For two decades, the world has made extraordinary progress in development — lifting nearly 700 million people out of extreme poverty and halving the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day. Now the work gets even harder: extending that progress will require us to focus on improving lives in some of the world’s most difficult corners.
Conflict and poverty are mutually reinforcing. Large numbers of the world’s poorest live in areas torn by conflict, instability, and violence — and the numbers are growing. Quite simply, we cannot end poverty and boost shared prosperity by 2030 unless we ramp up our work in these areas.
“Maybe in the Middle East … but in our part of the world, there is no gender inequity.” As an Egyptian, I wasn’t surprised to hear such assertions from colleagues when I arrived in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to deliver a program aimed at creating opportunities for women in the private sector. With its socialist legacy, the region prided itself on gender equality. Women were historically well-represented in the state-run economic systems. I looked at legal frameworks and the Women, Business and the Law indicators and found little evidence of discrimination. Laws on the books were overwhelmingly gender-neutral. I was puzzled.
Then I studied data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys: Women’s rates of participation in the private sector told a different story. Women’s status seemed to be collapsing with the state systems and falling as markets started opening. For instance, now, only 36% of firms in the region are owned by women; that is a lower percentage than in East Asia (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (40%). Only 19% of companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have female top managers, compared to 30% in East Asia and 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
So I faced the daunting task of delivering a gender program in a region where few believe that there are gender issues to address.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Macedonia, former Yugoslav Republic of
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Private Sector Development
- gender eqaulity
- women business and the law
- banking on women
- Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
A question dominated discussions ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8: How can we make it count?
Gender equality and empowerment are principles that have been widely adopted for some time; but for many women, particularly those in developing countries, action lags way behind the rhetoric. The same is true in business: Evidence abounds for the business case for investing in women, but the reality remains that for a lot of women, things at work haven’t progressed much beyond what their mothers experienced.
It makes sense then that the issues that came up time and again during a panel I participated in at the sixth annual meeting of the UN's Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) titled “Jobs, Gender and Development: Confronting the Global Challenge," mainly related to the enduring challenges women face at work. I had gone there thinking I had much to add to that topic, but I came away having learned more than I could share, about topics I hadn’t expected.
ISTANBUL — On my first trip to Turkey, I met the country's political leaders, business executives, and civil society organizers — and some of the World Bank Group staff. We have 250 staff in Turkey, of which 200 are in the regional hub of IFC, our private sector arm.
While Turkey faces many challenges, I came away very impressed with many of the nation's accomplishments during the last decade. To learn more, watch this video blog.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to work together,” Dr. Kim told hundreds of investors at the 15th Annual Global Private Equity Conference, hosted by the Bank Group’s private sector arm IFC and the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA).
“…Private equity is going to play a critical role in whether or not we can truly have high aspirations for the 1.2 billion people living in absolute poverty in the world,” he said in a speech that was liveblogged and followed on Twitter with #wblive and #GPEC2013.
A woman works in a small shop in Ghana.
Photo by Arne Hoel
What will it take for the world to wake up and realize the advantages of supporting women entrepreneurs in the developing world?
If that sounds like an odd question to be asking in the 21st century, just consider some facts. We know that globally women make up almost half the world’s workforce. And we know that in developing economies, 30-40% of entrepreneurs running small or medium sized businesses are women.
But here’s something you may not know – at least 9 out of 10 women-owned businesses have no access to loans. So, just imagine the frustration of a woman in a developing country, who has started a small business, is attracting a good clientele, has a business plan to grow her business, but can’t get a loan to expand. That's not an isolated story. It’s a frustration shared by many women in the developing world. And the frustration of those women sounds echoingly similar to the frustration still lingering in the voices of older women from rich countries, telling how some three decades ago they were refused bank home loans, despite having a guaranteed income.
PRETORIA, South Africa - I have to admit it. I’m a bit of a development junkie. For most of my adult life, I’ve been reading thick tomes describing the success or failure of projects. I talk to friends over dinner about development theory. And I can’t stop thinking about what I believe is the biggest development question of all: How do we most effectively deliver on our promises to the poor?
So you can imagine how excited I was to have a day full of meetings with South Africa’s foremost experts on development: the country's ministers of finance, economic development, health, basic education, water and environmental affairs, and rural development and land reform - and then with President Jacob Zuma.
I chose to travel to South Africa as part of my first overseas trip as president of the World Bank Group because of the country’s great importance to the region, continent, and the world. It is the economic engine of Africa, and its story of reconciliation after apartheid is one of the historic achievements of our time.
Not even the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull could keep the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, the chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and the World Bank’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from participating in a Davos-style panel discussion of solutions for the 2.6 billion people who still lack access to sanitation.
The BBC’s Katty Kay moderated today’s official Spring Meetings event, which also included South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Patience Sonjica; Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Global Health Gloria Steele; Ek Sonn Chan from Cambodia’s General Director of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority; and IFC’s Executive VP Lars Thunell.
I haven’t seen the Bank’s J building mini-amphitheater filled with that much energy since, well, ever. The standing room-only event started with a delighted Ngozi acknowledging the crowd for bringing the issue of water and sanitation to such a high level on the occasion of the Spring Meetings.
This past Wednesday, leading development banks joined efforts to provide as much as US$90 billion during the next two years in a joint effort to spur economic growth in the Latin America and Caribbean region.
The Inter-American Development Bank and the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the World Bank Group (IBRD, IFC and MIGA), Corporacion Andina de Fomento, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration are all working together to explore new opportunities to protect the economic and social gains achieved in the region during the last five years.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick spoke about the importance of this joint effort:
"Latin America and the Caribbean have achieved substantial economic and social progress over the last five years and we must ensure that this is not lost because of the external shock of the global crisis. We need to avoid a social and human crisis."
For more information:
- Press Release: Development Banks Join Efforts to Provide US$90 Billion For Latin America & The Caribbean
- Upcoming Event: Latin America and the Global Crisis, Towards a Rapid Regional Recovery
- VOICES Video Interview: Augusto de la Torre, Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank