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Transformational fantasies, cumulative possibilities

Brian Levy's picture

Reality Check Ahead signIs development, including its governance dimensions, the result of transformational leadership and boldness or of incremental change? Brian Levy, author of Working with the Grain, explores this debate.

Dreams die hard. I was on the road for much of last fall, talking about my new book – which promotes (as I put it in a recent piece in foreignpolicy.com), the virtues of modesty in our approach to democratic development. While my message is a sober one, my aim is not to foster pessimism but rather to highlight pragmatic ways forward.

Yet, repeatedly, I come up against critics who bewail my seeming lack of ambition. “Why”, they ask, “do you sell short the possibilities of transformation? Isn’t what we need bold, decisive, ethical leadership which cuts through the messiness of present predicaments?  Where governance is weak, bold leaders can and should make it strong – rapidly and systematically!”.

By now, there is plenty of scholarship that makes the case that changes in governance cannot be willed into being – but rather that ‘good governance’ is the cumulative consequence of a long, slow incremental process. Nobel-prize-winner Douglass North and colleagues have clarified conceptually how personalized bargains between contending elites can provide platforms for both stability and (perhaps) the slow evolution of formal rules of the game. Francis Fukuyama masterfully documents, over two volumes, the deep historical roots of the rule of law, and of the difficult challenges posed by democratization in settings where state capabilities remain weak.

For many, though, conceptual and historical perspectives remain unpersuasive. “We need change”, they insist. “Therefore good leaders should provide it.”

Big Gaps and Big Data

Aleem Walji's picture
I recently gave a talk at the American Association for the Advance of Science about Big Data and Analytics and why it matters for development. Unlike other speakers who warned about risks associated with big data - when too much is known about too many people without their consent - I discussed the problem of data gaps and data poverty in the developing world. The challenge of measuring of poverty is different because if we don’t have the data, we can’t know whether we’re making progress in fighting this stain on our collective moral conscience.  
 

Public spaces - not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
The benefits of public spaces in the poorest parts of the world
Sounce: World Bank Staff

We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.

Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.

Food Safety in China: Addressing Common Problems Requires Unusual Approaches

Artavazd Hakobyan's picture

Over the past three decades, China has successfully lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. For many years, the government’s poverty alleviation strategy focused on ensuring that every person had access to enough food. Driven by rapid economic development and urbanization, China is today one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural products.

Now the Chinese government has turned its attention to making the country’s food supply safer. The issue has become so important that, in the words of President Xi Jinping: “Whether we can provide a satisfying solution on food safety to the people is an important test on our capacity of governance.”


According to a poll published in March 2015, more than 77 percent of respondents ranked food safety as the most important quality of life issue. Environmental pollution, which experts consider one of the causes of China’s food safety problems, was another top issue worrying the public.

Chinese people attach significant importance to food, beyond its nutritional characteristics, due to historic memories of starvation. Food is also a symbol of regional pride and distinction, as well as a reflection of respect to guests.
Traditionally Chinese people believe each type of food brings specific medicinal features. Ginger cures a cold, garlic stops diarrhea, spinach is good for the blood, walnuts are good for the brain, pear relieves a cough, etc. When in China, you cannot avoid stories on how adding a specific food to one’s diet helped cure some disease. Therefore, it is understandable why Chinese people attach such importance to food safety. Contaminated or unsafe food poses a threat to public health and also risks undermining social stability and cultural identity.

The root causes China’s food safety problems come from the country’s rapid development China has experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades and now is the world’s second-largest economy. Such rapid expansion has unleashed positive and negative effects. The industrial boom coupled with urban expansion and infrastructure development put significant pressure on both land and water resources. Over the long term, that pressure could constrain the ability to produce more food.

Are opportunities expanding for children in Africa?

Andrew Dabalen's picture
There’s a buzz about Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) these days.[i] Growth has recovered and has seen one of its longest runs of any period in the continent’s recent economic history. Young democracies are consolidating. And despite a rise in asymmetric conflict through organized terror networks, large scale warfare is on the decline. So it seems appropriate to wonder whether these signs mean a better future for Africa’s children.

We are all accountable: The health of Palestinians first and foremost

Samira A. Hillis's picture


Razan was a vibrant, happy girl living in the town of Rafah in the Gaza strip when she was diagnosed with a bone marrow illness not long ago, in November 2014. She needed a bone marrow transplant, a medical procedure available only in Israeli hospitals. Her referral, though urgent, was delayed for 20 days. First, she was directed to the wrong hospital for marrow transplants, and then she was denied financial coverage. The Israeli authorities failed to respond immediately to her parents’ application for an emergency permit to allow her into Israel through the (otherwise impenetrable) Erez crossing. 

Razan died on 25 November. She was just 11 years-old.

Six reasons to do Citizen Engagement

Mario Marcel's picture
 Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank
Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia. Photo: Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank


Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.

To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong:  the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
 
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
 
Too often citizen engagement is seen with suspicion, skepticism or fear by policymakers. Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:

Quote of the Week: Janan Ganesh

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Flags fly in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York City"All zones of public discourse have their excesses and irrationalities, but none like foreign policy. In our golden age of data, this is one area that remains resiliently unmeasurable. So anyone can say anything as long as they say it sonorously and use the word “strategy” a lot."
 
- Janan Ganesh, a political columnist for the Financial Times. Previously, he was a political correspondent for The Economist. He appears weekly on BBC1's Sunday Politics television show and wrote a biography of George Osborne, the UK chancellor.
 

Tips for Randomization in the Wild: Adding a Waitlist

David McKenzie's picture
This is a relatively small point, but one that has come up several times in conversations in the last few months, so I thought it worth noting here.
Context: you are randomly selecting people for some program such as a training program, transfer program, etc. in which you expect less than 100% take-up of the treatment from those assigned to treatment. You are relying on an oversubscription design, in which more people apply for the course/program than you have slots.

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