Bangladesh

Learning from our global benchmarking reports: A day in Singapore

Global benchmarking reports are great conversation starters. Here in Singapore, a nation defined by its drive for excellence, these benchmarking reports are held as evidence of the country’s development success.  From topping the global education index PISA, the Global Competitiveness Index, and the Leading Maritime Capitals of the World Report, Singapore takes great pride in being first, in Asia if not globally.  
 
An important global ranking for Singapore is the Doing Business survey, a ranking the island nation topped for many years, indicating the ease with which business can be done in the little red dot.

Global benchmarking surveys are powerful tools to engage in a policy dialogue. However, given that they are global in nature, there are a set of assumptions and limitations in methodology which are partly determined by the huge variations in data availability across countries. Methodologies of these surveys are continually updated to reflect nuances in context that may lead to a different but more comprehensive set of analysis and conclusions.
 
One of our priorities here at the World Bank Group is to continue our dialogue with all our stakeholders, to see what we are getting right in these surveys and how we can do better.  We have a particularly unique opportunity in Singapore, where both government agencies and the private sector work hard to stay on top. Singapore is anything but complacent, and that makes for a rich discussion about how our surveys may be improved.
 
Indeed, a recent visit to Singapore by Augusto Lopez Claros, who led the Doing Business report team, enabled us to discuss in-depth the findings and methodology of the report with a wide variety of stakeholders – and all within a 24-hour window. The conversations were instructive, and keep us in tuned with our audience and how our work helps theirs.
 
We identified five different audiences for the one-day visit – an ambitious number in any context. Our first interaction was with our main counterpart: the government. A meeting hosted by the Ministry of Trade & Industry gathered all the relevant agencies that deal with the 11 Doing Business indicators. Some officials sought feedback on a number of very relevant questions on methodology and approach; for example, differentiating countries versus regional blocs for the Trading Across Borders indicator. These questions reflect the forward looking thinking of the concerned government agencies, and provides us with a different perspective to the indicators.
 
Following the meeting with the government, we moved on to one hosted by the Singapore Business Federation, the country’s leading private sector association, which again attracted an impressive list of participants. Some of the world’s leading firms mobilize their operations across Asia from Singapore. These firms refer to the Doing Business report quite extensively in the context of exploring investment locations. There was a great deal of interest in understanding better how these indicators are put together.
 
We also met with academic community – professors, students, and development partners at the public lecture hosted by the National University of Singapore (NUS). The questions posed at this were more broad, and a great reminder of the public’s great interest in the cutting edge research at the Bank and its role in shaping policies for economic development. Students from developing countries posed some particularly thought-provoking questions, on how high rankings on global benchmark reports may not necessarily reflect shared prosperity in a country.
 
We also hosted a virtual but very engaging discussion of the DB report with our clients – through video conference – with government clients joining us from across the East Asia and South Asia region, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, and the Philippines. This was a virtual peer to peer learning event, and particularly helpful in enabling our counterparts to learn from the issues other countries are dealing with. Apart from the methodology related issues, we were also able to share some of the lessons from Singapore’s own DB reform experience. The Singapore Hub serves well as a laboratory for connecting a range of good practices to our clients across Asia.
 
Lastly, we also hosted a discussion on the Women Business and the Law report, with the Women CEO’s network in Singapore. We were heartened to see the impressive turnout:  27 participants from the private sector and also government, including the Senior Minister for Law and Finance, and the Deputy CEO of IE Singapore, the country’s investment promotion agency.  Triggering an animated discussion on the issue of women’s legal rights in Singapore as well as in other regions, and on the impact on female labor participation in those countries undertaking reforms, the meeting was another opportunity for the World Bank to learn how our research is influencing the shaping of policy.
 
So, in a span of 24 hours, we were able to gather important suggestions from our intended audience: policy-makers from across the region, businesses and entrepreneurs, scholars and academics. Not often do we have such a rich opportunity to receive – and respond to – feedback from so many parties.
 
Majulah Singapura – Onward Singapore!

Three key policies to boost performance of South Asia’s ports

Three key policies to boost performance of South Asia’s ports

In a previous blog we related how South Asia as a whole had improved the performance of its container ports since 2000 but had still struggled to catch up with other developed and developing regions. But within that picture, some ports did better than others. 

For example, Colombo in Sri Lanka, the fast-expanding Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India and Port Qasim in Pakistan all improved the use of their facilities in the first decade of this century.  India’s Mumbai and Tuticorin were among those that fell behind. Colombo also improved its operational performance by almost halving the share of idle time at berth, while Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India) had the longest vessel turnaround times in the region.

Knowing how specific ports perform and the characteristics of ports that perform well and those of ports that perform poorly helps policymakers design interventions to support underperforming ports.

In the report “Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports” we identified three interrelated policies to improve the performance of the container ports, a key element in one of the world’s fast-growing regions: increasing private participation in ports, strengthening governance of port authorities and fostering competition between and within ports: 

by · Thursday, 11 May 2017 · Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Three key policies to boost performance of South Asia’s ports

Three key policies to boost performance of South Asia’s ports

In a previous blog we related how South Asia as a whole had improved the performance of its container ports since 2000 but had still struggled to catch up with other developed and developing regions. But within that picture, some ports did better than others. 

For example, Colombo in Sri Lanka, the fast-expanding Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India and Port Qasim in Pakistan all improved the use of their facilities in the first decade of this century.  India’s Mumbai and Tuticorin were among those that fell behind. Colombo also improved its operational performance by almost halving the share of idle time at berth, while Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India) had the longest vessel turnaround times in the region.

Knowing how specific ports perform and the characteristics of ports that perform well and those of ports that perform poorly helps policymakers design interventions to support underperforming ports.

In the report “Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports” we identified three interrelated policies to improve the performance of the container ports, a key element in one of the world’s fast-growing regions: increasing private participation in ports, strengthening governance of port authorities and fostering competition between and within ports: 

by · Thursday, 11 May 2017 · Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Breaking ground in gender parity in Bangladesh’s primary schools

Breaking ground in gender parity in Bangladesh’s primary schools

With nearly 6.4 million girls in secondary school in 2015, Bangladesh is among the few countries to achieve gender parity in school enrollment, and have more girls than boys in the secondary schools. Photo Credit: Shilpa Banerji/World Bank

Going through the narrow streets of Savar, you are surrounded by homes and shops on both sides – doors opening for business, the smell of heated oil in the pan, and the wait for the morning rush hour to begin. Then you spot the uniformed children: in pairs, in threes or walking solo to school. Among them you see many self-assured young girls, equal in numbers, with their heavy bags and tight braids. Some are being escorted by their mothers and siblings, and some are being dropped off by a mode of transport. But everyone is excited to come to school.
 
As part of the government led Third Primary Education Development Program (PEDP3), the Dhorendra Government Primary School in Savar – about 2 hours from the nation’s capital – is an example of how Bangladesh has made remarkable gains in ensuring access to education in the past two decades. The program, initiated in 2011, covers Grades I through V and one year of pre-primary education. It aims to enhance the quality of education in Bangladesh, and reduce disparities in access and learning.
 
More than 70% of donor partner financing is linked to results achieved on the ground and disbursed after meeting program targets associated with a set of key indicators. These indicators represent critical reforms, and cover a subset of the government’s program for primary education. The program is a good example where the government and donor resources are well harmonized, according to co-Task Team Leader Saurav Dev Bhatta.
 
As a result, the country’s net enrollment rate at the primary school level has increased from 80 percent in 2000 to above 90 percent in 2015. Furthermore, the percentage of children completing primary school is close to 80 percent. With nearly 6.4 million girls in secondary school in 2015, Bangladesh is among the few countries to achieve gender parity in school enrollment, and have more girls than boys in the secondary schools.

by · Tuesday, 9 May 2017 · Bangladesh
What does it take for a woman in rural Bangladesh to break out of poverty?

What does it take for a woman in rural Bangladesh to break out of poverty?

Women in rural Bangladesh have made great strides in breaking through employment barriers in areas such as agriculture and garment manufacturing. However, their contributions are not always recorded and there remain spaces such as rural markets that are male-dominated. How can these challenges be addressed? Photo Credit: Lupita Huq 

How does a poor woman in rural Bangladesh make use of her business acumen if she lacks education, lacks opportunities to learn new skills, no assets of her own, a husband who earns just enough for the family to survive from day to day, children to look after and a society that had traditionally disapproved of women working outside the home? 
 
The story of Hafiza Begum offers one answer. We interviewed her as part of our on-going research in Bangladesh, which sets out to understand its female labor force participation rates. This phenomenon of lower than expected female labor force participation appears to characterize the wider South Asia and MENA regions, despite their positive growth rates. What are some of the reasons? 
 
Hafiza was born into a family too poor to educate her and she was married off at an early age. Her husband worked for daily wages wherever he could find it. Their two young daughters went to school in the local madrassa because it was free. She emerged from our interview as a woman who was determined, within the social norms of her society, to combine caring for her family with finding the resources she needed to build up her own business.
 
She told her husband early in their marriage how she planned to do this. “Suppose you buy me a kilogram of onions to cook our meals with. If I use 2 onions in a meal, you won’t be able to tell. Even if I use half an onion for a meal, you still won’t be any the wiser. Yet if I use just half an onion every time I cook, our supply of onions will last longer and we will save money.”
 
This thrifty attitude had been the hallmark of her housekeeping throughout her marriage. She boasted to us that when her husband recently went away to work in a brickfield, she managed to save Rs.400 out of the Rs.500 he gave her to run the house. How did she do it? She went to the marshes near their house to catch fish, keeping some to eat and selling the rest to her neighbors. She supplemented the vegetables she planted on their homestead plot with edible greens that grew wild near their house. She spent money only on what she could not produce herself. 

by · Friday, 31 March 2017 · Bangladesh, Oman
Digital Financial Inclusion of the Rural Poor in Bangladesh

Digital Financial Inclusion of the Rural Poor in Bangladesh

Considering Bangladesh’s lack of development and a predominantly rural context, it would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago that an elderly widow living in a remote corner of this impoverished South Asian country could be receiving money from her son living in Dubai sitting right at home or making petty payments through her mobile phone. Not any more, though.

Bangladesh has recently emerged as a curious case of digital innovation to widen coverage and reach remote pockets. The country reached the lower middle income country status in 2015, and has showcased the potential of combating rural poverty through inclusive digital financial services.

This has proved to be an effective weapon to eliminate poverty and secure the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while the country advances towards Vision 2021 — lifting millions of Bangladeshis out of poverty. Innovation and digitization will surely set Bangladesh firmly on the path to becoming a middle-income country. Although ambitious, it is exactly what both the government and private sector are working towards.

Access to the formal financial system remains a challenge for the rural poor in Bangladesh even though the central bank announced a plan for inclusive digital financial programmes in 2015.
 

by · Wednesday, 15 March 2017 · Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, changing behaviors for better health

In Bangladesh, changing behaviors for better health

A toilet in Chunarughat in the Habiganj district in Bangladesh has helped reduce fecal contamination for Amena Begum and her family. Credit: World Bank/M. Monir

Amena Begum resides in a village in the Habiganj district in Bangladesh and is a mother to three young children.  Last year Amena spent US$100 to construct a toilet to ensure her three children were hygienically protected from feces.
 
Even though her family members have adapted to using the toilet, exposure to fecal contamination can occur anywhere.  For example, while playing outside, a child may accidentally ingest soil with animal feces, or the child could be exposed when he or she eats food off of dishes washed with pond water.  
 
It is also not uncommon for families without toilets to throw feces into a nearby bush, which remains exposed in their living area. These actions can lead to the contraction of hazardous, lethal diseases and create a traumatizing effect on the lives of many children, not to mention the unfavorable impact on the environment.
 
A new study on early childhood diarrhea in rural Bangladesh found that despite high on-site latrine access, frequent fecal contamination was present along all environmental pathways investigated. Human fecal markers on children’s hands and in soil, and rotavirus in stored water, soil and on hands had been detected. Animal (particularly ruminant) fecal markers were highly prevalent in water, soil and on hands.

by · Wednesday, 11 January 2017 · Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, an experienced – yet struggling – worker becomes an entrepreneur

In Bangladesh, an experienced – yet struggling – worker becomes an entrepreneur

Nikhil Chandra Roy, who received certification through the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP),

Skills recognition is changing the lives of informal workers in Bangladesh

In 2014, Nikhil Chandra Roy was struggling to find and keep regular employment. He had extensive experience dating back to 1977, doing the work of an electrician. But because he had no formal training or certification, Nikhil couldn’t win the confidence of employers in Bangladesh to give him anything more than episodic, relatively low-paying work.

At age 55, just as he was giving up hope for career progress, Nikhil saw an advertisement that ended up turning his outlook and life around. The ad introduced him to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program, aimed especially at people like Nikhil, who have real skills and experience in a particular occupation but no formal, independently recognized qualifications.

Not long later, Nikhil participated in a three-day program, which entails one day of assessment and two days of training. That led to the recognition he had long awaited and needed to boost his career: a Government-endorsed skills certification from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) in electrical installation and maintenance.
 

A blog series to celebrate Bangladesh’s progress
toward #ProsperBangladesh 


“From that point on,” Nikhil said, “there was no looking back. With my years of experience, knowledge and now skills certification, I was ready to progress my career from just an electrician to an entrepreneur.

Nikhil was one of the many vulnerable informal sector workers in Bangladesh who have no regular jobs and who work on ad hoc opportunities, making it difficult to sustain livelihoods. These workers, with enough experience to perform the technical work well but not the credential many jobs require, improve their employability and bargaining power in job markets when they get the proper certification. And with that certification, workers gain social status in their communities.

The RPL program, which evaluates the skills level of workers and issues government certification to workers who pass an assessment, has operated since 2014 as a pilot activity under the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). STEP aims to give more Bangladeshis the technical skills they need to compete successfully in domestic and international labor markets.

The demand for RPL certification has been enormous. Since its inception, RPL has assessed more than 9,000 applicants from all over Bangladesh. Every month, RPL offers 600 applicants certification trainings in electrical installation and maintenance; IT support; block, boutique and screen printing; sewing machine operation; tailoring and dress making; motorcycle servicing; plumbing; and welding.

by · Tuesday, 11 October 2016 · Bangladesh
Bangladesh: Setting a global standard in ending poverty

Bangladesh: Setting a global standard in ending poverty

There is a lot for Bangladesh to celebrate in the latest World Bank research on global poverty and inequality.
The new report, entitled Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality”, uses revised data to give a more accurate estimate of how many poor people live in Bangladesh. What the report shows is that 18.5 percent of the population was poor in 2010 compared with 44.2 percent in 1991.

This is a major achievement that will receive global recognition on October 17 when the World Bank Group marks End Poverty Day with the Bangladesh people at an event in Dhaka.

This achievement means that 20.5 million Bangladeshis escaped from poverty between 1991 and 2010. It means that Bangladesh beat the deadline by an impressive five years in achieving Millennium Development Goal number 1, an internationally recognized target to cut extreme poverty rates by half by 2015.

It is worth remembering how far Bangladesh has come.

by · Wednesday, 5 October 2016 · Bangladesh
Making South Asian Apparel Exports More Competitive

Making South Asian Apparel Exports More Competitive

There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations.  Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia  –  estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.

But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.

Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).

by · Monday, 26 September 2016 · Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka