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July 2015

Blog post of the month: The printed book will never die

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In July 2015, the featured blog post is "The printed book will never die" by Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Chairman of the Inspection Panel at the World Bank.

British Library reading room When will the printed book die? Some think that its replacement by electronic media is imminent and promote this view using arguments that are both romantic and utopic: a new society where massive amounts of information can be accessed instantaneously and free, and with reduced environmental damage because of a decrease in the use of paper.

Although neither argument can stand serious analysis, there is no question that the electronic book is rapidly gaining in popularity. Most major “brick and mortar” bookstores have gone out of business, and today Amazon sells more electronic books than printed ones. There is also an explosion of blogs related to every imaginable (and unimaginable) topic, and there is no question that electronic media have some advantages over certain printed media such as newspapers and magazines.

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.


 

Senegal shifts its thinking: Context is everything

Oumar Diallo's picture
Editor's note: this is the second in a two-part series. Click here to read the first part, "Senegal shifts its thinking: Rural water delivery moves to private operators."
 
Photo: flickr/Julien Harnels

In the rural water sector in Senegal, as with many parts of the world that have experienced tremendous changes, context is everything. Rarely does one single act spur a shift at the government level; many elements combine to prompt a change in approach.

The PPP team in Senegal was privileged to be able to develop a brand-new system for rural water delivery in Senegal (see previous post here), but our activity was just one contributing factor in a much larger national and even international effort. The political context in Senegal, along with sustained attention to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), created the right atmosphere for this PPP.   
 
Here are five important elements that came together to make Senegal’s paradigm-shifting PPP possible:
  1. Government officials’ forward-thinking views. Coming up with an original plan for the delivery of rural water depended on zoning changes. Our group’s internal study showed that dividing the country into three zones would make it possible to cluster services. Government’s willingness to consider clustering pipe systems across 14 regions was critical, because it made support from the private sector a viable option.

How to improve social enterprises so they can scale? eLearning

Alexandra Endara's picture

Earlier this year, we launched our eLearning course for social enterprises in January with a second installment in May. Social enterprises from across the globe – from places we didn’t even think we could reach – applied. So we began to wonder, who are these social enterprises? What are their models? What do they need most to reach the most marginalized populations? So I sat down with Charles Njemo Batumani and Arun Kumar Das, two social entrepreneurs who finished the first installment of our eLearning course in January to see what they’ve done, where they see their enterprises going and why eLearning was a way for them to improve their social enterprise. Charles is building affordable housing for low and middle income earners in Limbe, Cameroon while Arun is developing a natural plant product to combat malnutrition in Odisha, India.

Innovative educational technology programs in low- and middle-income countries

Michael Trucano's picture
so many ideas ... are any 'out-of-the-box'?
so many ideas ...
are any 'out-of-the-box'?

Much is made of the need for 'innovation' in education. Bullet points containing words like 'disruption' and 'transformation' increasingly characterize presentations at big education gatherings -- especially in North America, and especially where educational entrepreneurs and 'Silicon Valley-types' are to be found. The popular press is replete with (sometimes breathless) articles about the 'revolutionary' potential of some new technology to impact teaching and learning in ways that are often quite exciting. Indeed: There can be little doubt that the increased diffusion of low(er) cost, (more) powerful, connected IT devices across and within communities offers exciting possibilities and potential to do things differently -- potentially in a good way.

For many people, the use of technology in education constitutes a de facto 'innovation'. Whether or not this belief is actually accurate, or useful, is a legitimate question for discussion. That said, there is no denying that many of the educational innovations celebrated (or at least touted) today are enabled by the use of such technologies in some way.

---

Around the world, there few more conservative and traditional sectors than those related to public education. In many ways this is totally understandable, and appropriate. Investments in education represent investments in the future -- of our children, of our future citizens and workers and leaders and community members. We don't want to gamble with or experiment with the way we educate our children and try out too many new things, or so goes one line of thinking. The potential downside, or failure, carries with it consequences that are just too great.

And yet: We know that, for millions children around the world, the education they are getting today isn't actually all that great. Some frightening stats from just one page of the latest Global Monitoring Report [pdf], drawing on recent research from RTI:

  • In Nicaragua in 2011, around 60% of second-graders could not identify numbers correctly and more than 90% were unable to answer a subtraction question.
  • In Malawi, 94% of second-graders could not respond correctly to a single question about a story they read in Chichewa, the national language.
  • In Iraq, 25% of third-graders were unable to tell the sound of a letter in Arabic.

And if you think that the situations in certain education systems are bad: Around the world, many children and adolescents -- 124 million, according to the latest figures from UNESCO -- are out of school and not getting any formal education at all.

In many cases then -- too many -- education systems aren't actually working all that well. In others -- like the global 'high performers' that are regularly held up as 'best practice' examples for other countries to emulate (Finland, Shanghai, Korea, Singapore) -- there is the danger that what worked well in the past (or what appears to be working well now) might not work so well in the future. The future is changing -- shouldn't we change the way we prepare for it? The riskiest course of action might well be one where people and institutions don't take risks.

Where business as usual is decidedly not working today,
or where it is feared that business as usual may not work tomorrow ...
what are some examples of business unusual from which
we might draw inspiration -- as well as practical insight?

Many good examples of this sort are regularly cited from experiences in highly developed, industrialized economies of North America, Europe and East Asia. No doubt much can be, and will be, profitably learned from what is happening such places. That said, the challenges facing education systems and families around the world are particularly acute where the needs are greatest: in many low- and middle-income countries, and especially within remote communities and traditionally disadvantaged populations.

Examples of 'innovation in education' from such places might just be more relevant to policymakers in Phnom Penh or Quito than are ones which originate in, say Palo Alto or Cambridge. (And, it is perhaps worth noting, that, if you believe that innovation often arises 'at the edges', where constraints compel people to be inventive in their approaches to solving problems in ways that folks in more resource-rich environments may never consider, it may just be that policymakers in Paris and Canberra may learn something to learn from what's happening in 'developing countries' as well.)

What examples do we have of innovative uses of educational technologies in such places?

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On booms and super-cycles: China and India's central role in global commodity markets

John Baffes's picture
Global commodity prices underwent an exceptionally strong and sustained boom beginning in 2000. Unlike a typical price cycle, this boom has been characterized as a “super cycle”, i.e., a demand-driven surge in commodity prices lasting possibly decades rather than years. Many researchers say this is the fourth “super cycle” of the past 150 years. The price super cycle has been attributed to strong growth in emerging markets.

Weekly links July 31: Household surveys in crisis, Doing Business, machine learning, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • Household surveys in crisis – Bruce Meyer and co-authors in a new NBER working paper highlight the many issues due to declining cooperation of respondents in the U.S.:
    • Unit nonresponse: Households have become increasingly less likely to answer surveys at all: nonresponse rates for major U.S. surveys like the CPS, SIPP, and GSS now exceed 20 percent

Unleashing the power of women entrepreneurs around the world: The smartest investment to unlock global growth

Jin-Yong Cai's picture
Jacqueline Mavinga, entrepreneur, Democratic Republic of Congo.  © John McNally/World Bank Group


​Since childhood, Gircilene Gilca de Castro dreamed of owning her own business, but struggled to get it off the ground. Her fledgling food service company in Brazil had only two employees and one client when she realized she needed deeper knowledge about what it takes to grow a business. To take her business to that next level, she found the right education and mentoring opportunities and accessed new business and management tools.

Tunisian youth counter radicalization with innovation

Christine Petré's picture
Outside a school in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia - Christine Petre

In the capital Tunis, after the attack in Sousse, a group of young entrepreneurs got together to go beyond governmental policies and find innovative solutions to combat terrorism and radicalization. They launched the “Entrepreneurship against terrorism” event. About 50 young people gathered for the one-day brainstorming event. They were divided into groups, with each one given training in leadership, business development and alternative ways to combat radicalization.

Nepal post-earthquake response: It’s time to roll up our sleeves

Marc Forni's picture
Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction
Relief workers in the town of Sankhu in the Kathmandu Valley, June 2015. Credit: Yann Doignon / World Bank

It has been exactly three months since the Nepal earthquake first struck and one month since the donor conference. The humanitarian phase is nearing its end, the international presence is starting to move onto the next crisis, and high level international dignitaries have now returned to their capitals. The earthquake is no longer making headline news and the government is getting back to business as usual, albeit with the huge challenge of rebuilding.
 
Now is time to take stock of the events from the past three months. During a crisis, there is no time for those involved to look back at what has been accomplished. What matters is the next immediate action and challenge to overcome.  Last week, in the Bank headquarters, our management and some members of the earthquake response team presented the progress achieved thus far to an overcrowded room. This was my first opportunity to reflect on the disaster and I was almost overcome with emotion. Be they senior government officials, the Bank’s country office team, first- emergency responders, or Nepalis, it is difficult to articulate just what folks have overcome in Nepal.


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