Those following the discussions during the IMF and World Bank Group Annual Meetings held in Washington last week will have noticed that our approach toward international economic development is changing in a major way—and, I believe, for the better.
Saturday’s panel discussion on Maximizing Finance for Development set the context that many in the development community now know well, but bears repeating: It will take not billions, but many trillions of dollars to meet rising aspirations for better infrastructure, health and education. Specifically, we are talking about $4 trillion every year needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals to which the international community agreed in September 2015.
Private Sector Development
Fears abound that automation and other advanced technologies will lead to job losses for lower-skilled workers in emerging economies and exacerbate inequality. Each new wave of technological progress is met with dire predictions. The most critic argue that the unprecedented pace of technological change today will have more dramatic effects on the future of work as new technologies (including robots and artificial intelligence) are increasingly replacing more educated workers and more cognitive and analytical work. At the same time, many economists argue that technology adoption will significantly increase firm productivity and result in job expansion, at least in the medium run under certain policy conditions. The impacts of technology adoption on overall employment and on the skills composition of occupations are ultimately an empirical question.
At first glance it might seem surprising that the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) has zeroed in on agriculture as the focus for our 2017 flagship report, launched this week at the World Bank’s Annual Meetings in Washington. But that’s precisely the point: this is not primarily about agriculture, it is about how you transform the broader economy, with agriculture as the catalyst.
With the World Bank Group focusing on maximizing finance for development, understanding the role of private participation in infrastructure is drawing a lot more attention.
In emerging markets and developing countries, the largest source of infrastructure investment is still domestic public spending. However, government budgets are tight, so crowding in private finance is necessary to meet large infrastructure needs. The World Bank has a tool to help understand private investments in infrastructure in the developing world: the Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) Database. With 27 years of data on PPI investments in emerging markets,
Whilst the enthusiasm for private sector participation in infrastructure gains pace, it is also important to look at the trajectory of PPI over the past decades. The numbers are, in fact, quite sobering.
Since 1970, the electricity generation capacity of Turkey has increased more than 30-fold to reach 70,000 MW in March 2015. In a country of nearly 80 million people, demand for electricity has risen about 7 percent annually in recent years, requiring steady efforts to expand the sources of reliable and clean power. Starting in the early 2000s, through a series of interlinked measures supported by the World Bank Group, the country has worked to meet this growing demand, while spurring private-sector investment and innovation. Read more.
Sri Lanka experienced strong growth at the end of its 26-year conflict. This was to be expected as post-war reconstruction tends to bring new hope and energy to a country.
And Sri Lanka has done well—5 percent growth is nothing to scoff at.
However, Sri Lanka needs to create an environment that fosters private-sector growth and creates more and better jobs. To that end, the country should address these 6 pressing challenges:
1. The easy economic wins are almost exhausted
For a long time, the public-sector has been pouring funds into everything from infrastructure to healthcare. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s public sector is facing serious budget constraints. The island’s tax to growth domestic product (GDP) ratio is one of the lowest in the world, falling from 24.2% in 1978 to 10.1% in 2014. Sri Lanka should look for more sustainable sources of growth. As in many other countries, the answer lies with the private sector.
2. Sri Lanka has isolated itself from global and regional value chains
Over the past decades, Sri Lanka has lost its trade competitiveness. As illustrated in the graph below, Sri Lanka outperformed Vietnam in the early 1990s on how much of its trade contributed to its growth domestic product. Vietnam has now overtaken Sri Lanka where trade has been harmed by high tariffs and para-tariffs and trade interventions on agriculture.
Sri Lanka dropped down by 14 notches to the 85th position out of 137 in the recent Global Competitiveness Index.
3. The system inhibits private sector growth
Sri Lanka’s private sector is ailing. Sri Lankan companies are entrepreneurial and the country’s young people are smart, inquisitive, and dynamic. Yet, this does not translate into a vibrant private sector. Instead, public enterprises are the ones carrying the whole weight of development in this country.
The question is, why is the private sector not shouldering its burden of growth?
From the chart above, you can see how difficult it is to set up and operate a business in Sri Lanka. From paying taxes to enforcing contracts to registering property, entrepreneurs have the deck stacked against them.
Trading across borders is particularly challenging for Sri Lankan businesses. Trade facilitation is inadequate to the point of stunting growth and linkages to regional value chains. The chart explains just why Sri Lanka is considered one of the hardest countries in the world to run a trading business. Compare it to Singapore–you could even import a live tiger there without a problem.
At the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) Advisory Council Meeting in March, we talked about construction risk and the way it shapes the delivery environment early in a project’s investment life. As a practicing engineer accustomed to attacking construction risk at the granular level, I enjoyed the broader discussion, particularly from the banking and credit perspective (meeting outcomes).
Unfortunately, construction risk realization will continue to be the norm. Perhaps we need to consider taking the longer view to reach potential investors by aligning the risk environment with risk tolerance.
Here are three ways to do this:
Digital technologies—mobile phones, computers, and the Internet—are reshaping our world. But to leverage this transformation, women and men will need to have the right mix of skills. Coding bootcamps, a type of rapid skills training program, have emerged as one approach to filling the gap.
Yet little is known about what works. In response, the World Bank Group developed Decoding Bootcamps, an initiative that evaluates the impact of coding bootcamps, with a focus on youth employment in emerging markets. Impact evaluation results from Lebanon, Colombia, and Kenya are forthcoming, but one important lesson has already become clear: To attract and retain women, bootcamps need a reboot.
With the support of the Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality, teams working on innovation and entrepreneurship, social inclusion, and gender equality have come together to design and test the impact of a different approach: coding bootcamps centered on the needs of women.
As groundwork, we set out to learn from providers who are trying to achieve this goal. Their experiences highlight three ways in which ICT skills training can attract, retain and help women thrive.