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Unveiling what businesses experience in 50 economies: results from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys

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The private sector is a crucial driver of economic development. It underlies productivity growth, job opportunities, provides tax revenues and, in particular, serves as safety net for the disadvantaged sectors of society. To unleash the private sector’s full potential for growth, understanding the challenges and experiences of firms and the business environment in which they operate is imperative.

To facilitate analyses that enable the understanding of these fundamentals, the World Bank Enterprise Surveys (WBES) team recently completed more than 29,000 interviews with owners or top managers of private firms, which are compiled into 50 surveys, covering roughly a third of the world. The interviews cover a broad range of business-environment topics, including, access to finance, corruption, infrastructure, competition, labor, and performance, among others. These surveys also included new questions tailored for the Business Ready (B-READY) report, which is scheduled to be released in September 2024. These 50 surveys were completed in a record-breaking time – all published within a year. Each survey’s sample of firms is representative of a large part of the corresponding economy.

What can we learn from the new WBES data? To demonstrate, we present findings around bribery, digitalization, infrastructure, gender, and private sector growth.

Bribery incidence

Let’s start exploring this treasure trove of publicly available firm-level data by looking at one of the most publicly used WBES indicators: bribery incidence – the share of firms experiencing at least one bribe request across six public transactions dealing with permits, licenses, taxes, and access to utilities. This indicator feeds into the Sustainable Development Goals (Indicator 16.5.2).

Digitalization and Infrastructure

Turning to the topics of infrastructure and digitalization, the WBES data highlight that not only corruption but other long-standing issues, such as electricity outages and limited access to the basic functions of the internet, remain much more prevalent for firms in lower-income economies. These issues likely prevent them from materializing their full growth potential. In Chad, 96.2 percent of firms experience electrical outages in a typical month, while less than one percent of firms do so in Singapore. In Sierra Leone, only 15.6 percent of firms have their own website or a social media page, while 91.8 percent of firms do have them in New Zealand. 


Now, let’s look at how firms across economies encourage or discourage the full potential of women. Figure 4 is rather grim, with interesting regional clusters. The East Asia and Pacific region looks best, with an average of 33.4 firms having a woman top manager and an average of 25.7 firms that are majority owned by women. On the least favorable quadrant, we have the Middle East and North Africa, with averages of 3.3 and 1.7, respectively, and South Asia not far above. Everywhere, the private sector has a long way to go to fully benefit from equal involvement across genders.

Watch the Enterprise Surveys knowledge event - “What's Holding Back the Private Sector? Understanding the Businesses’ Experience through Enterprise Surveys”

Private Sector Growth

Are better-managed firms more likely to invest in their own growth, such as upgrading their equipment? A simple regression analysis of firms’ purchases of assets for operations and their management practices seems to suggest that better-managed firms do indeed invest more in fixed assets, even after taking into account the firms’ size, sector, location, and age.

The WBES data enables users like researchers, policymakers, and those in the private sector to investigate relations like those above, as well as to explore variations across the characteristics of firms or their business environment and drill down on whether such relations are causal. The vast potential of the WBES data for firm-level analysis like this one is attested by the long list of research papers written using these data.

This blog uses only a tiny sliver of the massive data, collected through a consistent methodology across economies and time – a total of 357 surveys across 159 economies with more than 219,000 interviews. All these data are publicly available on the WBES website, where users can easily download economy level indicator, and the WBES data portal, where users can find clean, economy-level as well as cross-economy databases.


Need guidance on how to use our data? Please let the WBES experts know.

Using Enterprise Surveys data? We ask that all users include the following citation: Source: World Bank Enterprise Surveys,

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