There are many views about how a country develops. Some view institutions as the key determinant, while others emphasize the fundamental importance of human capital. Still others highlight the importance of infrastructure, while the World Bank and other international organizations have argued for improving the overall business environment in which firms operate. Finally, a recent strand of literature has emphasized the importance of agglomeration economies as a source of long-term growth. What, however, are the relative explanatory power of these alternative, though not necessarily-mutually exclusive, views? And are their effects specific to the context such as the level of development, the sector in which a firm operates, firm size and age? Answering these questions is important because governments only have limited resources to deal with key challenges. If there are bottlenecks to a country’s development, it is important to diagnose these to provide a sounder basis for policy.
Private Sector Development
Agribusiness is en vogue, fostered by a new understanding of the agricultural sector as a major contributor to overall growth and poverty reduction and through its linkages with the manufacturing and services sector.
In order to efficiently link farmers and consumers across countries and regions, quantifying and analyzing agribusiness trade flows is key. But how can we measure international agribusiness trade flows in a systematic way to identify important patterns?
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.
Pop quiz: Which of these statements do you agree with?
- If you build “IT” they will come.
- Poor people don’t need mobile phones. They need clean water and food instead.
- Digital skills are only relevant for people who work in the ICT sector. The rest of us don’t need them.
Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the Report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.
The World Bank Group’s Enterprise Surveys (ES) evaluate the quality of the business environment in an economy by asking a series of questions that capture both the experiences and perceptions of firms. These surveys provide much needed information, particularly in developing countries where firm-level data about what businesses experience are limited.
The Djibouti Enterprise Survey is the first-ever ES in the country and consists of 266 firms in Djibouti City across three sectors – manufacturing, retail, and other services. Firms interviewed for the ES are formal, private-sector firms operating in non-agricultural, non-extractive private sector with five or more employees.
The potential for expanding the industrial sectors of African countries is substantial – this was a message I delivered on a recent trip to Italy, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. This can happen through an improved understanding of the mechanics of economic transformation as well as by focusing on how such countries can follow their comparative advantage in natural resources and labor supply.
During my site visits and meetings with the private sector for the African segments of my trip, I became more convinced than ever of the strong untapped potential for private sector-led industrialization. Yet that can only happen when the government plays a facilitating role, such as by overcoming information asymmetries, coordination failures and externalities associated with first-mover actions. In Tanzania, initial experiments with industrial parks look promising, as do agricultural development projects and rural transport initiatives currently under way. In the case of industrial parks, it’s important to have a one-stop shop for registration and other administrative obligations, adequate electricity and water supply, and good transport/logistics links.