Our starting point is to deal with what we know – and the biggest challenge that the future of work faces – and has faced for decades – is the vast numbers of people who live day to day on casual labor, not knowing from one week to the next if they will have a job and unable to plan ahead, let alone months rather than years, for their children’s prosperity. We call this the informal economy – and as with so much pseudo-technical language which erects barriers, the phrase fails to convey the abject state of purgatory to which it condemns millions of workers and their families around the world.
South Asia is booming. In 2018, GDP growth for the region as a whole is expected to accelerate to 6.9 percent, making it the fastest growing region in the world. However, fast GDP growth has not translated into fast employment growth. In fact, employment rates have declined across the region, with women accounting for most of this decline.
The unusual trend for female employment rates in South Asia is clear from Figure 1. While male employment rates in South Asia are in line with those of other countries at the same income level, female employment rates are well below.
If women are choosing to exit the labor force as family incomes rise, should policymakers worry? There are at least three reasons why the drop in female employment rates may have important social costs. First, household choices may not necessarily match women’s preferences. Those preferences reflect the influence of ideas and norms about what is women’s work and men’s work as well as other gendered notions such as the idea that women should take care of the children and housework. Second, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school. Third, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and in society. The economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable: A recent study estimated that the overall gain in GDP to South Asia from closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship would be close to 25 percent.
Although it’s Africa's largest economy, Nigeria is missing out on the region’s most exciting financial innovation: mobile money.
Twenty-one percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa have a mobile money account, nearly double the share from 2014, according to the latest Global Findex report.
By contrast, Nigeria lags behind: just 6% of adults have a mobile money account, a number virtually unchanged from 2014.
In 2017-18 we visited the Meta department in Colombia on multiple occasions. Located right where Colombia’s Llanos Orientales (Eastern Plains) disappear south into the vastness of the Amazon rainforest, this area of the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg combined is a magical spot in the world’s second most biodiverse country.
Meta is not a poor region - it boasts some of the nation’s largest oil reserves. Highly fertile soil and multiple thermal floors have created a boom in agribusiness in recent years, while its geographic proximity to Colombia’s capital has more recently led to a thriving tourism industry.
Despite having made significant progress on many fronts, this region still faces critical challenges. On our last visit, we had the opportunity to chat for hours with several small-scale farmers from south-western Meta – a sub-region where economic development has been seriously damaged by the cultivation of coca leaf, the raw material used to produce cocaine.
One of the encouraging signs that I pick up whenever I travel is the difference that technology is making to the lives of millions of marginalized people. In most cases it’s happening on a small, non-flashy scale in hundreds of different ways, quietly improving the opportunities that that have been denied to remote communities, women and young people for getting a foot on the ladder.
And because it is discreet and under the radar I dare as an optimist to suggest that we are at the beginning of something big – a slow tsunami of success. Let me give you some reasons why I believe this.
Meet Mohammad Naim, a saffron farmer in Afghanistan’s Herat province. In 2013, Naim launched a new business, the Taban Enterprise Group after he and his partners received training and attended agriculture fairs nationwide.
Taban cultivates, processes, and markets saffron, and since its founding, it has steadily improved the quality of its saffron and expanded operations. .
Since 2010, the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project (AREDP) has linked rural producers with markets and helped villagers form savings and credit groups to create businesses or expand their small enterprises.
Our recent research suggests that attitudes related to women’s roles at home and in the public space are in flux and moving towards greater gender equality, at least in aspirations.
In recent focus group discussions with women conducted by the Pakistan Gender Platform in Pakistan’s four provincial capitals, most women voiced a preference to work outside the home in mixed gender settings, regardless of age, occupation or income levels, and despite the many barriers involved: from lack of safe public transport to sexual harassment at work. Yet, their choices are still limited by patriarchal norms: as one young FGD participant who expressed her desire to work noted, “We may become economically independent but will always be socially dependent.”
This tension between the changing aspirations of young Pakistanis and the barriers they face in realizing them came alive in a recent online poll that we launched as part of the Country Office’s flagship [email protected] initiative. Despite some limitations stemming from its sample and mode of delivery, the poll provides an eye-opening glimpse into the urban youth’s shifting aspirations and attitudes on gender norms.
The program, led by the German government, led to the formation of a women’s cooperative that bids for commercial contracts in schools, mosques, and government agencies.
A short documentary film produced for Al Jazeera showcases how these women are not only challenging stereotypes by thriving in the male-dominated profession of plumbing, but also implementing a range of water management techniques for their communities.
Trained women receive toolboxes and funding for outreach to disseminate information within their community and reach at least 20-25 other women.
The film was just awarded the Women Entrepreneurs Journalism Award, sponsored by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), as part of the 2018 One World Media Awards. The award covers broadcast, digital, film or print journalism that explores women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries. Reporting can showcase stories of successful female entrepreneurs, the challenges women face in trying to start or grow their businesses, and/or the critical role that women entrepreneurs play in economic development by boosting growth and creating jobs.