so uncomfortable with tackling it head on?
Inequality is a relative rather than an absolute measure. This often makes it a zero-sum game – to spread wealth and income more equally, someone probably has to lose. But the intersection of business, sustainability and development has become locked into an exclusive focus on win-win approaches where there are no trade-offs and everyone gets their cake and eats it too. Addressing inequality often hits the bottom line – meaning changes to the prices paid to farmers, wages paid to workers, taxes paid to government and prices charged to consumers. But there is hope. Through a new lens (or metric) that should drive how business addresses inequality: share of value.
Don’t confuse this with Creating Shared Value, which is focused on the win-win (without commenting on how the created value is shared). What I’m proposing is a measure that compares businesses on how they share value with workers, farmers and low-income consumers. In fact the concept dates back to the original principles underpinning the fair trade movement some decades ago.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Transparency, Accountability, and Technology
The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals have kicked off a renewed development agenda that features, among other things, a dedicated emphasis on peace, justice, and strong institutions. This emphasis, encapsulated in Goal #16, contains several sub-priorities, including reducing corruption; developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions; ensuring inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making; and ensuring access to information. Indeed, the governance-related Goals merely stamp an official imprimatur on what have now become key buzzwords in development. Naturally, where there are buzzwords, there are “tools.” In many cases, those “tools” turn out to be information and communications technologies, and the data flows they facilitate. It’s no wonder, then, that technology has been embraced by the development community as a crucial component of the global accountability and transparency “toolkit.”
Freedom in the World 2016
The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
To get the pulse of an institution’s financial management and its room for growth, we must first look at its financial statements. The information in these statements is, of course, essential but often provides only a partial picture focusing on short-term returns.
To understand the true value created by an organization, we need to look more broadly. This necessitates going beyond traditional financial reports and spending time understanding how the institution manages its non-financial resources.
So who is behind this brilliant idea? Actually, it is rather something that we all take for granted in developed countries, as well as some developing countries’ expressways or highways: the rest area.
We normally associate rest areas with a quick stop for food, gas or other necessities. But what if these rest areas could add even more value to transportation, and without huge expenses? This is precisely what the South Korean government did back in 2010 when it opened the first “Regional Buses to Regional Buses Transfer Centers,” utilizing rest areas along expressways. The idea was gestated at the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI), one of the partners of the World Bank’s Transport and ICT global practice.
Since 2010, rest areas have played an effective role as “sub-hubs,” or transfer centers for regional buses, which in turn have more than doubled the number of regional routes, increasing the accessibility to smaller cities, and all this without having to go through the capital Seoul, where there is often too much traffic and congestion.
We know that bus transport is a more effective transportation mode than individual cars, particularly in terms of moving more people and reducing congestion and pollution. But in Korea, as well as other countries, there are several reasons why bus transport is less favored than cars, but one of the most important is a lack of accessibility to smaller cities. That is to say, bus transport cannot provide door-to-door service. In fact, accessibility in regional bus transport is worse than within cities mainly because regional buses tend to operate mostly non-stop services between larger cities.
Thanks to a recent knowledge exchange program, yes!
As we can all imagine, Africa’s lush greenery and planted forests offer huge potential but the sector’s expansion faces major barriers like access to land, lack of access to affordable long-term finance and weak prioritization of the sector.
Take Ethiopia, for example. About 66.5 million cubic meters of the country (46% of total wood-fuel demand) is subject to non-sustainable extraction from natural forest, wood- and scrublands, resulting in deforestation and land degradation. In Mozambique, charcoal is still produced from native forests, leading to immense pressure on natural resources, and way beyond its regeneration capacity. Both countries want to know how the forest sector can contribute to their national development plans and help grow their economies and reduce rural poverty, while being environmentally sustainable.
This topic is of even more importance as we celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, and helps us raise awareness on the need to preserve forests and use this natural wealth in a responsible and sustainable manner.