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Private Sector Development

‘Smartest Places’ via smarter strategies: Sharpening competitiveness requires ingenuity, not inertia

Christopher Colford's picture

Seeking an antidote to the gloom-and-doom bombast of this election year? Try a dose of optimism about urban“hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool” – with a book that champions smart public policy, delivered through a shrewd approach to Competitiveness Strategy.

Gazing into the rear-view mirror is a mighty reckless way to try to drive an economy forward. Yet backward-looking nostalgia for a supposedly safer economic past – with voters' anxiety being stoked by snide sloganeering about “taking back our sovereignty” and “making the country great again” – has infected the policy debate throughout this dispiriting election year, in many of the world’s advanced economies. Scapegoating globalization and inflaming fears of job losses and wage stagnation, populists have harangued all too many voters into a state of passivity, lamenting the loss of a long-ago era (if ever it actually existed) when inward-looking economies were, allegedly, insulated from global competition.

Optimism has been in short supply lately, but an energetic new book – co-authored by a prominent World Bank Group alumnus – offers a hopeful perspective on how imaginative economies can become pacesetters in the fast-forward Knowledge Economy. Advanced industries are thriving and productivity is strengthening, argue Antoine Van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, now that many once-declining manufacturing regions have reinvented their industries and reawakened their entrepreneurial energies.

Welcome to the brainbelt,” declares “The Smartest Places On Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” (published by Public Affairs books). Now that brainpower has replaced muscle-power as the basis of prosperity in an ever-more-competitive global economy, the key factor for success is "the sharing of knowledge." Longlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, “Smartest Places” is receiving well-deserved attention among corporate leaders and financial strategists – and it ought to be required reading for every would-be policymaker.

The era of “making things smart” has replaced the era of “making things cheap” – meaning that industries no longer face a “race to the bottom” of competing on costs but a “race to the top” of competing on creativity. Knowledge-intensive industries, and the innovation ecosystems that generate them, create the “Smartest Places” that combine hotspot hustle and cutting-edge cool.

Those optimistic themes may sound unusual to election-year audiences in struggling regions, which are easy prey for demagogues manipulating populist fears. Yet those ideas are certainly familiar to readers at the World Bank Group, where teams working on innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness have long helped their clients shape innovation ecosystems through well-targeted policy interventions that strengthen growth and job creation.

“Smartest Places,” it strikes me, reads like an evidence-filled validation of the Bank Group’s recent research on “Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth.” That report, published last year, offers policymakers (especially at the city and metropolitan levels) an array of practical and proven steps that can help jump-start job creation by spurring productivity growth.

Safer buildings are the key to a disaster resilient future

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
A few months ago, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador claimed hundreds of lives, left almost 28,000 people injured, and caused $1 to 3 billion worth of damage. Most human and economic losses were directly linked to the collapse of buildings: the tremor caused the destruction of an estimated 10,000 structures, many of which were located in unsafe areas or did not meet minimum safety standards.
The tragedy in Ecuador serves as a stark reminder that, in many cases, it is not earthquakes or other disasters that kill people, but failing building structures. Therefore, improving building safety will be key in protecting communities against rising disaster and climate risk.
With over a billion dwelling units expected to be built between now and 2050, focusing on new construction will be particularly important, and will help mitigate the impact of natural disasters for generations to come.
The good news is that we have the knowledge and technology to build safe, resilient structures. But, more often than not, this knowledge is not put into practice due to insufficient or poorly-enforced regulation, as well as a lack of incentives.
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Thomas Moullier explain why building safety will play a critical role in enhancing disaster resilience, and discuss concrete recommendations on how to get there.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.

Rebooting Vietnam’s PPP program: Legislation that builds on lessons learned

Stanley Boots's picture

After over two years of development and drafting, Vietnam’s Decree 15 on Public Private Partnerships (PPP Decree) came into effect last spring. Dedicated specifically to the identification, preparation, and implementation of PPP projects, the PPP Decree replaced the largely unimplemented regulations for pilot PPP projects as well as the regime for build-operate-transfer (BOT), build-transfer-operate (BTO), and build-transfer (BT) projects. Almost a year after the PPP Decree was issued, it’s become clear that it has rebooted Vietnam’s potential for PPPs in a significant and lasting way. 

Olympic-sized ambition: Halt the Games' economic excess by building a permanent site for the Olympics — in Greece, their historic home

Christopher Colford's picture

Build it well, build it wisely, and build it only once — How investing to create a permanent site for the Olympic Games, ideally in their historic home of Greece, could reduce waste, deliver economic stimulus, and avoid "white elephant" monuments to extravagance.

The jeering of angry taxpayers and frustrated favela-dwellers may drown out some of the cheering of sports enthusiasts this weekend, as the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro. The government of Brazil and local officials in Rio have certainly done their best to stage the Games successfully, addressing a range of challenges that include the Zika virus outbreak, the doping scandal among athletes and the country’s prolonged economic slump and political traumas. Yet an enduring scandal in international finance — the chronic design flaw in the way that the Games are planned for and paid for — has again imposed an enormous economic burden on the Olympic host city. Struggling economies can ill afford the extravagance of repeatedly building use-once-throw-away sports facilities.

It was surely startling to see the deep degree of scorn and sarcasm with which many workaday Brazilians, who are now enduring a deep economic downturn, hurled derision at the arrival of the Olympic torch in Rio this week. They evidently saw that Olympic arrival ceremony as a symbol, not just of athletic ambition, but of financial folly.

The anxieties that Brazil has endured on the road to Rio 2016 should underscore a longer-term, Olympic-sized concern: Mismanagement by the Games' promoters has now been thoroughly documented, underscoring the abusive way that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the global sports-industrial complex have habitually foisted reckless costs on the taxpayers of hapless host cities.

By goading Olympic-wannabe cities to make ever-more-extravagant financial commitments – stoking their dreams of a media moment of purchased publicity – the mega-event industry has helped shatter the finances of one host city after another. No wonder that so many cities are now shunning the IOC’s bidding process, dreading the deadweight losses that are almost certain to burden any Olympic host.

Welcome as the IOC’s recent “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform proposals may be, it’s long past time to rein in the financial excesses of mega-event promoters. With a claque of financiers and flacks who are ready to manipulate the gullibility of the would-be hosts, the Olympic spirit has fallen victim to the self-interest of construction firms, property developers and publicists who seek to profit from host cities’ overspending.

An invaluable book documenting this Olympic-scale threat – discussed in detail at a World Bank’s InfoShop book-and-author seminar in June 2015 – should be top-of-mind for Olympics-watchers this week, as Rio de Janeiro enjoys its moment in the spotlight. “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup” — by Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College — can help other cities avoid an impulsive rush for momentary Olympic notoriety. A video of Zimbalist’s InfoShop presentation is archived at,,contentMDK:20289125~pagePK:162350~piPK:165575~theSitePK:225714,00.html 

Harvard Kennedy School and IFC team up for senior training on PPPs and project finance

Isabel Chatterton's picture

I recently had the chance to get to know dozens of forward-thinking, dynamic individuals from the public and private sectors. Despite their varied backgrounds, resumes, and perspectives, they shared one thing in common: they have all been influential in shaping the Asia Pacific PPP landscape. Our gathering was part of the IFC PPP Transaction Advisory Services Unit’s four-day Senior Training Program on PPPs and Project Finance, in collaboration with the Harvard Kennedy School in Singapore.

All of the participants – government representatives, donors, private sector clients, World Bank and MIGA staff, as well as senior IFC staff -- offered a different view on how best to combat today’s global PPP challenges. We captured a few key insights from the training program to share with others:

Breaking down barriers to competition: Unlocking Africa’s potential through a regional platform for cooperation

Klaus Tilmes's picture

The cement industry in Africa is one of the sectors that would benefit from stronger competition policies, which can help strengthen the economy by preventing anti-competitive behavior and collusive price-fixing. 
Photo by Simon Davis / DFID — U.K. Department of International Development

What determines whether a country is able to reap the benefits of deepening regional integration and the related increases in trade, cross-border investment and economic opportunities from participating in global value chains? One of the key points in this timely discussion is ensuring that the gains from integration are not nullified by anticompetitive business practices or distortive government interventions. As economies become more interconnected, it will become ever more important to allow all businesses to compete on a level playing field. Some African economies, for example, have not benefited as expected, in part because of the continued existence of barriers to competition in domestic markets.

These concerns lie at the heart of a new publication developed by the World Bank Group in partnership with the African Competition Forum (ACF). The report explores competition issues that affect the performance of key markets in Africa, and it reviews the status of competition policy and its implementation across the continent. It is the first report to take a broad regional perspective on competition issues – and the first to be built on a partnership between the World Bank Group and a regional network of government agencies and ministries responsible for competition.

Among its findings, the report shows that reforms in input sectors, such as professional services, can boost the export competitiveness of downstream firms that use those inputs intensively. However, in many cases, trade is restricted when governments impose non-tariff barriers, including product standards or testing regimes that are more restrictive than necessary, which prevent the entry of new, lower-cost products. This is the case with fertilizer markets in both East and West Africa. Even when such non-tariff barriers are removed, it is important to prevent anti-competitive behavior, such as collusive price-fixing and market-allocation agreements among competitors – as was seen in the case of cement in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.

The report also highlights that, in some sectors in Africa, the same firms operate in many countries and some firms may locate themselves in areas that allow them to supply markets across borders. These factors hold potential efficiencies – for example, where it leads to economies of scale – but it also makes it vital to view competition dynamics through a regional lens as well as a national one.

How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture?

Raymond Robertson's picture
Clothing Manufacturing
Apparel manufactuaring has the potential to provide much needed jobs to women in South Asia
Photo by: Arne Hoel/World Bank

China now dominates the global apparel market – accounting for 41% of the market, compared with 12% for South Asia. But as wages in China continue to rise, its apparel production is expected to shift toward other developing countries, especially in Asia. How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture and therefore how much employment could be created? This is important because apparel is a labor intensive industry that historically employs relatively large numbers of female workers. 
In our new report, Stiches to Riches?, we estimate that South Asia could create at least 1.5 million jobs, of which half a million would be for women. Moreover, that is a conservative estimate, given that we are assuming no changes in policies to foster growth in apparel and address existing impediments.

Guess how many private infrastructure projects reached closure in 2015 in the poorest countries?

Laurence Carter's picture

Just fourteen projects in energy, transport and water/sanitation.  In only eight countries. Totaling $2.7 billion.
There are 56 IDA countries (excluding three “inactive” and a few rich enough to count as “IDA blend”) defined as having per capita income under $1,215.  This 2.7 billion in IDA countries compares to total private infrastructure investment commitments of $111.6 billion in all emerging markets in 2015 per the recently released Private Participation in Infrastructure database.
In recent years, the number of projects and investment amounts of private infrastructure in IDA countries hasn’t increased.  If people living in the poorest countries are to get better access to energy, transport and water services, and if we believe that the innovation, management capacity and financing of the private sector working together with governments is essential to help make that happen … well, then we need a step change.
We know to make a difference requires dedication and a long term vision.  One part of that ambitious change is the Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF).  The GIF is a global open platform to help partners prepare and structure complex infrastructure public-private partnerships (PPPs) in emerging markets, and to bring in private sector and institutional investor capital.  The GIF platform integrates the efforts of multilateral development banks (who as Technical Partners choose which projects to submit for GIF funding), private sector investors and financiers, and governments to bring infrastructure projects and programs to market.  No single institution can achieve these goals alone.  The GIF’s Advisory Partners, which include insurers, fund managers, and commercial lenders, and which together have $13 trillion in assets under management, provide feedback to governments on the bankability of projects.

3 ways countries can improve water supplies in small towns

Fadel Ndaw's picture

Also available in: Français

A public faucet that serves 1,000 families in
el Alto, Bolivia.
Photo credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / World Bank

Small towns* typically have not been well served by national or regional water utilities. Decentralization has become increasingly widely adopted, but even if local governments at the small town level have the power to operate a water utility, they often lack the capital and skills to do so. In response, some local governments and public institutions concentrate improvements on upgrading public utilities’ operations or strengthening community based management. In other cases, they choose to bring in the private sector knowledge of how to get clean water and sanitation services to more people more efficiently, affordably or sustainably. There is no one solution to addressing often very complex water and sanitation challenges.

There are many ways in which the public sector can leverage its own resources through partnering with the private sector. For the domestic private sector to fully realize its potential at scale in the small town sub-sector, we found they need capable and enabled public institutions to structure the market and regulate private operators.

Lessons learned from case study countries (Colombia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Uganda, Cambodia, Niger and Senegal) in a new global study published by the Water Global Practice’s Water and Sanitation Program suggest the following three key ways to support public institutions in order to build a conducive business climate for market players in small towns Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) service delivery:

Start talking, and let’s get to work: Dialogue and climate action in industries

Anja Robakowski's picture

Bangkok, Thailand — November 25, 2011: A flooded factory in the Nava Nakorn Industrial Estate at Pathumthani.
Photo @ photonewman

“No one can tackle climate change alone.” Those words, by Abdelouahed Fikrat, General Secretary of the Moroccan Ministry of Environment, aptly summarized the challenge that we face today in dealing with climate change. He made that declaration at the recent Dialogue for Climate Action event in Vienna, organized by The World Bank Group and the Government of Austria on May 24 and 25.

The Vienna event marked the launch of six Principles on Dialogue for Climate Action — a set of tenets aimed at guiding businesses and governments as they embark on productive conversations on how to cooperate effectively to fight climate change.
The World Bank Group and 12 international partners got together to collaboratively formulate the six principles: Inclusion, Urgency, Awareness, Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability.

In endorsing the principles and signing on to the Community of Practice (CoP) for Dialogue for Climate Action, Fikrat said, “The principles of dialogue launched at this event hold potential to contribute significantly to the COP 22 agenda and offer a tool to policymakers for engaging the private sector. We need to build on the current momentum to speed up the implementation of concrete actions.”
The tone for the event was set by Dimitris Tsitsiragos, Vice President of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), who stressed in his keynote address that “stopping the catastrophic impact of climate change requires urgent, comprehensive and ongoing public-private dialogue”.
Dialogue for Climate Action in Practice

So what does this mean in practice? How do we avoid pursuing a dialogue that is devoid of action? There is significant pressure on all actors to avoid “post-Paris blues” and stagnation. There is also a need to avoid actions in a vacuum, where everyone is doing something but without cohesion and coordination.

The six principles for climate action are based on the premise that all actors, working together, will create greater results. Bangladesh PaCT (Partnership for Cleaner Textiles), a project managed by the World Bank Group, makes a strong case for that approach. The project, which was launched in 2013, aims to introduce cleaner, more environment-friendly production methods in the textile sector, and dialogue is a key pillar of its project design.