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East Asia and Pacific

Sri Lanka - Resplendent Island, Raring to Deliver

Parth Shri Tewari's picture


Sri Lanka conjures up different images in the minds of different people: lush green tropical canopies, steaming cups of aromatic tea, and hardworking fishermen in their dinghy boats.

For me, the country also packs enormous promise for growth and development. There is not the slightest doubt that Sri Lanka will have to come clean and deal with the aftermath of its prolonged civil war. However, at a fundamental level, there is a sense of hunger in its people to rebuild their lives and their country. The new-found peace that engulfs the population is cherished by most, and is part of dinner conversations especially with foreigners like me.

Sri Lanka already holds a strong position in certain agricultural and industrial exports, like tea or uncut diamonds. Combine this with its strategic location – situated at the crossroads of major shipping routes connecting South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East – and you have a potent combination, a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

I recently spoke at an event organized by the country’s top business newspaper, the Daily Financial Times, in partnership with the well-regarded Colombo University MBA Alumni Association. The focus of the forum was the country’s emerging six-hub strategy – Maritime, Commercial, Knowledge, Aviation, Energy and Tourism: the cornerstone of its further economic development.

The euphoria leading up to the event was palpable. The ceremonial drums and lighting of the auspicious lamp to evoke good omen created the perfect ambience. I was nervous, not because of stage fright, but because I was about to present a contrarian viewpoint to private-sector and public-sector experts, while sharing the stage with the Minister of Economic Development and the Governor of the Sri Lanka’s Central Bank. Even though my arguments were well-thought-through and fact-based, it was going to be a delicate dance, as I was about to communicate some tough arguments against the implementation of the full-blown six-hub strategy.

Innovation and Insurance: Protection Against the Costs of Natural Disaster

Olivier Mahul's picture

Natural disasters – such as tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and floods – are costly to society, in terms of both human destruction and financial losses. Governments ultimately bear the full cost of the havoc wreaked by natural disasters, which can create an enormous strain on limited government budgets, especially in developing countries. This is even before we begin to contemplate the development impact and how the poorest of the poor are disproportionately affected.

Just last week, the world saw the widespread damage that the St. Jude storm inflicted across Europe, and we witnessed its effect on hundreds of thousands of people. Most advanced economies, however, have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb the financial losses inlicted by natural disasters. Higher-income countries enjoy (relatively) efficient public revenue systems and developed domestic insurance markets.

By contrast, developing countries do not have the same degree of access to financial and insurance markets. They face limited revenue streams, limited fiscal flexibility, and limited access to quick liquidity in the wake of an event. This is particularly so for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as the Pacific island nations.

Putting $8.7 billion back in the pockets of Asia’s migrants

Massimo Cirasino's picture


Governments and private sector actions can drive down remittance prices for migrants (Credit: DFID-UK, Flickr Creative Commons)
An estimated 215 million people – 3 percent of the world’s population – have emigrated far from home in order to earn enough to support their families. They include workers from Bangladesh who go to Saudi Arabia to work in the construction trade, Afghans who go to Iran to work in the oilfields, and workers from Burkina Faso who go to Cote d’Ivoire to work on the cocoa or coffee harvests.

Toiling far from their loved ones is not their only burden. When migrants send their money home, they are often charged exorbitant fees, which can account for a large portion of the small sums being sent - sometimes upwards of 20 percent – and can inflict a punishing burden on poor migrants.

Corporate Governance Reforms Pay Dividends in Thailand

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Thailand is a clear leader in corporate governance among Asian and emerging economies. But the recently launched 2013 Corporate Governance Report on Standards and Codes (ROSC) finds key challenges remain.
In the face of the 1997 crisis, Thailand has undertaken significant reforms that have enhanced corporate governance. Both regulators and the private sector in Thailand embraced good corporate governance, and have remained committed ever since. The World Bank also played a role - for example in helping establish the Thailand Institute of Directors in 2002 and conducting a previous Corporate Governance ROSC in 2005, which in turn was used by the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to support the next wave of reform.  Overall, progress in the last 15 years has been impressive.

Aceh’s amazing new infrastructure

David Lawrence's picture

Available in Bahasa

The new airport in Banda Aceh was as magnificent as the Taj Mahal—bright, with endless marble floors and beautiful domes. You can almost imagine a reflecting pool, maybe a garden…OK, I might be getting a little carried away. But if you had ever travelled through the old airport—something like a Greyhound bus station in a rust-belt city with a runway attached—you’d understand my excitement. The Banda Aceh airport was just the first step in the city's ongoing transformation (Credit: David Lawrence)

That was more than four years ago. Since then, the entire city has transformed. Just take the roads. I used to bike all over the city, so I know from first-hand experience that many of the roads were in bad shape, with huge potholes and puddles as big as lakes. But now? You might think you were driving in Germany. Every road is perfectly paved, even the narrow, single-lane ones. When it rains, the water just drains away.

What's Singapore got to do with it?

Parth Shri Tewari's picture

A daunting development challenge will confront us for the next decade: More than 1 million jobs per month – every month, for a decade or more – will need to be created to raise the living standards of the 2.6 billion who live on less than $2 per day, and the billions who will soon try to enter the paid workforce amid one of the greatest demographic surges in human history.  Job creation in the public sector is expected to be flat, at best, so most of the needed jobs will have to be created by the private sector. But how?

Singapore is one of the world's freest economies. (Photocredit: Flickr, jjcb)Focusing on the macroeconomic agenda is necessary but insufficient.  Most countries have rolled out macro-level reforms, but policymakers increasingly argue that the macro policy agenda must be complemented by targeted growth programs focusing on specific industries and value chains.  Policymakers urgently seek practical solutions to meet the job-creation challenge. 

A Manhattan Project for green innovation? Try open innovation instead!

Jean-Louis Racine's picture

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Last week the World Bank launched a new approach to fostering green innovation called the Indonesia Green Innovation Pilot Program. Its aim is to learn how open innovation principles can foster the generation of market-based solutions to clean energy.  A core team of designers (Catapult and Inotek) will work  with rural communities, the public and private sectors to design clean energy solutions that can be adopted by the market.  Keeping in line with open innovation, its first activity is to identify challenges or “problems” that will be addressed by the program through a crowdsourcing approach. So if you are in any way familiar with rural communities and energy issues in Indonesia, the program invites you to submit a challenge here until March 17.

Can the state lead on tackling the the problem of climate change? (photo: Kristoffer M.C., Flickr)But, if you think coming up with the kind of technology required to tackle climate change will require something akin to a Manhattan Project, rest assured, you're not alone. Googling "climate change" and "manhattan project" returns a whopping 1,540,000 results. But what does creating a "Manhattan Project" really mean? Besides uncomfortable thoughts of human-inflicted destruction, sheer scale is the first thing that comes to my mind. At its peak, during World War II, the US government employed 130,000 people in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. The project's size together with several other features made it a classic case of what I would call "brute-force innovation": it was centrally-planned, closed, and science-driven. Even though the project included research teams across different universities, public research labs and companies across the United States, nothing was leaked in or out and each team had a very specific assigned task and plan. Through the Manhattan Project the government spearheaded the research, developed, testing and deployment of a revolutionary technology from start to finish over a span of four years. And there were no startups, spin-offs, royalty incentives, public-private-partnerships, venture capitalists, crowdsourcing, first-mover advantage, standard-setting or IPOs. Basically none of the buzzwords we associate with disruptive innovation in the 21st Century.

Rising to the Reform Challenge: Doing Business in Indonesia

Katerina Leris's picture

Read this post in Bahasa.

Ambitious and fast rising—these words aptly describe modern Indonesia. Amidst a global economic slowdown, Indonesia was the third fastest growing economy among the G-20 for 2009 and it continues to post strong economic growth, at a projected rate of 6.4% for 2012. Improving economic competitiveness by creating a more salutary business climate is one of Indonesia’s national priorities for 2010 to 2014.Like other cities in Indonesia, Banda Aceh has made strides in many areas measured.

Indonesia is walking the talk. Doing Business in Indonesia 2012 launched January 31 in Jakarta, finds  that all 14 cities previously measured in Doing Business in Indonesia 2010 have improved business registration processes over the last two years, while 10 out of 14 cities expedited the approval of construction permits. During his keynote address on the launching of the report, the Minister of State Ministry for Administrative Reforms talked about the cities moving from 'comfort zone' to 'competitive zone'.

How do they do it? Public-private partnerships and universal healthcare

David Lawrence's picture

I pay through the nose for health insurance for my family, and I’m not happy about it. As a U.S. citizen, I don’t have the luxury of government-backed healthcare. Since I’m technically self-employed, I have to pay the full premium myself. Want some figures? It costs me $830 a month for a family of four, with a high deductible. Besides being expensive, it takes a huge effort to deal with insurance issues, and I find that my provider is expert at finding reasons not to reimburse me for medical expenses. This is chewing a gaping hole in my budget. The only way I’ll ever get value for my money is if I’m hit by a bus.

Outbound FDI: The emergence of Chinese companies on the global scene

Few would dispute China’s importance to the world economy today; from small villages to large cities, its presence is now felt almost everywhere. The Economist recently went so far as to call China “the indispensable economy,” reporting that more and more multinational companies are realizing an increased share of their revenues from inside Chinese borders.

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