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Voices of Youth: A Hope for One South Asia from Young Economists at Students' Meet

Nikita Singla's picture
Young economists from South Asia at South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM) 2018, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Young economists from South Asia at South Asia Economics Students’ Meet (SAESM) 2018, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Photo Credits: Nikita Singla/World Bank

At the 14th South Asia Economic Students’ Meet (SAESM), more than 100 top economics undergraduates and faculties from seven countries in South Asia convened in Chittagong, Bangladesh to discuss how greater regional integration in South Asia can help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As these young economists engaged in vigorous academic competitions and research presentations on South Asia’s development opportunities, they also created fond memories and built lifelong friendships. Was SAESM 2018 a new hope for #onesouthasia? Let’s hear it from the students themselves.

“With the momentum built up, the stage set, with a banner that in all its glory was decorated with the flags of the seven South Asian states, we sat in our respective country groups to embark on a three-day long journey that was to change my perception of South Asia forever. The dis-embarkment on this passage saw us divided by geographical boundaries, as India and Pakistan made sure to sit the farthest away from each other. The end to this voyage, however, painted a story not many foresaw – twenty Indians and Pakistanis crammed together in a single bus, discussing our common history with a fondness anew to most, accompanied by bursts of people from either side breaking into rounds of Antakshari. At that point, we were one!" – Alizeh Arif, Lahore School of Economics

Redefining women's empowerment in Bangladesh

Sabah Moyeen's picture

What does empowerment really mean? The Northern Area Reduction Initiative (NARI) project has forced me to ask this question several times. And the answers are apparently not as neat and foldable into the pre-set indicators as one would think.
Bangladesh’s garment industry has been at the heart of the country’s export boom ever since the first factory opened in 1976. Today, the industry accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports. 85% of the workers in the garments sector are women. The NARI program aims to facilitate the entry of skilled women into this sector. However, this program is not just about technical skills aimed at churning out yet another RMG worker. The girls learn how to adjust to life outside their homes and villages, open and manage bank accounts, and learn about their rights and responsibilities as workers. They also negotiate contracts and rent, understand what sexual harassment is, and learn how and where to report it. They build networks, allow ideas to form on the basis of newly discovered confidence and self-esteem. Some graduate and join the earmarked jobs, often in positions several steps ahead of what they would have been offered without the training.

South Asia’s prosperity will require more women to work for pay

Annette Dixon's picture

Women in the Work Force

South Asia has enjoyed a growth rate of 6 percent a year over the past 20 years. This has translated into declining poverty and improvements in health and education. While worthy of celebration as we mark International Women's Day, the success could have been more dramatic if more women worked for pay. Only 28 percent of women in South Asia have a job or are looking for one, compared to 79 percent of men. This is the second lowest in the world, after the Middle East and North Africa region at 21 percent.

With the largest working-age population and growing middle class, South Asia’s development potential is vast. But the lack of women in employment and economic participation reflects lost potential. In India and Sri Lanka, tens of millions of women have dropped out of the work force over the last twenty years.

Many factors are holding them back. Almost half of South Asia’s adult women are illiterate and its girls suffer from the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Rates of violence against women and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world. All these factors translate into a labor market characterized by low participation, high unemployment and persistent wage gaps for women.

What can be done to better prepare and encourage women to participate in the work force? It starts with valuing our daughters as much as our sons – providing them with the same access to nutritious foods and investing in their education for them to reach their potential. Let’s spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys –that they too can build careers in engineering, scientific research, IT, and other fields that are in demand by employers. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.

Breaking ground to make climate-smart agriculture ‘the new normal’

Martien van Nieuwkoop's picture
Farmers in India and beyond will benefit as climate-smart agriculture scales up around the world. © ICRISAT
Farmers in India and beyond will benefit as climate-smart agriculture scales up around the world. © ICRISAT

Once a conference room talking point, Climate-smart agriculture is now an action item for farmers, extension workers, agribusinesses, and other stakeholders throughout the agricultural sector.  

In the last few years, CSA—which is an approach to agriculture that boosts productivity and resilience, and reduces GHG emissions- has gained momentum as understanding of its critical importance to the food system has risen. Nearly every government representative and farmer I meet during my missions (most recently in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan) expresses genuine interest in making CSA part of their farming routines and agricultural sector.  At COP 23 in Bonn, there was a major breakthrough for CSA as stakeholders agreed to focus on concrete ways for countries and stakeholders to implement climate actions in agriculture on the ground.

This momentum is reflected in the Bank’s own actions. In 2016, the World Bank Group released its climate change action plan, where we committed to delivering CSA at scale to increase the efficiency and resilience of food systems. Since the Bank started tracking CSA in 2011, our CSA investments have grown steadily, reaching a record US$ 1 billion in 2017. We expect to maintain and even increase that level next year as our efforts to scale up CSA intensify.

Off-grid bringing power to millions

Riccardo Puliti's picture

Picture an island in Bangladesh that is so remote that there is no way the traditional electricity could reach it. Not now, and probably not anytime soon. That was the situation in Monpura just a few years ago – but not today.

Today, Monpura is thriving, thanks to solar power. Markets are abuzz, households can power TVs, fans and even refrigerators, and streets are lit up at night. In fact, solar home systems have helped take electricity to more than 20 million people in rural Bangladesh.

The off-grid solar market, quite simply, has changed lives.

Can cash transfers solve Bangladesh’s malnutrition?

Rubaba Anwar's picture
Silvi and her mother arrive with Silvi’s birth certificate to enroll into Jawtno. a cash transfer program aimed to help 600,000 poor families in Bangladesh access prenatal and child care.
Silvi and her mother arrive with Silvi’s birth certificate to enroll into Jawtno. a cash transfer program that aims to help 600,000 poor families in Bangladesh access prenatal and child care. Credit: World Bank

Silvi is eight months old. She lives in a remote village in one of the poorest regions of Bangladesh.
Her mother Maya often reflects on her pregnancy and worries about her daughter’s wellbeing as she recalls her morning sickness, the uncertain and painful birth, and the long nights at Silvi’s side as the baby lay wide awake wailing, fighting one illness after the other.
She remembers, too, the thrills of hearing Silvi giggle at the sound of her rattle, and when she began to crawl.
Despite the little joys that her baby brings to Maya, Silvi’s early childhood was marked with apprehension: Shouldn’t she be a little heavier? When will she learn to walk? Will she be healthy and intelligent enough to earn a decent living when she grows up? Or would she be handed down her parents’ poverty and get married like Maya had to, at only sixteen?
But with the right kind of support, Silvi can have a chance at a better life and bring her family out of poverty.
Growing evidence has shown that adequate nutrition before birth and the two years after – or in the first 1,000-days – has lasting effects on a child’s intelligence and brain development.
When they’re properly fed and exposed to learning, children can reach their full potential and break the poverty trap.
Thus, investing in early childhood nutrition and cognitive development (CNCD) is critical to curbing poverty in a country like Bangladesh, where 36 percent of children below the age of 5 are stunted —or too short for their age--, low birth weight is prevalent, and maternal nutrition remains poor.
Sadly, poor families like Maya’s are not utilizing services available to them.  

Taking the lead on green growth

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Bangladesh has what it takes to influence this global movement

Manik, a solar pump operator for Nusra works near the solar panels in Rohertek, Bangladesh
Solar panels in Rohertek, Bangladesh, Oct 2016

Bangladesh has made remarkable progress over the past two decades, lifting millions out of poverty and sustaining expanding levels of economic growth.

It has achieved this in spite of major internal and external challenges — global economic downturns, natural disasters, and periods of political uncertainty that have tested the resolve of the Bangladesh economy.

In spite of this and efforts in climate change adaptation, Bangladesh still remains one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2015.

This crisis has sparked an urgent response from the government. The government of Bangladesh is a leader amongst Less Developed Countries (LDCs) in enacting policies to tackle the risks emerging from climate change, as well as in negotiating on behalf of other vulnerable countries to finance both climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.

Bangladesh played a leading role in helping set up the global Green Climate Fund (GCF) with an ambitious agenda to mobilise $100 billion per year from rich countries by 2020 to finance climate change initiatives in developing countries.

Domestically, much more remains to be done towards climate change mitigation. There are multiple sector-specific and cross-cutting policies in place. However, a comprehensive set strategy in support of green growth is yet to be formulated.

Announcing Funding for 12 Development Data Innovation Projects

World Bank Data Team's picture

We’re pleased to announce support for 12 projects which seek to improve the way development data are produced, managed, and used. They bring together diverse teams of collaborators from around the world, and are focused on solving challenges in low and lower middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Latin America, and South Asia.

Following the success of the first round of funding in 2016, in August 2017 we announced a $2.5M fund to support Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development. The World Bank’s Development Data group, together with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, called for ideas to improve the production, management, and use of data in the two thematic areas of “Leave No One Behind” and the environment. To ensure funding went to projects that solved real people’s problems, and built solutions that were context-specific and relevant to its audience, applicants were required to include the user, in most cases a government or public entity, in the project team. We were also looking for projects that have the potential to generate learning and knowledge that can be shared, adapted, and reused in other settings.

From predicting the movements of internally displaced populations in Somalia to speeding up post-disaster damage assessments in Nepal; and from detecting the armyworm invasive species in Malawi to supporting older people in Kenya and India to map and advocate for the better availability of public services; the 12 selected projects summarized below show how new partnerships, new methods, and new data sources can be integrated to really “put data to work” for development.

This initiative is supported by the World Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) with financing from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Korea and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland.

2018 Innovation Fund Recipients

How to capture public life in public spaces?

Fen Wei's picture
Photo credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank
Urbanization and economic growth go hand in hand.  Cities are turning into centers of attraction in developing countries and their population is rising constantly. In such cities, we often see in a city a mix of old and new, slow and fast: Street vendors hawking their wares by luxury shopping malls; highways segmentizing parks and walkways; high-rise crowding out traditional neighborhoods, etc. However, we do not often see a well-balanced mix that serves all urban dwellers with a wide array of needs, economically and socially.
What are the ingredients of a good urban life, or rather, what does it take for a city to make the public happy? The answer to this is multifaceted. Cities need to be accessible, vibrant, and create safe public spaces to meet public needs.
As UN-Habitat’s Charter of Public Space states, public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being, the places of a community’s collective life, particularly in situations of poverty and limited public resources, such as those in the developing countries. The Charter also highlights that participation of citizens and in particular of communities of residents is of crucial importance for the maintenance and management of public spaces. While there might be no objection to this statement, it is also true that it has been easily overlooked, especially in developing countries, for the sake of “economic efficiency.”

The outlook for growth in South Asia in five charts: Robust prospects

Temel Taskin's picture
South Asia’s growth prospects appear robust, with household consumption expected to remain strong, exports expected to recover, and investment projected to revive with the support of policy reforms and infrastructure improvements.

Growth to pick up in region

Growth in the region was an estimated 6.5 percent in 2017. It is forecast to pick up to 6.9 percent in 2018 and stabilize around 7 percent over the medium term. The forecast assumes strengthening external demand as the recovery firms in advanced economies, and supportive global financing conditions. Monetary policy is expected to remain accommodative as modest fiscal consolidation proceeds in some countries.

Sources: Haver Analytics, World Bank.
Note: Shaded area indicates forecasts.