Your COVID-era summer PPP reading list: resiliency, the new world order, and gender make the cut

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Infrastructure summer reading
Woman reading | Pixabay | tiburi

As COVID-19 warps our sense of time, and days blend together, summer is passing by with many of us not even noticing it. Yes, we are less than a month from the end of summer according to the official calendar in the northern hemisphere, and this weekend marks its de facto end in many parts of the world. And, although you may feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I’m here to provide you with a reading list so you can check something off your summer to-do list. I promise that several of them are even relatively short so that you can feel accomplished.

Although we don’t know what the “new normal” will look like for so many things, including infrastructure and its financing, we can hold ourselves accountable to look at the sector with a new and more inclusive perspective. I hope this list can be a guide.

summer readingFirst things first. In case you’re having an existential crisis, and nothing you read is helpful, The Stoic Challenge by William B. Irvine might be the book for you. Stoics welcomed moments of crises and this book uses their outlook to provide you a guide to becoming “tougher, calmer, and more resilient.” This is no heavy philosophy tome; it’s a breezy read to help you put things in perspective. You may know that one of the most famous stoic philosophers was Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Did you know he lived through one of the worst plagues in European history (probably caused by the smallpox virus)?

As COVID-19 makes us queston political and economic systems, and puts in evidence many ethical dilemmas, it makes us wonder which of the pandemic’s impacts will last and how governments, and infrastructure, will change. While no one knows what the future holds, we do have some hints.

Here’s a relevant read from Deloitte about how COVID-19 has challenged some operational paradigms. The pandemic has forced governments to respond nimbly to rapid change—leading them to challenge some deeply held beliefs. The Deloitte article maps 10 changes that might be permanent for government, including more agile and flexible regulation; better tailored public services; and more anticipation of citizens’ needs.

One practical example of the pandemic’s impact on government comes from Israel. COVID-19 forced the country to modernize its transport network almost overnight. It developed a range of creative solutions, such as a large-scale pilot to reinvent mass commuting with cutting-edge technology, combining pooled rides in private cars with on-demand transit services. Its experience shows that change in this sector is possible and could serve as a model for many other congested, polluted cities and countries that aspire to a cleaner, more equitable future. Read how Israel did it here.

summer readingThe use of data to better manage infrastructure reminded me of the book by Kai-Fu Lee AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order—particularly the point that AI will exacerbate inequality, given that it can deprive developing countries of the chance to claw their way out of poverty. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so, as it delivers insights on how government and the global economy might function in the (near) future.

Since I mention inequality, by now you’ve likely heard how the pandemic is disproportionally affecting women and girls. A study by McKinsey shows that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s.

This situation is worse in developing economies where most of women’s employment (70%) is in the informal economy. This impact on gender will have devastating effects in the global economy, according to McKinsey, and global GDP growth will shrink by $1 trillion in 2030 if no measures are taken to reverse these effects. In contrast, if gender equality policies are put in place, the estimated global GDP by 2030 would be $13 trillion higher than the gender-regressive scenario.

summer readingUndoubtedly, infrastructure development will play a key role in post-pandemic economic growth and productivity. However, if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and see economic gains from infrastructure amplified, we must start thinking more seriously and systematically about how to take into consideration the different needs of men and women while procuring, designing, structuring and building infrastructure. Along those lines, I found two publications extremely useful: Gender Equality, Infrastructure and PPPs – A Primer by the World Bank and the Infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women by UNOPS. Before you say that incorporating gender in infrastructure is too theoretical, I believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

As an example, IDB Invest structured and subscribed the world's first gender-linked bond based on achieving many of the outcomes I just mentioned—the first gender-focused social bond in South America aligned with international standards. 

As part of the bond issuance process, IDB Invest advised Davivienda on the design of the methodological framework for the use of proceeds, involving criteria for selection, monitoring, and evaluation of projects, aligned with the Social Bond Principles of the International Association of Capital Markets. Although the bond was not used to finance infrastructure, hopefully it can inspire other international financial institutions to think of innovative financing structuring that can also benefit women directly.

So here you have it, readers: a motley mix of inspirational reading for summer (and beyond). Enjoy what’s left of the season and please feel free to suggest more readings for all of us in the comments.


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Luciana Guimaraes Drummond e Silva

Infrastructure Specialist, Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) / Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees (IPG) Group, World Bank

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