It's not about us: Building competitiveness by breaking down walls

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Workers unchain girder from delivery truck
(Credit: WSDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

Creating 100 million jobs in developing countries will require outrageous ambition, as I discussed in my blog post in April about the Competitive Industries Practice’s work with our clients. Since then, the world’s jobs challenge has become no less severe. If anything, the outlook has worsened.

In India, where I’m based, the economic outlook has continued to deteriorate. Industrial output did not just stop growing in the last quarter: It shrank by about 1 percent. In the country with, by far, the largest number of new workers entering the global labor pool, the engine of job creation is not just stalled: It may be going in reverse. Across the developing world, including in East Asia, the last six months have seen growth slowdowns and setbacks in job creation. The slow recovery in the developed world is not reducing unemployment quickly enough, if at all.

So as we prepare to return from our summer vacations, this is a good time for World Bank staff to think about how to do things differently and how to take the lead in tackling the jobs crisis. What will it take for Competitive Industries to help our clients and counterparts deliver under these difficult circumstances?

It clearly can’t be done by the CI practice alone. Implementing solutions – fast – requires working across traditional sectors, at full speed.

In India, for example, the government aims to create between 70 million and 100 million jobs in manufacturing by 2025. That’s an enormous task: In a similarly short time frame, China’s peak rate of job creation was about 70 million.

To help deliver solutions for our clients, the CI team in Delhi has been working extensively with our colleagues in PREM and PREM Trade on the barriers to growth for small firms and on trade facilitation; with Urban on the development of industrial-logistics corridors; and with the Extractive Industries team and our Governance colleagues on mining governance and diversification. At the same time, the CI team is drawing on knowledge from colleagues as far afield as Brazil and Malaysia. We’re helping our counterparts connect private-sector media houses with a circulation of 120 million to delivery units in East Asia to run innovative experiments in vibrantly democratic planning and monitoring.

Similar stories could be told for CI teams in many other countries, from Sierra Leone to Russia – yet I believe we can and should do much more.

Working truly across sectors means incorporating other sector specialists: not just by seeking an occasional comment, but by giving them a seat at the table from a content standpoint, making them part of the core team. This forces us to rethink our conventional sector approaches, driven by standard measures and results. Blending different backgrounds is harder to accomplish than we might think. It requires substantial investments in developing “soft skills” and in forging the kinds of trust and social capital that are necessary for collective action.

This task can be done, difficult as it might be. Even now, in Brazil, one of our CI affiliates is leading the preparation of what may be the largest “PforR” in the Bank – mobilizing a team that spans across sectors: involving Public Sector Management, Innovation, Human Development, Water Quality and Fiduciary Systems.

We need to stretch even further beyond our walls. We need to draw on the best of academia and, most important, on the innovations that our counterparts are generating. In India, for example, a group of public and private leaders has recently launched the "India Backbone Implementation Network" (IbIn), a bottom-up movement that in just a few months has attracted two dozen partners, from Infosys to SEWA. The network aims to convert "contention to collaboration, confusion to coordination, and intention to implementation."

One of its leaders, Shri Arun Maira, a member of the Planning Commission of India, has pushed us to get outside of our normal sector boundaries and to think alongside his team on the “how to” of implementing manufacturing policy in India and creating more jobs.

Maira will be one of the speakers at a conference that will be hosted by the CI Practice just after the Annual Meetings, on October 16 and 17 in the Preston Auditorium. The conference – entitled “Making Growth Happen: Implementing Policies for Competitive Industries” – will focus on how to think differently and pull together the pieces needed to deliver. The conference’s Call for Papers will close at the end of August: Additional detail can be found here at the conference announcement page. Please send your submissions before August 30 to competitiveindustries@worldbank

The October forum will show that it is not just about us: It is about how we can all come together to address the urgent challenge of the jobs deficit.

As the October conference approaches, our blog will keep you updated about the agenda and the lineup of panelists, which will feature senior clients and counterparts, private-sector CEOs and pioneering economists. So: Stay tuned!  I hope all of our CI affiliates will attend, along with even more of our colleagues, friends and partners than the Preston Auditorium can hold.


Ivan Rossignol

Chief Technical Specialist, Competitive Industries Global Practice

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