Investment is one of the pillars of private sector development. The acquisition of assets enables firms to increase their capacity and improve their efficiency, unlocking avenues of growth. Promoting firms’ growth is especially critical in Sub-Saharan African countries that have predominantly low levels of economic development and high rates of poverty. Against this backdrop, there has been a rapid increase in mobile money use - that is the use of mobile phones for financial transfers. At the end of 2015, mobile money services were available in 93 countries -with a total of over 411 million registered accounts and 134 million active users (GSMA, 2015). Many of these users are firms that increasingly rely on mobile money to pay bills, suppliers, and salaries or to receive payments from customers. While numerous advantages of the permeation of mobile money has been explored, including lower transaction costs, little research has been done to investigate the far-reaching benefits that lowering transaction costs could entail, such as increasing firm investment. To fill this void, we recently completed a study on the effect of mobile money use on firm investment in three countries – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Private Sector Development
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr Creative Commons
I love the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” It gives a sympathetic view of geeks, where the nerdy guy gets the beautiful girl—I just wish it had been made when I was in high school. I was the geek, without the chic. At the mercy of the big, macho kids, who seemed to have gone through puberty years before I even knew what the word meant.
I thought I had left all of that in high school, but there is a tendency in PPP to perpetuate the macho stuff. Let’s take toll roads as an example. A few frustratingly macho myths about toll roads that only a geek can bust:
A start-up office in New York.
Photo Credit: © Victor Mulas
We are in the grip of start-up hype. Today, every large city in the world aspires to become a start-up hub. New York City became a start-up role model; Berlin and London were the “go to” start-up hubs in Europe two or three years ago; Nairobi is the start-up darling in Africa; and Dubai promoted itself as start-up destination.
Start-ups are seen as the new solution for job creation in the emerging economy of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution.” Indeed, they can help produce the jobs of the future — those new employment opportunities that are created in brand-new industries or technology categories. For instance, this has already happened in New York City, where the connection with local industries has resulted in new jobs, new industries, and greater competitiveness for traditional sectors. And it is has not been only about jobs. Solutions for critical development challenges, such as online payments and access to energy in off-grid areas, have emerged from Nairobi and India’s ingenious start-up scenes.
As I visit these cities, however, I wonder if the actual — and potential — impact of these emerging start-up ecosystems is being exaggerated and if we are all collectively witnessing an overflow of attention and resources that cannot translate into “magic” solutions to unemployment and other global challenges.
Indeed, many of the ecosystems I visited and studied seem to be overinflated. Not many start-ups become sustainable businesses, and the few successful examples are cited over and over again. Start-ups are disconnected from local industries and there is little absorption of start-up innovation by the economy.
In some cases, the result is a massive, large-scale training program where a new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs can learn technical and management skills (this is a good outcome). On fewer occasions, the ecosystem becomes sustainable, producing successful new businesses that reinvest in new talent and connect with the local industry base (this is a better outcome).
But these seem to be a handful of cases, and it’s not easy to get there. I suspect this is the result of a lack of maturity of the infrastructure supporting the ecosystem, as well as the poor understanding of what we need to translate the energy of new entrepreneurs and innovators into productivity and business success.
There is much speculation about what share of jobs might be automated by increasingly smart machines. One estimate suggests that countries such as the U.S. would see almost half of today’s jobs disappearing, while another estimate suggests that this might be just about one in ten jobs. But less is known about who will lose their jobs due to these transitions. And more critically, what might happen to the bottom 40 percent of the population of emerging countries that have only recently been exposed to basic digital technologies? Will they gain from technological progress, or will they face the negative effects of both exclusion and of others—countries or the better off—pulling ahead?
I recently took part in #skipthegrid, a social media forum about renewables, which has led me to ask: “Is off-grid the way of the future for energy Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in lower-income countries?”
At the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) we are supporting smaller, off-grid projects in the lowest income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia by mobilizing private investment for the provision of power to commercial off-grid properties and the construction of mini-grids.
Welcome to the “10 Candid Career Questions” series, introducing you to the PPP professionals who do the deals, analyze the data, and strategize on the next big thing. Each of them followed a different path into PPP practice, and this series offers an inside look at their backgrounds, motivations, and choices. Each blogger receives the same 15 questions and answers 10 or more that tell their PPP career story candidly and without jargon. We believe you’ll be as surprised and inspired as we were.
On November 26, 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon will convene the first-ever Global Conference on Sustainable Transport, in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. What is at stake in this capstone two-day event? What fresh developments might it yield, and how might it change the dynamics for transport?
The new transport agenda. A number of earlier high-level events—including the UN Climate Action Summit, the OECD/International Transport Forum, and the Habitat III Conference—helped give a long-needed boost to the visibility of transport in the international arena in 2016. The events also helped position transport within the current set of global commitments that include the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, the Decade of Action on Road Safety, and the Habitat III New Urban Agenda. The forthcoming Ashgabat event will put front and center one simple notion: for the next 15 years, the transport agenda will be framed by that set of global commitments. The commitments define the space within which governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society will have to act on transport. And they will dictate the future size and direction of transport funding.
This is a paradigm shift. Previously, the transport agenda was defined by the goal of providing access to transport infrastructure. Under the new framework, the international community has committed itself to much more. First, the issue is no longer simply access but equitable access for all. Second, other, equally important objectives have been added, including the efficiency and reliability of mobility services, transport safety, and decarbonization. In sum, the internationally accepted transport agenda concerns more than economic and social development; it is also about being part of the climate change solution.
Photo Credit: J Endres via Flickr Creative Commons
I’ve spent the last 18 years in Sub-Saharan Africa working with governments on making public-private partnerships (PPPs) work for their countries. My interest is not just professional. My wife is Cameroonian and we live with our children in Senegal. I love this region! So I have a deeply personal connection that drives me, and it is important that my work has a positive impact. But the countries I work in are typically very difficult for businesses and investors to operate in and tend to have regulatory systems and investment climates that dissuade private sector investment, which is critical for PPPs to succeed. So, even though it is personally rewarding, this is not an easy job.
Photo Credit: Myxi via Flickr Creative Commons License
In our last post, we highlighted a few examples of the innovative organizational structures that institutional investors have created to more efficiently invest in public infrastructure assets, but that is just one side of the equation. We also study programs and policies put in place by governments to more efficiently facilitate investment in the right projects and on the right terms for their constituents. That research encompasses several different topics, including enabling legislation, project risk allocation, stakeholder engagement and management, assessment frameworks for determining whether a Public-Private Partnership (P3) makes sense for a given project and others.
"Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity For All" was released on October 25, and it marked record progress for the business environment reform agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. Implementing 80 of the 283 reforms recorded globally, Sub-Saharan Africa once again claims the status of the world's top reforming region. Beyond the record reform count, this year is also marked as the year with the highest number of countries in the region having passed reforms (37 out of 48), confirming that more and more economies in Africa are putting private-sector-led growth at the heart of their development agendas.
There is actual transformation tied to those rankings. For example: It now takes 156 days to build a warehouse in Mauritius, compared to 183 days in France and 222 days in Austria. Rwanda ranks second globally on the Getting Credit indicator, not to mention that, years ago, it used to take 370 days to transfer a property in Kigali, while today it takes only 12 days.
But, beyond the figures, a few additional thoughts come to mind.
How has Africa become not only better at reforming, but also become home to some good practice that inspires many to reform?
First, one should mention the unique momentum for reform. Most African countries’ development strategies place the private sector as the engine of their growth, and recognize that creating enabling business environments is a key pre-requisite to attract investments and encourages business expansion. That is a timely move from African governments, especially in the context of the present commodity-price fall, which calls on African countries notably to move away from an exclusive dependence on minerals and to diversify their growth models.
Then, Africa countries are simply getting better at reforming. A good sign of this is that reforming today costs less in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recent analysis shows that it costs on average of $310,000 to implement a reform today, versus $730,000 merely four years ago. That is a clear sign of increased efficiency. The capacity-building and hands-on assistance of World Bank Group teams to governments and implementing agencies throughout the region is beginning to bear fruit.