The World Bank and Oxfam India co-organized a high energy event earlier this week - Joining Forces to End Violence Against Women. It was an intense two days – about 200 participants from diverse backgrounds gathered to listen, to educate each other, to speak up, and to build alliances; in short, to join forces towards the next step. Several of them congratulated the “movement” on progress – on having coopted unlikely allies, on the fact that more men were involved than ever before, and that public outrage against violence is widespread in South Asia. Surely, this will lead to change, is the implicit hope. But long-time warriors like Flavia Agnes, voiced angst and discouragement, as only those who have spent a lifetime of struggle are entitled to. Finally, the anger came from 21-year old Urmila Chaudhary – freed from bondage as a Kamalari – “where were you all when I was pledged to a family as a maid at the age of six”, she asked a somber audience?
Back in the mid-1980s, India's then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lamented that out of every rupee spent on welfare schemes, only 15 paise reached the poor. More than a quarter of a century later, the scale and ambition of India’s social sector programs have become far bigger than what even Rajiv’s 21st-century vision could have comprehended. But one thing has remained constant – the system still leaks.
That’s not to say the problem hasn’t received attention. There is increased awareness about pilferage and diversion of assets meant for a target population. Programs now are better designed to detect leakages, estimate what’s being delivered and allow monitoring at various stages.
But these measures have met with varying degrees of success. Clearly some states – and indeed some projects – have been better at drawing benefits and utilizing funds than others.
So how do you get more bang for your buck when it comes to development projects? When the World Bank invited me to visit some of its assisted projects in Tamil Nadu in early May this year, I got a firsthand opportunity to mull this issue.
The doors to the largest depository of development data in the world were just thrown open. Starting today, all our statistics are available online free of charge for all. The Open Data Access builds on the success of Data.Gov adopted by the US and UK and lets the global community create new applications and solutions to help poor people in the developing world.
Data, until now available through subscriptions only, is now accessible at data.worldbank.org. This is an important milestone for the World Bank, which complements the Access to Information reform. For many data is power. It is more than just numbers as it creates the space for dialogue based on facts and helps to foster new ideas.