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'If I knew that avocados had value, I would plant more of them'

Cecile Fruman's picture



Emilienne Isenady poses while showing off the crops on her land in Lascahobas, Central Plateau, Haiti.

“If I knew that avocados had value, I would plant more of them,” says Emilienne Isenady, a single mother of six in Lascahobas, in the Central Plateau of Haiti.

Emilienne grows and sells avocados to Dominican buyers and to “Madan Saras” (the local name for women brokers who buy and re-sell products in other cities), who will buy the avocados and transport them using the perilous local “tap taps” – trucks converted into public transportation. She will also sell them in the local market in Lascahobas.

Emilienne is a smallholder farmer, but little does she know that she is already part of an avocado local value chain, nor that there is a better avocado Global Value Chain (GVC) out there facing a global shortage.

Emilienne’s is guiding us to see her avocado trees. As we push aside branches, we do not see neatly planted rows of avocado trees but rather a wild two hectares of scattered mango trees, avocado trees, malanga, sweet peas and pineapples. We are accompanied by Marc André Volcy, Farah Edmond and Jean-Berlin Bernard, three “mobile agents” of the Business Support Service team for the Central Plateau Department.

The team is part of a program that the Haitian Ministry of Commerce and Industry has put in place to support entrepreneurs in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises across the country. The program is supported by the World Bank Group’s Business Development and Investment Project (BDI). There are nine other teams just like them in the nine other departments of the country, all working simultaneously on different value-chain reinforcement initiatives (in such sectors as coffee, cocoa, mango, vetiver, honey and apparel).

Marc, Farah and Jean-Berlin live in the Central Plateau, enabling them to support the avocado producers directly, visiting them often and understanding the local political economy. The team has visited about 80 other smallholder farmers like Emilienne in their department, and has invited them to two public meetings and strategic working groups to present key challenges and opportunities for their avocado cluster. The Central Plateau team has carried out the competitive reinforcement initiative of the avocado cluster in their department with training and coaching financed by a grant from the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP), through which they have received in-class training and coaching on how to carry out their field projects. 
 

Climate of hope, amid a season of summitry: Anticipation builds for vital summits on sustainability and climate change

Christopher Colford's picture
Speeding through a season of summitry, the world’s policymakers now have sustainability at the forefront of their autumn agenda – and the private sector, as well, must rise to the sustainability challenge. Anticipation is building for this month’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly, where the next-generation blueprint for global development – the long-awaited, painstakingly crafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  – will enshrine sustainability as the central long-term international priority.
 
Sustainability writ large – in all its environmental, social and economic dimensions – has been the theme driving the global debate as the SDGs have taken shape. A comprehensive plan that prioritizes 17 objectives – with 169 indicators to measure their progress toward completion – the SDGs will frame the global agenda through 2030. The SDGs’ adoption – at a U.N. summit from September 25 to 27 – will be a pivotal checkpoint along this year’s complex pathway of diplomacy, which will culminate in Paris in December with a crucial conference on the greatest of all sustainability issues: climate change.

Optimism seems to be steadily increasing as diplomats continue to negotiate a global climate-change deal. The hope is for an ambitious agreement at the so-called COP 21 conference – the 21st gathering of the Conference of Parties in the climate-change negotiations. The question, however, is how ambitious that pact will be.

As Rachel Kyte – the World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy on Climate Change – pointed out in a start-of-September forum at the World Bank: “I think that everything is in place for a deal to be struck in Paris, a deal that is universal, that brings everybody in to the table. . . . So a universal deal, a universal framework . . . is possible. The question, I think, is how strong a deal it's going to be.”
 
Rachel Kyte on Climate Action


As the clock ticks down to the deadline for a deal in Paris, Kyte (in conversation with Kalee Kreider of the United Nations Foundation) offered a detailed analysis of the intricacies surrounding the final stages of the negotiations: “The question, really, now is the level of ambition, the strength of that deal. And that's politics, not science. That's politics, not economics.”

Tourism ecosystems: A way to think about challenges and solutions to tourism development

Shaun Mann's picture

Ecosystem: A complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space.
Tourism: A social, cultural and economic phenomenon that entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal, business or professional purposes.

I was part of a tourism ecosystem, once, when I built and operated a small lodge on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. While I was living in a tent in the bush building the lodge, life was simple: My little ecosystem was the land around the lodge and the tribulations of fending off monkeys and snakes by day and leopards, hippos, elephants and mosquitoes at night. The sun and rain beat down hard, and tools and workers broke down regularly. The generator was a particular pain in the neck.

Apart from supplies coming in, I was not really connected to the outside world. Money ran out for awhile and I had to rush to Kampala and persuade the bank give me a bigger overdraft (at 26 percent interest – thieves!).
 
Once the lodge was finished, I had to join another ecosystem: the world of registering the company, getting licenses, drawing up employment contracts, getting a bank overdraft, getting a tax ID number – all the elements of the enabling environment for me to do business. Then I had to join another one: I needed bums on beds, and I had to link my wonderful product to local markets; I had to develop promotional materials and packages; I had to interact and contract with tour operators and local travel agents to supply me business; I needed market access. 



Nile Safari Camp: home for two years

Then, guess what? My business plan wasn’t panning out. I didn’t get the occupancies or the rates that I projected from the local market. I had to step into yet another ecosystem: the world of international long-haul travel. I needed more and better-paying customers. I had to understand how the big international tour operators sold their product, what they were looking for in new product and how they contracted. I had to join another ecosystem to make that happen. Turns out my little product wasn’t enough to attract international customers on its own, I had to team up with other lodges and offer a fuller package; we had to cluster our products. I had to diversify and innovate and find ways to add value to my accommodation offer – birdwatching, fishing, guided walks, weddings and honeymoons, meetings and workshops. . . . Well, there are whole ecosystems around each of those market segments. You need to understand them before you can do business with them.        

Cecil the lion: Is there a golden lining?

Hermione Nevill's picture



Cecil the Lion at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

We all know about the story that broke the Internet: the story of Cecil the lion and the Minnesota dentist who killed him. What you may not know is that you can now buy a gold-plated iPhone case with Cecil etched on the back for about US$1,000.

The world has reacted in different ways to the news of this black-maned martyr. For various reasons, the media has gone into overdrive, the public has been outraged, and enterprising phone-case companies have gotten creative. So what does it mean for us in the field of tourism, conservation and development?

The global spotlight has been a good thing.  First of all, it has raised the temperature of the debate around conservation. People have flooded the dentist’s business page with negative online reviews (“murderer!”), called for his extradition to Zimbabwe, signed petitions, made donations, retweeted celebrities and forced three US airlines to ban wildlife trophy transport.

Publicity like this can have a lasting effect on consumer demand by stimulating more responsible behavior. For example, media exposs on sex tourism and child abuse in Thailand and Madagascar caused the tourism industry (more than 1,000 travel and hospitality companies) to adopt a global code of ethics. Public backlash against the negative impacts of orphanage tourism (volunteering) in Cambodia – following a 2012 investigation by Al Jazeera – meant that most large travel agents removed the product from their books, not only in Cambodia but globally. There is an opportunity here for all tourists, hunters and operators to reflect on and improve the way they behave and interact with wildlife.

More crucially, Cecil’s publicity has revealed the divisiveness of the issue. While everyone condemns the illegality of what happened, conservationists, columnists, academics and others cannot definitively agree on bigger questions. Does trophy hunting really contribute to conservation? Or should it be banned? Is photographic tourism a better alternative? Do we actually know?

For those of us concerned with such development goals as natural-resource management, job creation or local community empowerment, this lack of a global consensus poses a policy challenge. Indeed, the last few days have highlighted that indeed both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (safari) tourism can demonstrate positive impacts.

So perhaps the question is not “Which is the better alternative” but “How can we better capture the value and benefits of each?” One way is to look at the policy framework and its role in regulating the supply side of the equation.

For success and sustainability, seek broad social ‘well-being’; Good governance promotes a ‘virtuous cycle’ of growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Beyond the cold calculus of GDP and TFP and FDI, development is about promoting strong societies as well as propelling powerful economies. But how can we measure societies’ progress toward success? Some may try to calculate “Gross National Happiness” as a yardstick, and some may envision “getting to Denmark” as the ideal end-of-history destiny of development – but are there patterns that reveal how societies can flourish?

Two recent Washington seminars suggest that – by pursuing innovation and inclusion, and by focusing on broad-scale social “well-being” – policymakers can define realistic paths toward development success.

The methodologies used by Harvard economist Philippe Aghion at an International Monetary Fund forum and by former World Bank strategist Enrique Rueda-Sabater at a Center for Global Development discussion may have been different, but their conclusions were in harmony: Societies thrive – in a sustainable way – when inclusion and innovation help expand the circle of opportunity, and when strong governance standards lead to sound civic decision-making.

Taken together, the two seminars’ insights should help inform policymakers’ debate about the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be approved in September at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

Aghion, at an IMF seminar (sponsored by its Low-Income Countries Strategy Unit) on June 30, approached the topic of “Making Growth Inclusive” by imagining “how to enhance productivity growth while promoting social mobility.” Presenting data from a recent paper on “Innovation and Top-Income Inequality,” which he recently co-authored with an all-star team of economists, Aghion outlined the way that income and wealth inequality have drastically soared in developed countries since the mid-1970s – analyzing trends that by now are sadly familiar to the squeezed middle class, as calculated in the esteemed work of Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”

Building on that data, Aghion took the inequality-and-inclusion logic several steps further. He lamented the way that “skill-biased technological change” has (in the absence of policy safeguards) provoked societies to stratify along the lines of wealth, income, education and connections. Yet “creative destruction” is inevitable in “a Schumpeterian world,” reasoned Aghion: A significant factor expanding the wealth gap is the same process of continuous economic renewal that helps economies advance. “There is a big [economic] premium to being a superstar innovator,” he asserted, noting that “you can become rich by innovating” – and thus “innovation is a big part of top-1-percent income inequality.”



Philippe Aghion

“Creative destruction is good for social mobility” and broader inclusion, in the long run, because it causes a steady procession of “new innovators to replace old incumbents.” The effect of each wave of innovation is fleeting, especially in a hyperspeed economy: “You get temporary ‘rents’ when you innovate. You don’t get them forever,” because the relentless Schumpeterian process will eventually cause yesterday’s innovators to become, in turn, tomorrow’s has-beens.

The darker danger of entrenched inequality occurs, said Aghion, when incumbent interests use their political power to lobby for the protection of their advantages – whether by pleading for tax-code favors, seeking government-imposed barriers to the entry of new competitors, or purchasing influence with pliant politicians through campaign donations. (In an aside on U.S. politics, Aghion pointed to his paper’s data linking a state’s representation on the congressional Appropriations Committees with its amount of federal favors – a shrewd quantification of the pork-barrel compulsions of Capitol Hill.)

Because innovation promotes social mobility and thus greater inclusiveness, Aghion contended that “innovation is a good guy; lobbying is a bad guy.” So “if you’re for inclusive growth, then you will be against lobbying and [the creation of] entry barriers.”

Focusing simply on present-day inequality is less informative than focusing on social mobility, he asserted. There’s nothing wrong with an economy that bestows ample financial rewards upon genuine innovators who create new products and processes. There is, however, something deeply wrong – and economically growth-inhibiting – with governments that allow no-longer-innovative incumbents to use their political connections to suppress potential competitors.

The IMF panel’s respondents amplified Aghion’s analysis. World Bank economist Daniel Lederman noted that it would be wise to use “the lexicon of ‘inequality of opportunity’,” because some degree of wealth inequality is inevitable (and perhaps even desirable) when individuals’ talent and effort are rewarded with rising incomes. IMF economist Benedict Clements – deploring the “great degree of disparity in ‘equality of opportunity’ ” that now prevails in advanced economies, including the United States – noted that there need be “no conflict between equity and efficiency if you design your policies right.”

Getting policies right – by upholding strong standards of governance – was also one of the underlying themes at a July 21 seminar at the Center for Global Development led by Rueda-Sabater, who is now a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group and a visiting fellow among CGD’s strong lineup of scholars. Rueda-Sabater is well remembered at the World Bank for leading a research team’s detailed “scenario planninganalyses that, in 2009, discerned the contours of three possible scenarios for the world in the year 2020.

Presenting a recent BCG report, “Why Well-Being Should Drive Growth Strategies,” Rueda-Sabater outlined an imaginative BCG diagnostic tool: the “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA), which measures the relative well-being of 149 countries by gauging their success in converting wealth into well-being – that is to say, in effectively translating their potential into tangible progress.


 

Financing community-based tourism: 9 ways to get taken seriously

Hermione Nevill's picture



Reducing risk is the only way for community joint-ventures to get serious with commercial banks. Without commercial finance, this niche tourism sector might never deliver on its potential. Photo: World Wildlife Fund
 
Over the last 20 years, joint-ventures between local communities and the private sector have grown up as a feature of the sustainable tourism development agenda. Typically, the community provides the land, the heritage or the wildlife asset base while the private sector brings the capital, management know-how and business networks. When they work well, these partnerships contribute substantially to local economic and social development, as well as providing professional, unique and authentic tourism experiences for visitors.
 
Lena Florry is an Area Manager for Wilderness Safaris, the private-sector partner in a community joint venture (CJV) lodge in Namibia. ”What we have here at Damaraland really changes our lives,” she says. “Previously, in our village, I was herding goats. Now we have good jobs and a much better life.” Crucially, Lena is also a member of the local community and takes personal pleasure in sharing the model’s success story with the camp’s US$500-a-night paying guests.
 
Typical benefits include income for communities through lease or contract agreements, employment and supply-chain opportunities, skills and knowledge transfer from the private sector, and usually a kind of joint “tourism asset protection” like wildlife preservation or heritage protection. In Namibia, for example, community conservation generated about US$7 million in returns for local communities in 2013, and the elephant population doubled in 20 years.
 
While much emphasis has been placed on the development impacts of this model, the actual health of the businesses has often been overlooked. As long as the ventures continue to deliver a development dividend – such as contributions to a community fund, or increased biodiversity – all is believed well. For the venture’s supporters, it may then come as a surprise when applications for commercial finance are rejected.
 
“We would like to finance the sector,” says Christo Viljoen at First National Bank (FNB) Namibia. “But our biggest challenge is to determine the financial viability of the community joint-ventures. We find the risks involved are not properly addressed in the business plans.”
 
Banks report that risks typically have to do with corporate governance, low-quality financial data, collateral, the level of experience of the sponsor, and a host of structural problems in the CJV business – not least, the balance between the development dividend versus the profitability of the business. All these factors help to undermine a firm’s viability. A business that cannot demonstrate financial viability – and, thus, show how it will pay back a loan – cannot be financed.
 
This presents a very real problem.  Without the means to make necessary investments in the business (such as refurbishment or expansion), the quality of the tourism product deteriorates, occupancies and rates decline, and funds for the community and for wildlife protection drop.
 
In an effort to help the various stakeholders increase the financial viability of CJVs, reduce risk and increase loans, the World Bank Group and the World Wildlife Fund released “nine tips” at the recent tourism trade show ITB Berlin 2015. Dr. Hannah Messerli of the World Bank’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice said, “We believe that destinations that address these issues are more likely to provide comfort to the banks in lending.”

It’s Heating Up: Industry Needs Climate-Friendly Policies to Keep Cool and Competitive

Etienne Kechichian's picture


Emiko Kashiwagi / Flickr

Industries account for nearly one-third of direct and indirect global greenhouse-gas emissions, and they will be playing an increasingly important role in achieving the global targets expected to be set at the international climate summit in Paris in December. For example, the cement (5 percent), chemicals (7 percent) and iron and steel (7 percent) sectors account for nearly one-fifth of all global greenhouse-gas emissions, and those sectors have significant potential to reduce those emissions.
 
Tackling climate change by focusing on industries has long been a contentious issue. Some industries claim that regulation will impede economic growth by imposing additional burdens on competitive sectors. In some cases, they have an argument; but, if it is designed well and adapted to the context, a smart and timely intervention can influence a socially and economically positive systemic change.
 
Many businesses themselves, by pursuing cost-effective, long-term, environmentally sustainable production, long ago realized that “going green” can be highly advantageous, and they have been taking a pro-active approach toward addressing the issue precisely because it makes business sense. One group of global business leaders – including Unilever, Holcim, Virgin Group and others – have taken their commitment further by encouraging governments to lend their support for net-zero emissions strategies by 2050.
 
Even in developing countries, companies like Intel are investing millions of dollars in energy efficiency to save on current and future energy costs. The company has already saved $111 million since 2008 as a result of $59 million worth of sustainability investments in 1,500 projects worldwide.
 
  

Source: New Climate Economy 2014; World Bank World Development Indicators 

The sentiment that climate action by both the private sector and the public sector is urgent was also an important theme highlighted by World Bank Group President Jim Kim during January's World Economic Forum conference in Davos. Mitigation measures, such as energy-efficiency policies, have long been seen as a way to improve profits and manage risks. The logic for energy efficiency, a key set of abatement actions by the manufacturing sector, is there.
 
The recent New Climate Economy initiative, produced by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, estimates that at least 50 percent – and, with broad and ambitious implementation, potentially up to 90 percent – of the actions needed to get onto a pathway that keeps warming from exceeding 2°C could be compatible with the goal of ensuring the competitiveness of industries.

If you want to go far, go together

Jana Malinska's picture

A new global network of Climate Innovation Centers will support the most innovative private-sector solutions for climate change.
 
Pop quiz: What does an organic leather wallet have in common with a cookstove for making flatbread and a pile of recycled concrete?
 
Believe it or not, each of these represents something revolutionary: a private sector-driven approach to climate change. Each of these products – yes, even concrete – is produced by an innovative clean-tech company. And as of March 26th, those businesses, and hundreds more like them, have something else in common. They’re connected through infoDev's newly established global network of Climate Innovation Centers (CICs), an innovative project that is taking the idea of green innovation beyond borders.
 
Having piloted the CIC model in seven different countries – Kenya, South Africa, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Morocco, Ghana and Vietnam – it was time for infoDev, a global entrepreneurship program in the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, to follow a time-honored business practice: to scale up and take this movement global.

And so, as part of last month’s South Africa Climate Innovation Conference, we joined forces with 14 experts from the seven different countries where the CICs operate to establish the foundations of the world’s first global network devoted to supporting green growth and clean-tech innovation.



CIC staff debate and discuss the new CIC Network during the South Africa Climate Innovation Conference.

This global network of Climate Innovation Centers – business incubators for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – has been designed to help local ventures take full advantage of the fast-growing clean-technology market. The infoDev study “Building Competitive Green Industries” estimates that over the next decade $6.4 trillion will be invested in clean technologies in developing countries. An even more promising fact is that, out of this amount, about $1.6 trillion represents future business opportunities for SMEs, which are important drivers of job creation and competitiveness in the clean-tech space.

Disaster risk and climate threats: Taking action to create better financial solutions

Olivier Mahul's picture

As the people of Vanuatu begin the painstaking task of assessing the damage to their homes, businesses, and their communities in the wake of Cyclone Pam, another assessment is underway behind the scenes.

Given the intensity of the category 5 storm and the reports of severe damage, the World Bank Group is now exploring the possibility of a rapid insurance payout to the Government of Vanuatu under the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI). 

The Pacific catastrophe risk insurance pilot stands as an example of what’s available to protect countries against disaster risks. The innovative risk-pooling pilot determines payouts based on a rapid estimate of loss sustained through the use of a risk model. 

The World Bank Group acts as an intermediary between Pacific Island countries and a group of reinsurance companies – Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, Sompo Japan Insurance, Tokio Marine and Nichido Fire Insurance and Swiss Re. Under the program, Pacific Island countries – such as Vanuatu, the Cook Island, Marshall Islands, Samoa and Tonga – were able to gain access to aggregate risk insurance coverage of $43 million for the third (2014-2015) season of the pilot. 

Japan, the World Bank Group, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) partnered with the Pacific Island nations to launch the pilot in 2013. Tonga was the first country to benefit from the payout in January 2014, receiving an immediate payment of US $1.27 million towards recovery from Cyclone Ian. The category 5 cyclone hit the island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated of Tonga’s 150 islands, causing $50 million in damages and losses (11 percent of the country’s GDP) and affected nearly 6,000 people.

Globally, direct financial losses from natural disasters are steadily increasing, having reached an average of $165 billion per year over the last 10 years, outstripping the amount of official development assistance almost every year. Increasing exposure from economic growth, and urbanization—as well as a changing climate—are driving costs even further upward. In such situations, governments often find themselves faced with pressure to draw funding away from basic public services, or to divert funds from development programs.


Investing in Innovative Financial Solutions

The World Bank Group and other partners have been working together successfully on innovative efforts to scale up disaster risk finance. One important priority is harnessing the knowledge, expertise and capital of the private sector. Such partnerships in disaster risk assessment and financing can encourage the use of catastrophe models for the public good, stimulating investment in risk reduction and new risk-sharing arrangements in developing countries.

The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) is another good example of the benefits of pooled insurance schemes, and served as the model for the Pacific pilot. Launched in 2007, this first-ever multi-country risk pool today operates with sixteen participating countries, providing members with aggregate insurance coverage of over $600 million with 8 payments made over the last 8 years totaling of US$32 million. As a parametric sovereign risk transfer facility, it provides member countries with immediate liquidity following disasters.

We also know that better solutions for disaster risk management are powered by the innovation that results when engineers, sector specialists, and financial experts come together to work as a team. The close collaboration of experts in the World Bank Group has led to the rapid growth of the disaster risk finance field, which complements prevention and risk reduction. 
 

Davos Sees Challenges, ‘Smart Cities’ Seize Opportunities: Finding Sustainable Solutions Via Public-Private Dialogue

Christopher Colford's picture



As the world’s policymakers and business leaders converge in Davos, Switzerland for tomorrow’s opening of the World Economic Forum, there’s certainly no shortage of global threats for them to worry about during the WEF’s annual marathon of policy seminars and economic debates. A world of anxiety enshrouds this week’s conference theme of the “New Global Context,” judging by the WEF’s latest Global Risks Report: Its analysis of 28 urgent threats and 13 ominous long-term trends offers a comprehensive catalogue of extreme dangers to social stability and even human survival.

As if the Davos data isn’t worrisome enough, several just-issued scientific studies – which document worsening trends in climate change, humanity’s imminent collision with the limits of the planet’s resilience and the intensifying damage being wrought by voracious consumption-driven growth – trace a relentlessly gloomy trajectory.

Relieving some of the substantive tension, there’s also often a puckish undercurrent within each year’s Davos news coverage. Poking holes in the self-importance of Davos’ CEOs and celebrities – with varying degrees of lighthearted humor or reproachful reproof – has become a cottage industry, springing up every January to chide the mountaintop follies of “the great and the good.” Skeptics often scoff that the lofty pronouncements of Davos Deepthink have become almost a caricature of elite self-importance, and there’ll surely be plenty of the customary sniping at the insularity of Davos Man and at the insouciance of the globalized jet set as its over-refined One Percent folkways become ever more detached from the struggles of the stagnating middle class and desperate working poor.

Despite such Davos-season misgivings, it’s worth recalling the value of such frequent, fact-based knowledge-exchange events and inclusive dialogues among business leaders and thought leaders. Some of the Davos Set may revel in after-hours excess – its Lucullan cocktail-party scene is legendary – yet the substantive centerpiece of such meetings remains a valuable venue for expert-level policy debates, allowing scholars to inject their ideas straight into the bloodstream of corporate strategy-setting. The global policy debate arguably needs more, not fewer, thought-provoking symposia where decision-makers can be swayed by the latest thinking of the world’s academic and social-sector experts. Judging by the fragmented response to the chronic economic downturn by the global policymaking class, every multilateral institution ought to host continuing consultations to help shape a coherent policy agenda.

Focusing on just one area where in-depth know-how can serve the needs of decision-makers: The World Bank Group has long been tailoring world-class knowledge to deliver local solutions to client countries about one of the trends singled out in this year's WEF list of long-term concerns – the worldwide shift from “predominantly rural to urban living.” The biggest mass migration in human history has now concentrated more than 50 percent of the world’s population in cities, leading this year’s Global Risks Report to assert that the risk of failed urban planning is among the top global concerns.

“Without doubt, urbanization has increased social well-being,” commented one WEF trend-watcher. “But when cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats.”

Yet consider, also, the potential opportunities within the process of managing that trend toward ever-more-intense urban concentration. What if the prospect of chaotic urbanization were able to inspire greater city-management creativity – so that urban ingenuity makes successful urbanization a means to surmount other looming dangers?

For an example of the can-do determination and trademark optimism of the development community – with the world’s urbanization trend as its focus – consider the upbeat tone that pervaded a conference last week at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium, analyzing “Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity.” With more than 850 participants in-person, and with viewers in 92 countries watching via livestream, the conference – co-sponsored by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Embarq, and the Transport and Information & Communications Technology (TICT) Global Practice of the World Bank Group – energized the world’s leading practitioners and scholars across the wide range of transportation-related, urban-focused, environment-conscious priorities.

(Thinking of the Preston gathering’s Davos-season timing and full-spectrum scope: It sometimes strikes me that – given the continuous procession of presidents, professors, poets and pundits at the Preston podium – there could be a tagline beneath Preston's entryway, suggesting that the Bank Group swirl of ideas feels like “Davos Every Day.”)

Amid its focus on building “smart cities” and strengthening urban sustainability, the annual Transforming Transportation conference took the “smart cities” concept beyond its customary focus on analyzing Big Data and deploying the latest technology-enabled metrics. By investing in “smart” urban design – and, above all, by putting people rather than automobiles at the center of city life – the scholars insisted that society can reclaim its urban destiny from the car-centric, carbon-intensive pattern that now chokes the livability of all too many cities.

The fast-forward series of “smart cities” speeches and seminars reinforced the agenda summarized by TICT Senior Director Pierre Guislain and WRI official Ani Dasgupta – formerly of the Bank Group and now the global director of WRI’s Ross Center on Sustainable Cities – in an Op-Ed commentary for Thomson Reuters: “We can either continue to build car-oriented cities that lock in unsustainable patterns, or we can scale up existing models for creating more inclusive, accessible and connected cities. Pursuing smarter urban mobility options can help growing cities leapfrog car-centric development and adopt strategies that boost inclusive economic growth and improve [the] quality of life.”

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