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Financial Sector

Taking digital banking services to remote villages in north eastern India

Priti Kumar's picture
Ang Dolma Sherpa, an expert carpet weaver in West Sikkim is one of the 200-300 women weavers in the region who are benefiting from the project’s interventions
Ang Dolma Sherpa, an expert carpet weaver in West Sikkim is one of the 200-300 women weavers in the region who are benefiting from the project’s interventions. Photo: World Bank

Until six months ago, people in the remote corners of India’s Himalayan state of Sikkim had to travel long distances over the hillsides to do simple banking transactions.

When they did reach a bank, it was usually overcrowded and understaffed. This made it difficult for rural folk, unfamiliar with formal financial systems to deposit or withdraw money, let alone borrow to meet their needs.
 
Now change is in the air. Ever since the North East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) - supported by the World Bank - helped banks in Sikkim’s western and southern districts engage local women self-help group (SHG) members as their business correspondents, people in these distant parts have been able to bank at their doorsteps.
 
While the concept is not new in India, the two correspondents - one for each district - have proved to be nothing short of a miracle for this far-flung region. They have fanned out across mountain villages, equipped with palm-sized micro-ATMs, biometric readers, and internet-connected thermal printers. Villagers can now deposit their money easily, earn interest, and withdraw whenever needed.
 
In the six months since the correspondents were first introduced, business has soared. “In November 2018, when we first began, I did about 160 transactions worth Rs.1.2 million. As awareness has grown, this has risen steadily, and in March 2019 I did over 260 transactions worth Rs. 2.4 million,” explained Lila Shilal, business correspondent for the IDBI Bank in West Sikkim’s Jorethang block.
 
Shilal has also benefitted in the process. She has started earning more than Rs.10,000 a month from the bank in transaction fees and commission and has used the amount to set herself up as an entrepreneur.
 
The project has introduced another financial service as well, this time at the bank itself. Here, bank sakhis - or female banker friends – help village folk and SHG members fill out forms and apply for loans.
 
This new cadre of women business correspondents and bank sakhis has not only benefitted local communities and given SHG members a new livelihood opportunity, it has also made life simpler for the region’s bankers.

Improving Pakistan’s public and private investment

Muhammad Waheed's picture
Pakistan is not investing enough and its share of investment to GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 15 percent almost half of the South Asian average at 30 percent. This translates into inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to sufficient levels of energy and water, poor quality of schools and hospitals. Photo: World Bank

This blog is part of a series that discusses findings from the [email protected]: Shaping the Future report, which identifies the changes necessary for Pakistan to become a strong upper middle-income country by the time it turns 100 years old in 2047. 

Pakistan’s economy is unable to sustain high growth rates for extended periods. Every few years, the economy is faced with a balance of payments crisis as it tries to grow fast.

This is unlike many other successful peer countries that are growing at higher rates for a longer time.

This inability to sustain growth momentum has dented Pakistan’s ambitions to become a middle-income country. What is the reason for this boom and bust cycle that Pakistan experiences so often?
 
The fundamental cause for these short-lived growth cycles in Pakistan is that these are propelled by private and government consumption, not by higher investment.

Resultantly, the country’s demand increases at a much higher pace than its supply of goods and services, prompting a need for higher imports which becomes unsustainable.

Successive governments have tried to notch up growth in this way, but all of them have ended with a balance of payments crisis.
 
Pakistan is not investing enough and its share of investment to GDP is one of the lowest in the world at 15 percent , almost half of the South Asian average at 30 percent. This translates into inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to sufficient levels of energy and water, poor quality of schools and hospitals.
 
More worryingly, private investment as a share of GDP has been declining and stands at less than 10pc in FY18. This low investment trap and declining labor productivity have reduced Pakistan’s growth potential.
 
The decline in the economy’s growth potential is particularly concerning because it suggests that the country will not be able to grow at higher rates required for job creation. To correct this Pakistan needs to undertake several reforms in multiple areas to increase labor productivity and capital formation.
 
The foremost priority is that Pakistan must maintain macroeconomic stability. Persistent macroeconomic instability has discouraged savings and private investment in the country resulting in low-aggregate investment and fluctuating output levels.

What’s behind South Asia’s low exports?

Hans Timmer's picture
South Asian countries’ exports are only one-third of what they should be, had they mirrored the experience of economies with similar characteristics. Without further integration into global markets, South Asia will not sustain its growth. Photo: Shutterstock 

This blog highlights the findings from the recent South Asia Economic Focus: Exports Wanted

Bela Balassa worked for the World Bank from 1966 till his death in 1991. Luckily, his insights on international integration, revealed comparative advantages, trade diversion, and natural progress toward political integration have outlived him.

And what Bela is best-known for—and rightfully so—is the Balassa-Samuelson effect.

Put simply, this effect explains why a haircut or a restaurant meal is much cheaper in poor countries than in rich countries whereas the price tag for a car or a television is almost the same everywhere.

What’s behind this phenomenon is simple and can be summed up in three parts.

First, international competition equalizes the price of tradable goods like televisions across countries.

Second, the prices of non-tradable goods like haircuts can differ.

And third, the difference in productivity across countries is much more significant in tradable goods than in non-tradable goods. For example, a barber in Dhaka needs roughly the same amount of time as a barber in New York to cut my hair.

But manufacturers or farmers in Nepal need more labor to produce the same output than their counterparts in Germany.

Countries tend to be poor because their level of productivity in tradable goods is low.  

Should women get a job? “Yes...but” say Pakistani men

Saman Amir's picture
A large number of Pakistani women waiting to get relief money for her own business work at Lahore, Pakistan.
Pakistani women in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: A M Syed, Shutterstock

 
This blog is part of a series examining women’s economic empowerment in South Asia.

In patriarchal societies—as in most of Pakistan—men exert much influence over the lives of their female relatives and almost always have exclusive control over household income.
 
Having a supportive father or husband is therefore critical for women and determines their choices and work opportunities, especially outside the home.

Conversely, men reluctant to see women in the workplace can derail progress toward greater participation of women in the labor force.
 
As part of the Women in the Workforce study, we interviewed a purposively selected group of men in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, and Peshawar on their thoughts on women’s work outside the home.[1]
 
Despite the constraints of a purposive sampling technique, a few broad themes emerged from these interviews that can be relevant to anyone advocating for women’s economic empowerment.
 
As anywhere in the world, men’s attitudes toward women’s work were varied. 
 
Some men we spoke to expressed support for women’s work for economic gain.
 
The most common reason was the urgent need for a double income to maintain the household’s living standards in a fast-changing economy.

Shaping a brighter future for Pakistan

Illango Patchamuthu's picture
Pakistan needs to think big on investing in its people
Pakistani girls attending a primary school. Photo: World Bank
This blog is part of a series that discusses findings from the [email protected]: Shaping the Future report, which identifies the changes necessary for Pakistan to become a strong upper middle-income country by the time it turns 100 years old in 2047. 
 
In 28 years, Pakistan will turn 100 years old. The children born this year will be adults then.

I wonder what they will see when they look around. Will they see a country teeming with opportunity? Or will they be in a country that does not offer enough jobs and does not provide the needed skills to compete?

Some of them may well be new parents at 28. Will they be able to look at their own children, and see a brighter future for them?

Pakistan has some important decisions to make if it wants to give its children the future they deserve.

If the country can make the right decisions now, Pakistan can accelerate and sustain growth to become a confident upper middle-income by the time it turns 100. It’s ambitious but possible.

Other countries –South Korea, China, and Malaysia – have transformed their economies within a generation, and there is no reason why Pakistan cannot achieve the same.

The alternative is not inspiring. If the country fails to accelerate and sustain growth as well as control population growth, by 2047 income levels will be close to where they are today and with challenges similar to what they are today.

I like to imagine another Pakistan, in which stunting and malnutrition are gone, in which family background does not determine what job you can get, women compete equally with men, businesses thrive, and Pakistan competes with the likes of Shanghai or Singapore as a trading hub.

Last month we launched a report, [email protected]: Shaping the Future, which looks at some of the reforms needed to accelerate and sustain growth and transform Pakistan’s economy.

Now is the time to come together and see what needs to be done to achieve this goal. A growth narrative for Pakistan needs to rest on these four elements: investing in people; using resources more efficiently; caring for the environment; and finally, improving how Pakistan is run to support growth and the implementation of difficult reforms.

Pakistan needs to think big on investing in its people.

In Bangladesh, new latrines meet a tested business model

Shilpa Banerji's picture
Shamila Hakim outside her home in Gazipur district's Shinglab village, Dhaka
Shamela Hakeem outside her home in Gazipur district's Shinglab village, Dhaka. Photo: World Bank

In a tiny hamlet called Shinglab in Gazipur district, around 2 hours from Dhaka, you can see a cluster of homes made of varying materials depending on the household income.

Shamela Hakeem, 40, lives in a functional mud hut with a tin roof. A widow with no children, she makes around BDT 300 ($3.50) daily as a sweeper at a local factory.

Last year, she decided to upgrade her sanitation facilities and purchased a BDT 10,000 ($118) toilet from a local entrepreneur. She is due to pay off her final installment within the next month.

But why did she decide to invest in a toilet?
                                                                                                                                                                                      
A three-way street

Bangladesh has nearly eliminated the practice of open defecation, but many latrines are poorly constructed and unhygienic, which can be harm­ful to the environment and the user.

Only 32 percent of the rural population have access to a safely managed sanitation service.  The government is helping rural households shift to better sanitation. However, many poor rural households are often discouraged by the upfront cost.

The country also has a history of micro-finance institutions (MFIs) who have effectively worked with rural households. But MFIs have had little experience in investing in non-productive assets such as toilets.

In 2016, a $3 million World Bank grant helped scale up MFIs lending for improved rural sanitation in Bangladesh. An additional $23.7 million in seed money was mobilized from MFIs for the installation of latrines.

Small-scale sanitation entrepreneurs received technical assistance to build good quality, affordable models of hygienic latrines for low-income households. Finally, an agreement was reached with the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) to work with retail MFIs and local entrepreneurs (LEs).

Interest-free loans were extended to households using their own capital ($22) of PKSF and their MFI partners plus business loans to entrepreneurs with market rate interest. Across 42 districts, household borrowers could choose from a range of standard design ‘set price’ latrines installed by LEs. Another arrangement was reached between MFIs, LEs, and customers who accessed the sanitation loan from MFIs and placed an order with LEs to construct the latrine.

Households could pay off the loan over a period of 50 weeks without interest. “We started off with 143 latrines in 2017, but now the market is more developed, and entrepreneurs are motivated,” said Gazi Md. Salahuddin, general manager of Resource Integration Centre, an MFI based in Narayanganj district.

How to succeed as Sri Lanka’s top woman entrepreneur: Honesty, hard work, and perseverance

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
This International Women’s Day I chose to have a conversation with a lady who is recognized as the leading Sri Lankan woman entrepreneur, Mrs. Aban Pestonjee.  

Her story is an inspiration to youth (male and female) and women who are afraid of failure and taking risks.

Starting from a modest home-based business, 50 years ago, today Aban is a household brand name that is island wide in Sri Lanka.

How to diversify Bhutan’s economy?

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Bhutan has made tremdendous progress in reducing poverty. But it needs to do a better job at diversifying its economy by improving its physical and human capital by using resource rents from hydropower.
Bhutan has made tremendous progress in reducing poverty. But it needs to do a better job at diversifying its economy by improving its physical and human capital by using resource rents from hydropower.

Will diversifying its economy help Bhutan address its youth unemployment, let alone its macroeconomic volatility and vulnerability?

With the right approach, yes.

And to that end, the latest World Bank Bhutan Development Report: A Path to Inclusive and Sustainable Development proposes solutions relevant to Bhutan’s context.

For more than ten years, developing the private sector through greater economic diversification has been Bhutan’s top policy as described in the 10th and 11th five-year plans.

Yet, youth unemployment, especially for educated Bhutanese, has remained high: 67 percent of bachelor’s degrees holders were jobless in 2016.

Diversifying the economy is touted as a standard prescription to cure such development ailments as joblessness, low productivity, and macroeconomic volatility.

However, international experience shows that this prescription does not always work.

Case in point: A World Bank’s analysis Diversified Development concludes that in resource-rich countries, investing in physical capital, human capital and economic institution are the best ways to sustain growth in the private sector.

Further to that, the development of specific sectors, which is often a common ingredient of diversification strategies in certain countries, is neither necessary nor sufficient for private-sector-led growth.

The main driver of Bhutan’s high growth and poverty reduction, hydropower has led the country’s development and will remain the backbone of its economy.

However, Bhutan needs to do a better job at diversifying its economy by improving its physical and human capital by using resource rents from hydropower.

Bhutan ranks 149 out of 160 countries on the 2018 Logistics Performance Index and 121 out of 176 countries on the 2017 ICT index.

Bhutan falls in the bottom half of the Human Capital Project rankings on critical indicators such as expected years of schooling.

In Pakistan, music meets public debt management

Andrew Lee's picture
Recently on mission in Pakistan to unveil a new tool to help the Punjab government better manage its public debt, the blog author, Andrew Lee, interacted and shared a few selfies with youth in the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.
Recently on mission in Pakistan to unveil a new tool to help the Punjab government better manage its public debt, the blog author, Andrew Lee, interacted and shared a few selfies with youth in the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.


“Sí, sabes que ya llevo un rato mirándote
Tengo que bailar contigo hoy” 
 
The Despacito tune blared in the bus, and my fellow riders kept tempo to the rhythm.
 
I was recently on mission in the Punjab province, Pakistan, on my way to the Shalimar Gardens for some sightseeing on my day off.

The last thing I expected to hear was the top song of 2017 on a bus in Lahore but in hindsight, this shouldn’t have surprised me.

We live in a global community, and across the world, individuals are getting more connected every day.  Music perfectly exemplifies this – a universal language which we can all understand.  With this increased connection comes higher expectations.

In addition to roads and clean water, citizens now demand that their government provide reliable digital connectivity. And when taxes and other revenues are not sufficient to cover this and other public services, governments must borrow to pay for it.
 
As with music, debt transcends borders, and the basics are almost the same. The key elements of music – rhythm, harmony, and melody – as with the critical components of debt – interest payments, maturity, cash flow, and risk – remain the same no matter where you are.

Managing public debt was precisely my reason to be in Lahore where I introduced a cash flow tool the World Bank helped design.

South Asia: A bright spot in darkening economic skies?

Hartwig Schafer's picture
South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of the rising uncertainties that are looming large on the global economic horizon. The region will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region. The Siddhirganj Power Project in Bangladesh. Credit: Ismail Ferdous/World Bank

If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
 
Sadly, when it comes to the global economy, this year’s outlook is taking a somber turn.
 
In the aptly titled Darkening Skies, the World Bank’s new edition of its twice-a-year Global Economic Prospects report shows that risks are looming large on the economic horizon.
 
To sum up:  In emerging market and developing economies, the lingering effects of recent financial market stress on several large economies, a further deceleration in commodity exporters are likely to stall growth at a weaker-than-expected 4.2 percent this year.
 
On a positive note, South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of these rising global uncertainties and will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region.
 
Bucking the global decelerating trend, growth in South Asia is expected to accelerate to 7.1 percent in 2019 from 6.9 percent in the year just ended, bolstered in part by stronger investments and robust consumption.  

Among the region’s largest economies, India is forecast to grow at 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2019-20 while Bangladesh is expected to moderate to 7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19. Sri Lanka is seen speeding up slightly to 4 percent in 2019.
 
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to  2.7 percent rate this year.

In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.

However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.

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