My visit to Lao PDR this week has convinced me that this nation is moving toward the right path to sustained economic growth, which could lead to less poverty and better lives for all of its people.
Over the past two decades, Lao PDR has made significant development progress. It is one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia, with GDP growth averaging 8 percent a year since 2000. Lao PDR also successfully met the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty, based on its national poverty line, to below 24 percent by 2015 from 33.5 percent in 2002.
As I have witnessed during my trip, people are enjoying better living conditions, with improved access to water supply, sanitation, roads, and power. Indeed, Lao PDR’s electrification program is one of the most successful in the world, and more than 90 percent of households now have access to electricity. Lao PDR also has built 50 percent more road surfaces in the last decade, and two-thirds of all Lao villages are now connected by all-season roads.
This is the first in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year.
One of the key challenges of markets is to assess the quality of goods. A look at online dating websites – a market where information asymmetries loom particularly large - shows different ways in which people try to communicate that they are of “high quality”. A common strategy is to start your introduction with “My friends describe me as…” (to be followed by some glowing testimony “…smart, athletic, high-achieving – yet humble”). Why may this strategy not be effective? It raises questions about whether these friends are truthful and whether they have all the relevant information about your quality as a partner. The really interesting question you never see answered is: “How would your ex-partner describe you?”
My job market paper “The Value of Reference Letters”, coauthored with Rulof Burger (SU) and Patrizio Piraino (UCT), is about the challenges hiring firms face in identifying high-quality applicants. While the literature has largely focused on the role of friends and family members (Topa 2011, Beaman and Magruder 2012) in job referrals, we investigate whether information from ex-employers can facilitate the matching process. Specifically, we test the effect of a standardized reference letter asking previous employers to rate workers on a range of hard skills (e.g. numeracy, literacy) and soft skills (e.g. reliability, team ability).
I have been traveling in and out of Papua New Guinea for almost over two years to help tackle the country’s water and sanitation challenges.
I’m constantly surprised by the complexity and cultural diversity of this country. It’s like trying to solve a deep mystery, with a surprise always ahead of you. No wonder they call this ‘the land of the unexpected’.
Papua New Guinea missed its Millennium Development Goal target for water and sanitation. More than 60% of the country’s population (4.6 million people) have no access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. In over two decades since 1990, the increase in access to safe drinking water has been miniscule (6%) while improved sanitation coverage even dropped by 1% in 2015. Sadly, PNG has the lowest water and sanitation access indicators among the 15 developing Pacific Island nations.
In many ways, Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was an early environmentalist. He believed in a self-sustaining life, walked everywhere, and even spun his own cotton yarn. If he were alive, he would been a huge supporter of India’s efforts to use its abundant sunshine to generate clean, sustainable energy.
Today, India’s climate change mitigation strategy bears the unmistakable stamp of the father of the nation. It has a goal of achieving a five-fold jump in renewable energy to 175 GW by 2022, the bulk of which - 100 GW - is expected to come from solar and 40% of that from rooftop solar alone.
Not surprisingly, this target was subject to much skepticism initially. Forget the quantum leap to 175 GW in seven years. At the time of the announcement, India was far from meeting its original target of 20 GW, because even just a few years ago, commercial banks considered solar a risky and ‘non-bankable’ technology.
Facebook recently announced the public release of unprecedentedly high-resolution population maps for Ghana, Haiti, Malawi, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. These maps have been produced jointly by the Facebook Connectivity Lab and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), and provide data on the distribution of human populations at 30-meter spatial resolution. Facebook conducted this research to inform the development of wireless communication technologies and platforms to bring Internet to the globally unconnected as part of the internet.org initiative.
Figure 1 conveys the spatial resolution of the Facebook dataset, unmatched in its ability to identify settlements. We are looking at approximately a 1 km2 area covering a rural village in Malawi. Previous efforts to map population would have represented this area with only a single grid cell (LandScan), or 100 cells (WorldPop), but Facebook has achieved the highest level of spatial refinement yet, with 900 cells. The blue areas identify the populated pixels in Facebook’s impressive map of the Warm Heart of Africa.
Facebook’s computer vision approach is a very fast method to produce spatially-explicit country-wide population estimates. Using their method, Facebook successfully generated at-scale, high-resolution insights on the distribution of buildings, unmatched by any other remote sensing effort to date. These maps demonstrate the value of artificial intelligence for filling data gaps and creating new datasets, and they could provide a promising complement to household surveys and censuses.
Beginning in March 2016, we started collaborating with Facebook to assess the precision of the maps and explore their potential uses in development efforts. Here, we describe the analyses undertaken to date by the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team at the World Bank to compare the high-resolution population projections against the ground truth data. Among the countries that were part of the initial release, Malawi was of particular interest for the validation exercise given the range of data at our disposal.
One of the early, decidedly modest goals for this event was simply to bring together key decisionmakers from across Asia (and a few other parts of the world -- it would become more global with each passing year) in an attempt to help figure out what was actually going on with technology use in education in a cross-section of middle and low income countries, and to help policymakers make personal, working level connections with leading practitioners -- and with each other. Many countries were announcing ambitious new technology-related education initiatives, but it was often difficult to separate hope from hype, as well as to figure out how lofty policy pronouncements might actually translate to things happening at the level of teachers and learners 'on-the-ground'.
As the first country to move from being a recipient of World Bank donor assistance to become a full-fledged donor itself, Korea presented in many ways an ideal host for the event. (Still is!) The Korean story of economic development over the past half century has been the envy of policymakers in many other places, who see in that country's recent past many similarities to their own current situations. Known for its technological prowess (home to Samsung and many other high tech companies) and famous in education circles for the performance of its students on international assessments like PISA, educational technology issues could be found at the intersection of two important components in a Venn diagram of 'Brand Korea'.
Since that first global symposium, over 1400 policymakers from (at least by my quick count) 65 countries have visited Korea annually as part of the global symposium to see and learn first hand from Korean experiences with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education, to be exposed to some of the latest related research around the world, to share information with each other about what was working -- and what wasn't -- and what might be worth trying in the future (and what to avoid). Along the way, Korea has come to be seen as a global hub for related information and knowledge, and KERIS itself increasingly is regarded by many countries as a useful organizational model to help guide their own efforts to help implement large scale educational technology initiatives.
While international events bringing together policymakers to discuss policy issues related to the use of new technologies in education are increasingly common these days, across Asia and around the world, back in 2007 the Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education represented the first regularly scheduled annual event of its type (at least to my knowledge; there were many one-off regional events, of course, many of the good ones organized by UNESCO) bringing together policymakers from highly developed, middle and low income countries.
Participating in the event for each of the past ten years has offered me a front row seat to observe how comparative policy discussions have evolved over the past decade in a way that is, I think, somewhat unique. What follows is a quick attempt to descibe some of what has changed over the years. (The indefatigable Jongwon Seo at KERIS is, I think, the only other person to have participated in all ten global symposia. As such, he is a sort of spiritual co-author of these reflections -- or at least the ones which may offer any useful insights. I'm solely responsible for any of the banal, boring or inaccurate comments that follow.)
The UN estimates that 2.4 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation facilities, nearly 1 billion of which practice open defecation. Good sanitation is a foundation for development - conditions such as diarrhea are associated with poor sanitation, and left untreated, can lead to malnutrition and stunting in children. Read more about World Toilet Day
- Andrew Gelman on how to think more seriously about the design of exploratory studies
- Overcoming premature evaluation discussed on the From Poverty to Power blog “There is a growing interest in safe-fail experimentation, failing fast and rapid real time feedback loops…When it comes to complex setting there is a lot of merit in ‘crawling the design space’ and testing options, but I think there are also a number of concerns with this that should be getting more air time…it can simply take time for a program to generate positive tangible and measurable outcomes, and it maybe that on some measures a program that may ultimately be successful dips below the ‘its working’ curve on its way to that success…more importantly it ignores some key aspects of the complex adaptive systems in which programs are embedded…if we are serious about going beyond saying ‘context matters’ then exhortations to ‘fail fast’ need to be more thoroughly debated.”
- development impact links
While child mortality rates have plummeted worldwide, . Children who are stunted (having low height-for-age) suffer from a long-term failure to grow, reflecting the cumulative effects of chronic deficits in food intake, poor care practices, and illness. The early years of life, especially the first 1,000 days, are critical; if a child’s growth is stunted during this period, the effects are irreversible and have lifelong and intergenerational consequences on their future human capital and potential to succeed.
For the water and sanitation community the year 2009 marked a turning point in our understanding of the role that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has on child stunting. A provocative Lancet article (Humphrey 2009) put forth the hypothesis that a key cause of child stunting is asymptomatic gut infection caused by ingestion of fecal bacteria. Small children living in poor sanitary environments are especially at risk, through frequent mouthing of fingers and objects during exploratory play, playing in areas contaminated with human and animal feces and ingesting contaminated food and water (Ngure et al. 2013). Researchers now estimate that up to 43 percent of stunting may be due to these gut infections, known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) (Guerrant et al. 2013).
Just last week estimates were released suggesting that (Danaei et al. 2016). In a key departure from previous work, the researchers defined risk as the sanitation level of a community, rather than an individual. This is consistent with mounting evidence showing that a community’s coverage of sanitation is more important than any one household’s (Andres et al. 2013). Across different studies, data sets and outcomes the evidence consistently shows that a threshold of around 60–70 percent household usage within a community is needed before the health and nutrition benefits of sanitation begin to accrue. Studies that have focused on an individual’s toilet use as a predictor, rather than a community’s use, may have vastly underestimated the impacts (Hunter and Prüss-Ustün 2016).
As we advance our understanding of the ways in which a poor sanitary environment impacts growth in small children, we can better design water and sanitation interventions to target these pathways. While there is a role for multi-sectoral interventions, which can simultaneously target the underlying determinants of child undernutrition, such as food security, access to health services, and childcare practices — there are ways that the water sector can adapt its own approaches so that they are more nutrition-sensitive, and more impactful on nutrition. Here are four key actions:
Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / The World Bank
Women today represent about 50 percent of the world’s population and, for the past two decades, about 50 percent of the labor force. Yet there are stark differences in the outcomes they achieve: Women are only half as likely as men to have a full-time wage-earning job. The women who do have paid jobs earn as much as one-third less than men. Fewer women than men are involved in trade or own registered companies. And women are more likely to work in low-productivity activities or informal employment.
There are many reasons for these outcomes, including socio-cultural norms, access to high-quality jobs, the lack of transport and the lack of child-care facilities. In many countries, such differences also continue to be written in the law.
For the first time since it was launched in 2002, the World Bank Group’s annual Doing Business report this year added a gender dimension to its measures, including to the annual ranking on each country's ease of doing business. This is good news, since the report attracts the attention of policymakers worldwide. Global benchmarks and indicators are a powerful tool to raise awareness, motivate policy dialogue and, above all, inspire action by policymakers.
Ensuring that women have the same economic opportunities by law and in practice is not only a basic human right, it makes economic sense. A recent study estimates that achieving equality in economic opportunities for women and men could spur $28 trillion in world GDP growth by 2025 – about the equivalent of the size of the Chinese and U.S. economies combined.
Looking at gender differences when it comes to starting a business, registering property or enforcing contracts, Doing Business shows that 23 countries impose more procedures for women than men to start a business. Sixteen countries limit women’s ability to own, use and transfer property. And in 17 economies, the civil courts do not value a woman’s testimony the same way as a man’s.
This pattern might give the impression that such legal differences are really only an issue in a selected group of countries. But Doing Business’ sister publication – Women, Business and the Law – tells us otherwise. The report analyzes gender parity in accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and, most recently, protecting women from violence. It finds that 90 percent of the 173 countries measured have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 30 economies, there are 10 or more legal differences between men and women, predominantly across the Middle East and North Africa.
To counter this, there is ample evidence that those countries that have integrated women more rapidly into the workforce have improved their international competitiveness by developing export-oriented manufacturing industries that tend to favor the employment of women. Legal gender disparities are also associated with lower female school enrollment and labor-force participation.
There is some good news. The Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that, between 2013 and 2015, 65 economies made 94 reforms increasing gender parity. The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) – a joint practice of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – works across the world to support governments as they design gender-informed and gender-neutral policies, and in many cases implement gender-targeted interventions to improve the business environment and expand market opportunities for women.