Photo: CIFOR | Flickr Creative Commons
Africa is a continent rich in natural resources and boasts a large young, ambitious, and entrepreneurial-minded population. Harnessed properly, these endowments and advantages could usher in a period of sustained economic growth and increased well-being for all Africans.
However, a lack of modern infrastructure is a major challenge to Africa’s economic development and constitutes a significant impediment to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to a recent report by the World Bank, there are varying trends in Africa’s infrastructure performance across key sectors and regions. In telecommunications, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a dramatic improvement in the quantity and quality of infrastructure, and the gains are broad-based. Access to safe water has also risen, with 77% of the population having access to water in 2015, from 51% in 1990. In the power sector, by contrast, the region’s electricity-generating capacity has changed little in more than 20 years. At about 0.04 megawatts per 1,000 people, capacity is less than one-third of that of South Asia, and less than one-tenth of that of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Business plan competitions have increasingly become one policy option used to identify and support high-growth potential businesses. For example, the World Bank has helped design and support these programs in a number of sub-Saharan African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. These competitions often attract large numbers of applications, raising the question of how do you identify which business owners are most likely to succeed?
In a recent working paper, Dario Sansone and I compare three different approaches to answering this question, in the context of Nigeria’s YouWiN! program. Nigerians aged 18 to 40 could apply with either a new or existing business. The first year of this program attracted almost 24,000 applications, and the third year over 100,000 applications. After a preliminary screening and scoring, the top 6,000 were invited to a 4-day business plan training workshop, and then could submit business plans, with 1,200 winners each chosen to receive an average of US$50,000 each. We use data from the first year of this program, together with follow-up surveys over three years, to determine how well different approaches would do in predicting which entrants will have the most successful businesses.
Invented over a century ago for exploring mountainous regions, aerial cable cars have recently made an appearance in several big cities, where they are being used as an alternative to conventional urban transport modes. This technology uses electrically-propelled steel cables to move suspended cars (or cabins) between terminals at different elevation points.
The tipping point. The emergence of cable cars in urban transport is fairly new. Medellín, Colombia pioneered the use of cable cars for urban transport when it opened its first “Metrocable” line in 2004. Since then, urban cable cars have grown in popularity around the world, with recent projects in Latin America (Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, La Paz, and Medellín), Asia (Yeosu, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong), Africa (Lagos, Constantine), and Europe (London, Koblenz, Bolzano). Cable cars can be an attractive urban transport solution to connect communities together when geographical barriers such as hills and rivers make other modes infeasible.
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In many ways, girls’ education is a success story in global development. Relatively simple changes in national policies – like making primary schooling free and compulsory – have led to dramatic increases in school enrollment around the world. In Uganda, for example, enrollment increased by over 60 percent following the elimination of primary school fees.
As more young people have enrolled in school, gaps in educational attainment between boys and girls have closed. According to UNESCO, by 2014, “gender parity (meaning an equal amount of men and women) was achieved globally, on average, in primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary education.”
Yet, more than 250 million children are not in school. Many more drop out before completing primary school. And many young people who attend school do not gain basic literacy skills. These challenges remain particularly acute for poor girls.
In a new paper, published in Population and Development Review, we explore recent progress in girls’ education in 43 low- and middle-income countries. To do so, we use Demographic and Health Survey data collected at two time points, the first between 1997 and 2007 (time 1), and the second between 2008 and 2016 (time 2).
All schools are different. I’m not referring to the building, the number of students or teaching practices. I’m talking about the school’s spirit. When you walk into a good school, the building is often well-organized and clean. The students look busy and happy. You don’t see strict discipline; ideally, you see organized chaos.
When you see a well-functioning school, most likely, there is a good principal behind it. A leader who sets a vision for the school and sets clear objectives. Someone who creates the space that fosters teachers’ professional and personal development, and encourages students’ personal growth, creativity, and their own journey of discovery.
Running a school efficiently is a very difficult challenge. A principal must be a pedagogical leader to dozens of teachers: observing them in the classroom, evaluating institutional performance, and helping them get the professional development opportunities they need. Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. They need to respond to parents, each with their own expectations for the school. And principals also need to contend with the administrative and financial burdens imposed by the bureaucracy.
A growing number of students in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are enrolled in private primary or secondary schools. The World Development Report 2018 (on which I was a co-author) highlighted an array of potential benefits and risks associated with broad provision of basic education by the private sector. “The key challenge for policy makers is to develop a policy and regulatory framework that ensures access for all children, protects families from exploitation, and establishes an environment that encourages education innovation. Managing a regulatory framework to achieve this is difficult: the same technical and political barriers that education systems face more generally come into play.”
Innovations in youth employment programs are critical to addressing this enormous development challenge effectively. Rapid progress in digital technology, behavioral economics, evaluation methods, and the connectivity of youth in the developing world generates a stream of real-time insights and opportunities in project design and implementation. Part of the challenge is the sheer number of projects (just in Egypt, there are over 180 youth employment programs). And even without being aware, projects often innovate out of necessity in response to situations they face on the ground. But innovations need to be tested in different country contexts to be able to make an impact at scale.
Through the new Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) report, our team ventured to curate a few such ongoing innovations as they were being implemented through S4YE’s Impact Portfolio — a group of 19 youth employment projects from different regions being implemented by different partners across the globe. This network of youth employment practitioners serves as a dynamic learning community and laboratory for improving the jobs outcomes of youth globally.
A year ago, if you had asked me how best a child could reach its potential, I would have looked through my myopic, public health, physician’s lens, and responded that making sure children (0-5years) are healthy and well-nourished is all it takes.
However, six months into the World Bank’s “Africa Early Years” fellowship and I realize I would have been abysmally wrong.
The idea that economic growth needs good governance and good governance needs economic growth takes us to a perennial chicken-and-egg debate: Which comes first in development—good governance OR economic growth? For decades, positions have been sharply divided between those who advocate “fix governance first” and others who say “stimulate growth first.”