Economic Development

  • Banking on the unbanked

    Financial exclusion is a central component of the poverty trap, foreclosing economic opportunities for the “unbanked” and making it almost impossible to start or grow a business. Billions of working people, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, lack access to basic financial services, with women, the uneducated and migrants especially disadvantaged.

    The microfinance movement in the 1970s realized that giving people — especially women — access to even tiny amounts of credit unleashes individual initiative and that creating the conditions for people to be more self-reliant is inherently empowering. As microfinance programs grew into established institutions and as emerging economies have become more formalized, the disparity between women’s and men’s access to financial services has grown. Today, approximately 58 percent of women have a bank account compared to 65 percent of men. This is not only an indicator of inequality, but it also exposes the fact that more than 35 percent of working people are excluded from opportunities for upward mobility.

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  • Harnessing power to shift the economic balance toward equality for women

    Shaheen, owner of a leading fashion house in Dhaka.

    Shaheen, owner of a leading fashion house in Dhaka. Photo: Asian Development Bank/CC BY-NC-ND

    The push to advance women’s economic empowerment around the world is not a fashionable procurement exercise. It is not a way for governments, private sector investors or implementing partners such as FHI 360 to look good. It is necessary and urgent. It is a lifeline to women, families, communities and countries struggling with health and food security, environmental degradation, economic growth barriers and political turmoil.

    Economic empowerment is a universal human right that protects women and people of all genders and social identities from sexual harassment, exploitation and gender-based violence.

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  • A version of this post originally appeared on Girls’ Globe. Reposted with permission.

    Opening up the panel, Greg BeckFHI 360‘s Director of Integrated Development, told the story of one particular attempt to aid in relief efforts. After great effort, and amassing donations and supplies, they opened boxes to find stacks of things like inflatable toilets and acne cream.

    Asked Beck, “How is this going to help anybody rebuild their life?”

    Beck’s point was an extreme example of a nonetheless integral point: development and aid are not straightforward, not simple. They don’t consist of simply hurling donations and good intentions at a problem and hoping something sticks.

    The term “integrated development” means just that — that development is complex and requires coordinated, planned effort across sectors.

    It operates around the idea that development does not exist problem by problem, sector by sector. You can’t improve global health without improving education without improving women’s rights. Naturally, there are some specific efforts that require a concentrated approach, but overall, a holistic view is more effective, and organizations and governments need to address what people really lack in the complex, multilayered environments in which they live — not just what we think they need.

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  • Looking to nature to forge a new path in development

    Paul BundickOur thinking about development has been dominated by the metaphor of the machine. But, as deterministic systems, machines must be predictable to run smoothly, and their behavior is dictated by their structure and parts, along with the instructions of an external operator. The smallest change or variation can bring a machine crashing to a stop.

    Using the same mechanistic model, project managers apply multiple controls to reduce variety in the system, with the goal of trying to make input-output relations more predictable and efficient.

    When this approach is applied to complex development problems, it falls woefully short. It can even be dangerous. The realities we try to change — the big questions of development — are not machinelike at all. They involve exceedingly complex systems of interaction, coevolution and emergence, which are more like ecologies than machines. In ecosystems, as well as economies, variation or innovation provide the very possibility for change.

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  • A warm welcome in Mumbai

    It was 100 degrees outside when we pulled up in front a school in Mumbai last month. We were greeted by the sounds of booming drums, singing voices and ringing tambourines. The children were assembled outside of the school to welcome us. Before arriving, I was curious about how these children would receive us, but all doubts slipped away as they met us with open arms. The memory of that welcome continues to humble and inspire me in my travels to similar schools around the globe. Fifty students from two Mumbai schools were selected to participate in the three-year Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment (BTE) program designed to provide academic support, encourage lifelong learning and build awareness of careers in health care. BTE also works with parents, teachers and employees to support and guide students to new opportunities.

    According to 2012 data, only 58 percent of students from municipal areas graduate, leaving 42 out of every 100 young people without a high school diploma. For more than 20 years, BTE has been focusing on impacting communities all around the world with similar statistics.

    We’ve trained over 20 Johnson & Johnson employees, who serve as volunteers to mentor these 50 children, ages 13–16. BTE volunteers here in India and in all programs around the globe talk to their mentees about life and what it took to reach their own career goals and why civic engagement matters. Mentors teach students time management as well as resume writing, interviewing, teamwork and communication skills.

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  • SWOP2014The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently launched the 2014 State of World Population report, which focuses on the vital role of adolescents and youth in the economic and social progress of developing countries. The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future makes the point that young people matter.

    According to the report, nine in 10 of the world’s 1.8 billion young people live in less developed countries, where the young encounter obstacles to education, health and a life free from violence. Without intervention, many of these young people may never realize their full potential.

    Follow #SWOP2014 to join in the conversation.

    Learn more about The State of World Population 2014.

  • Moving forward in Asia through mobile financial services

    Josh WoodardThe World Bank estimates that about 2.5 billion people worldwide lack a formal bank account at a financial institution. In most of the countries where development organizations operate, the need for safe and affordable financial services is quite high. At the same time, mobile phone ownership continues to expand rapidly: Recent estimates by GSMA Intelligence put unique mobile phone subscriptions at more than 3.6 billion people globally. It is no wonder that articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have recently proclaimed that mobiles offer a promising path for the world’s unbanked to gain financial inclusion.

    More than 100 experts gathered at the Mondato Asia Summit last week in Singapore to discuss mobile financial services in emerging Asia. Participants heard from big names like Google, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Amazon, MetLife, Uber, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, as well as from several companies that you may not have heard of yet but will likely soon, such as mHITS, a global mobile money remittance service, and Gatecoin, the first global digital currency exchange.

    Speaker after speaker at the summit emphasized the importance of putting the customer first — commonly referred to as human-centered or user-centered design — in the development of any mobile financial service. It seems fairly self-evident that products should be designed based on what users want. Apple was touted as the gold standard for designing products based on an acute understanding of their customers’ wants, needs and aspirations. Yet, as anyone who has ever found themselves desperately trying to speak to a live person on a bank’s automated phone system knows, this is not always the case.

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  • Multiple pathways to women’s economic empowerment

    Andrea BertoneAt FHI 360, we take a 360-degree perspective to addressing the most complex human development needs. We envision many pathways to girls’ and women’s economic empowerment — through education; training; access to resources; and the elimination of social, political and gender-related barriers.

    To increase equality between girls, boys, women and men, we believe that a gender perspective has to be integrated into every aspect of all development programs.

    FHI 360 supports women and girls living in poverty, through cutting-edge interventions in health, nutrition, education and economic development interventions. Not only are we implementing some of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) flagship projects on HIV care, prevention and support — we are also working with multiple donors implementing girls’ education projects as a pathway out of poverty.

    We are addressing women’s poverty in value chains, small and medium businesses, and micro-lending and savings and loan activities. Equally important, we work to engage men and boys as partners and agents of positive social change.

    Why prioritize attention on women and girls? For FHI 360, it comes down to three simple reasons:

    • It is the right thing to do.
    • It improves project outcomes.
    • FHI 360 has strong political will to do so at all levels of the organization.

    We aim to impact in the short, medium and long term the lives of women and girls in many countries. We want to improve women’s and girls’ current access to resources, their economic empowerment, their levels of education and their resiliency in the face of hardship.

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  • Technology alone is not enough

    In 1879, Thomas Edison unveiled his incandescent light bulb. Within six years, electric power had spread across the nation and ignited an explosion of invention that created new industries and thousands of jobs and transformed every aspect of society. A century later, in 1978, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple personal computer and unleashed another wave of innovation that reaffirmed our faith in the power and potential of technology to drive human progress.

    I was reminded just how high our expectations are for technology at two events in September: the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Frontiers of Development conference and the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, each of which showcased inventions, tools and concepts to improve public health and raise living standards. A few of the breakthrough innovations highlighted at these events or in recently announced grants include:

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  • Advancing economic development: Meeting systems challenges in a complex world

    PaulBundick_2014_200x220The term “results oriented” has become a new buzzword in international development. Its near-universal usage among funders and practitioners suggests our industry has failed to give sufficient attention to measuring meaningful outcomes along with associated costs.

    The drive to do more with less has given rise to the measurement imperative — the use of rigorous quantitative methods to establish fundamental relationships between a few variables with the aim of identifying simple causal pathways to pre-established indicators of success. As a corollary, we find an increasing emphasis on accountability to better control the production of intended results as cost-effectively as possible.

    Who can argue with the need for doing more with less? As serious practitioners of social and economic change, we accept this moral imperative of being held accountable — to our fellow citizens, to our funders, to our clients and to ourselves. Yet, there is something missing. It is as if we have reduced our understanding of reality and all of its complexity to fit the limitations of our methods. This view feels incomplete and needs some major re-envisioning.

    Anyone who has ever implemented a project will agree that many results are neither intended nor direct. The causal pathways that underlie our work are usually far from simple. Reality often diverges significantly from the results framework to which we are held accountable. Effects are often subtle, indirect, mediated or delayed. It is difficult to know what will actually happen in a system unless the parameters are highly constrained and the all-important context is artificially removed. How do we reconcile the need for achieving results and accountability within a more complex, interrelated yet unpredictable understanding of reality?

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