Welcome to the “10 Candid Career Questions” series, introducing you to the infrastructure and PPP professionals who do the deals, analyze the data, and strategize on the next big thing. Each of them followed a different path into infra and/or PPP practice, and this series offers an inside look at their backgrounds, motivations, and choices. Each blogger receives the same 15 questions and answers 10 or more that tell their career story candidly and without jargon. We believe you’ll be as surprised and inspired as we were.
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.
. 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.
“Are you following everything?” asked my colleague. “If not I’ll be glad to explain anything that isn’t clear.”
“I understand,” he said. “Please continue.”
But I could tell from his body language that he didn’t understand anything at all. And I knew he would never admit a lack of knowledge in front of his subordinates. But there was another reason I suspected the official wasn’t being entirely forthright: I could barely follow the discussion myself.
After the meeting I googled “public-private partnerships” to give myself a crash course. There were literally millions of information sources, but most were difficult to follow. I ground through a few articles and slowly began to understand. But what of the official? At his level of English, it would be nearly impossible for him to educate himself about PPPs.
Why was this a problem? Because the country in question very desperately needed to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, inject new life into its healthcare system, and bring educational institutions to a higher level. Through PPPs, private sector could potentially contribute financing, managerial expertise and technical know-how to help government address these challenges. But since so few policymakers understood how PPPs worked, it would be hard to tap into these resources.
A recent learning trip to New Orleans by the East Asia and Pacific Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management team introduced the unique charms of this city to many of us for the first time. Anyone who has been to New Orleans will remember the city for its historic but lively French Quarter, its living jazz tradition, with bands of talented local musicians playing for tips in the narrow streets, its Mardi Gras floats, its Cajun food, the oldest continually operating streetcar system in the world, and the varied history of the city that has resulted in its distinct Creole culture. As Dave Roberts, a local tour guide, explains to tourists, this was where the classical music tradition of the French colonialists came into contact with the pulsating African rhythms of freed slaves escaping to Louisiana from Haiti. The fact that jazz music was consequently born in New Orleans “was not a coincidence,” he says. “Few things are.”
Everywhere we went in New Orleans, we heard painful stories of those who had lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But what was striking was the pride that the residents of New Orleans have in their city and their determination to rebuild it. As my colleague Artessa Saldivar-Sali describes, city officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers have dedicated themselves to strengthening the city’s defenses in order to ensure that the next time the city is hit, it is better prepared. Well-educated New Orleanians and outsiders have come to work at the city redevelopment authority, the disaster preparedness agency, and community-based affordable housing organizations. These are people who could easily abandon New Orleans for well-paid private sector jobs in other US cities but who have chosen instead to use their talents in aid of the poor and vulnerable and towards the greater good of their city.
For client countries of the World Bank, there is no shortage of interest in—or desire for—information on trade flows and market access. Improving trade performance is a critical component of many client countries’ development strategies, and trade data hold the key to understanding how countries are faring in the quest to eliminate trade barriers, increase competitiveness, and turn improved market access into actual trade flows.
But the trade data arena is large and complex, full of topical jargon, different nomenclatures and coding systems, availability constraints, and potentially complicated indicators. For newcomers, trade data navigation can be particularly challenging, which belies the immense value and richness in the wealth of information that has become available and accessible over the past few years.
Enter the World Integrated Trade Solution, or WITS.
One of the biggest bangs at the opening day of the Paris COP21 climate summit was without doubt the dual financing announcements by the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates and other high-net-worth individuals, and the Mission Innovation, whose signatory governments have committed to doubling their allocations to clean energy research. The two initiatives aim to increase financing for clean energy innovation, from the basic research stage, funded by governments, to commercialization of promising new technologies—with venture financing provided by private investors.
In developing countries, where many households and companies have very limited access to energy, new clean energy technologies will serve the dual purpose of expanding energy access and constraining carbon emissions. For this to happen, innovative thinking will be needed not only in the development of new technology, but also in financing the deployment of these technologies.
The two initiatives announced in Paris reflect the realization that carbon dioxide emissions would continue to rise even if every commitment to cut carbon emissions were fulfilled. By 2035, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere will already exceed the estimated levels required to maintain the internationally agreed 2 degrees Celsius limit. The development of new technologies will increase the options available to efficiently address climate change.