International Political Economy and Development

Corruption, Growth and Poverty

Posted in Economic Growth by DS on May 23, 2009

Originally posted at Poverty & Growth Blog of the World Bank.

The literature on corruption is large and growing. In this and upcoming Fridays Academy comments we will attempt to capture the essence of the arguments and provide some empirical evidence on the impact of corruption on growth and poverty reduction. Corruption, which includes bribery, rent-seeking, extortion, embezzlement, is perceived as a major problem facing many countries.  Corruption has therefore been variously defined to mean ‘the misuse of public office for private gain.’   This does not mean that there is no corruption in the private sector because this is quite common in (private) financial firms.  But, corruption is more severe in the public sector than in the private sector.  One of the first known articles on corruption and its punishment is in Kautilya’s Arthasastra (dating back to 14 BC).  Corruption is found to be closely inter-related with a country’s social norms, formal and informal rules and culture as well as legal environment in a country.  No matter what, corruption connotes illegal or improper (moral) behavior and is treated as a ‘socially and culturally deviant behavior.’  From political science point of view, high level of corruption coincides with political instability and tends to reduce citizen’s trust and faith in institutions.

Measurement of Corruption

Corruption is measured by perceptions index and is subject to victimization bias.  That is only aggrieved parties who suffered in such ‘illicit’ transactions speak out while the vast majority who benefited from giving and receiving bribes may not speak out or provide information.  Like black economy and capital flight, only indirect measures can be used. Firms may be paying bribes to officials to avoid legal problems or paying taxes or to hide their non-compliance with regulations.  Obviously, such transactions are not reported or recorded.  Also, different branches of government (Parliament, Executive, Judiciary, day to day administration) may have different degrees of corruption. The corruption perception index (CPI) of the Transparency International, the ‘control of corruption’ indicators of Kaufmann et al of the World Bank Institute,  the Business Environment and Enterprise Performance Survey (BEEPS, a World Bank survey of 26 countries on the extent of bribe payments in 1999), and the Bureaucratic Efficiency index are some of the attempts at measuring corruption.

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Policies to increase ICT usage in developed countries

Posted in ICT Policies, ICTs for Development by DS on May 21, 2009

Originally posted at ICTlogy.

Some conversations with Ricard Faura — head of the Knowledge Society Service at the Catalan Government — about my recent research have triggered some questions that need being clarified.

The following lines are a very simplified approach on what I think should be the design of public policies to foster ICT usage in a place like Catalonia or Spain, though it is my guess that it can be extrapolated to most developed countries facing similar problems like Spain’s.

Barriers for adoption

In general — and again, being really simplistic with the analysis — there are three main issues identified as a barrier for ICT adoption in Spain and a third issue that, unlike developing countries, it is identified as not being a barrier:

  • Age (and some would add gender) is a barrier: younger generations are way more online than older ones, being dramatic in elder people
  • Skills present a barrier too, as people do not feel confident, or even threatened, by Information and Telecommunication Technologies
  • Indeed, most people not using ICTs also state that they find them useless. Thus, utility and attitude are also a dire barrier and the one with a strongest trend.
  • Last, and in general terms, infrastructures and affordability are not a barrier or, at least, they are not stated as being as important as other reasons for lack of usage.

Critique

I believe that the previous barriers can be summed up in just one single barrier: lack of utility of ICTs, with a stress on lack of utility on being online.

This lack of utility can be explained in two ways:

  • A real lack of utility, mainly due to lack of digital content and services that fits one’s purposes, be them personal or professional: for leisure, for activism, for work, for training en education, for health, etc.
  • A perceived lack of utility, mainly due to lack of e-awareness and not knowing the benefits (or a real measure of the costs) that ICTs can bring to one’s life. This lack of e-awareness, of course, can be accompanied by the lack of several digital skills, which create a vicious circle: less digital skills, less e-awareness; and so.

What about age? I believe that youngsters — besides the fact that they find ICTs not technologies but something that was always there since they were born — have already found ICTs useful: they absolutely fit their needs in matters of education (the Internet is full of stuff) and in matters of socialization (the “communication” part of ICTs), which are the two main “occupations” of people under 16.

Policies

So. We’ve got digitally illiterate people and people that cannot find in the Internet anything worth being connected. What to do from the government?

Concerning utility, my own research shows that pull strategies are the ones that work. It’s absolutely coherent, on the other hand, with trying the Internet to make sense for unconnected people. More hardware or software or broadband will just put stress on the citizen to use something for “nothing at all”. In my opinion, policies should be threefold:

  • A high commitment to put public services and the dialogue government-citizenry online, by means of e-Administration and e-Government
  • Help the private sector not to have an online presence, but to go beyond and use the Internet for their transactions, with the government (G2B, a part also of the e-Administration strategy) and with their customers (B2B and B2C)
  • Last, but not least, empower the citizenry to bring relevant content and debate online. Citizen organizations (political parties, NGOs, neighbourhood associations, patient associations, foundations, clubs, etc.) would be my pick as huge impact collectives which to begin with, as they’ll have manifest multiplier effects by pulling other citizens towards the use of ICTs.

Concerning skills, there three groups of evidences that are worth being remembered:

  • People with digital skills are more likely to be more productive and, hence, to earn higher wages. On the other hand, lack of digital skills is likely to reduce employability.
  • People with digital skills go more online and happen to meet more people, which improves both their social engagement (and self-esteem and so) and their professional opportunities.
  • Digital skills are, by far, acquired on an autodidact basis or, in the best cases, on a P2P basis (family, friends, colleagues). Formal training in digital skills is only partially present in schools and is rare past school age.

That said, and again in my opinion, policies should be threefold:

  • Urgently mainstream ICTs — in a very broad and intensive sense — in curricula and syllabuses. This mainstreaming should be based in two approaches: (1) training for trainers and (2) embedding ICT practices in the overall learning process (i.e. not just bound to the computing subject or classroom — though I’m neither saying students should forget about pencil and paper)
  • A proactive public strategy aimed to people out of the educational system to catch up with these skills, by means of telecenters and libraries (and other points of access), subsidised courses in computing academies, etc.
  • A joint strategy with the private sector to do alike in their in-company training programmes. The public sector could provide training for decision-takers to raise their e-awareness and even help with funding in-company digital skills programmes. But, the private sector should be committed enough, as the benefits are evident and would sooner or later positively impact the firm with higher productivity rates.

Summing up

I honestly think that pull policies to trigger demand (trigger, not contribute to the aggregate demand with direct expenditure) would, sooner or later, trigger to a demand for training in digital skills, which implicitly states in which order I’d be setting these policies.

These what-to-do-policies also, by construction, set aside the what-not-to-do-policies. If we keep in mind we’re talking about (digitally) developed countries and their characteristics, policies not to foster are mainly those aimed at subsidising hardware or connectivity in any way, or fostering the creation and expansion of infrastructures and carriers without anything to be carried on. Static and eminently informational public or corporate websites fully fit in this category; and also fits in this category the creation of content with no further purpose or strategy of usage behind.

Some bibliography

enter (2007). Inhibidores de uso de las TIC en la sociedad española. Madrid: Instituto de Empresa. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.enter.es/enter/mybox/cms//1379
Ficapal, P. & Torrent i Sellens, J. (2008). “Los Recursos Humanos en la Empresa Red”. In Torrent i Sellens, J. et al. La Empresa Red. Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación, Productividad y Competitividad, Capítulo 6, 287-350. Barcelona: Ariel.
Fundació Observatori per a la Societat de la Informació de Catalunya (2007). Pla de Màrqueting de la Societat de la Informació. Barcelona: FOBSIC. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.fobsic.net/opencms/export/sites/fobsic_site/ca/Documentos/Escletxa_Digital/Pla_de_Mxrqueting_-_versix_per_a_difusix.pdf
Peña-López, I. (2008). Estudiantes digitales, instituciones analógicas, profesores en extinción. Conference imparted in Barcelona, May 22th, 2008 at the bdigital Global Conference. Barcelona: ICTlogy. Retrieved May 13, 2008 from http://ictlogy.net/presentations/20080522_ismael_pena-lopez_estudiantes_digitales_instituciones_analogicas.pdf
Peña-López, I. (2009). Measuring digital development for policy-making: Models, stages, characteristics and causes. The role of the government. Seminar in the framework of the Internet, Law and Political science research seminar series. Barcelona, 14th May 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy. Retrieved May 18, 2009 from http://ictlogy.net/presentations/20090514_ismael_pena-lopez_-_measuring_digital_development_role_of_government.pdf
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Internet Users in Africa

Posted in Economic Growth, ICTs for Development by DS on May 20, 2009

Africa is lagging behind far more than any other continent on Internet usage. There are so many reasons for the low number of Internet users such as poor infrastructure, low economic growth, low incomes and of course other priorities which deserve more priority than the Internet. While we are spoiled with the high speeds of Internet in the developed countries (I have been watching all my favorite TV channels online), it is still luxury to send an e-mail in Africa even in the companies and international organizations. I was in Ethiopia in February 2009 and noticed from first hand how even my colleagues at the UN ECA (UN Economic Commission for Africa) suffer with the Internet connection.

Let’s start rolling the ball and look at the number of total Internet users in Top 10 countries in Africa:

africa2009top

Egypt with a population of around 82 million and 10.5 million Internet users tops the list (12.4% of the population uses Internet). Nigeria follows Egypt with 10 million Internet users. However, the percentage is nearly half of Egypt in Nigeria, with population of 146 million, roughly 6.8% of the population uses Internet in Nigeria. On the other hand,19.2% and 27% of the population uses Internet in Morocco and Tunisia respectively. These are one of the highest percentages if we do not take into account some of the small states such as Seychelles and Mauritius. For the complete list of figures, you can check http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm.

When we compare the total number of Internet users in Africa to the rest of the world, we see that how little the usage is in this continent:

africa2009pie

africa2009pr

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As prices fall internationally, developing countries still face high food costs

Posted in Agriculture and Development, ICTs for Development by DS on May 16, 2009

Originally posted at East Asia & Pacific Blog of the World Bank.

A little more than a month ago, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) introduced a database tool and a press release highlighting a rather disconcerting trend. As the global economic crisis worsened, food prices have fallen at an international level. But, surprisingly, the cost of food has not dropped at the same rate, or at all, in poor developing countries, according the FAO.

The new online tool allows for anyone to easily keep track of food prices in 55 developing countries, comparing the data on both domestic and international levels and tracking change over time. In East Asia, the tool includes data from China, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

I am struck that the release of this data seems to be the first time I’ve heard of this trend. And apparently, even the experts aren’t sure what is causing food prices to stay high for those who can least afford it. On his blog, Oxfam’s Duncan Green quoted FAO’s Henri Josserand:

“The reasons for this ‘stickiness’ are not fully understood at this time. We hypothesize that there are several factors, possibly interacting in complex way. So far, we have not found any set of explanatory variables that apply to the whole sample. Actually, we are pretty sure that understanding the reasons will require in-depth analysis at the national or regional levels.”

FAO says it hopes the database will provide information for “policy and decision-makers in agricultural production and trade, development and also humanitarian work.” Hopefully, this database will help bring attention to high prices and food shortages in the places that can least afford them.

Gender Evaluation for Social Change

Posted in Gender and Development by DS on May 16, 2009

Originally posted at ICTlogy.

Why gender evaluation? Evidence showed that ICT4D did not integrate gender considerations, though evidence also shows that effectiveness and impact of development projects increases if gender is integrated in design, planning and evaluation.

Gender Evaluation Methodology

Based on participatory action research.

  • Testing and development of a gender evaluation tool for ICT4D projects: teleworking, ICT training projects, telecenters, etc.
  • Capacity building in gender evaluation: telecenters, rural ICT projects, ICT policy processes and localization (of content)

Findings and challenges

  • a gap in capacity for analysis and evaluation of gender-based inequalities
  • weak focus on gender in project design, implementatoin and policy formulation
  • how to develop evaluative thinking about gender and ICT4D, and use it to shape new gender practices within the ICT4D sector? how to make it in a participatory action research framework?

How gender makes a difference in ICT4D and access to the Information Society:

  • Comparative access to infrastructures by women and men are determined by income levels
  • Capacity affected by literacy and education levels
  • Services affected by relevance of service, mobility, safety issues
  • Governance affected by opportunities for participation in policy processes

These aspects have to be taken into consideration if one is to design an ICT4D project in a specific place. The design of this project will sensibly be different depending on how gender is affecting the former issues.

But gender is not only about “women issues”, but also about social and cultural variables, how do the interplay of these variables impact on women and men.

The Pallitathya model

The Pallitathya help line Blangladesh center is a help desk service which consists in five basic components:

  • local content
  • multiple channels of information and knowledge sharing
  • intermediation or infomediation, human interface between information and knowledge-base
  • ownership
  • mobilisation and marketing

This project’s desing helped women with specific queries (related to gender) or with lower literacy rates to reach a knowledge that, had the ICt4D project been designed in a different way, they would most probably have missed.

Philippine Community e-Centers

Telecenters in peri-urban areas. Though in absolute terms there were not much difference in usage rates amongst women and men, difference could be seen in how the telecenters were used and what values they assigned to them. For instance, women used the telecenters as ways to meet people, as ways to socialize. There were also differences in patterns of access and utilization in relation to age, education and income.

Fantsuam’s Zittnet Service — Nigeria’s first Community Wireless Network

To increase female uptake of the Internet, especially in rural areas.

Coverage of signal was not the issue, but hardware and high costs of bandwidth. Still, even if coverage was good, women had to travel to the centers, and this was a barrier for uptake, as also was low literacy levels.

Maybe it’s not about a wireless network, but embedding this project into a wider one aimed to reduce poverty by supporting rural female farmers. Besides, there is a clear preference towards voice communication over written, and SMS over the Internet.

SOS SMS

In distressful situations, women can send an SMS that is received by 5 institutions. Besides reporting of harassment and direct action by the authorities, these messages can be aggregated and thus infer patterns and profiles where harassment and distress are more likely to happen.

Why ICT4D (for women)?

  • ICTs can provide access to resources and contribution to income, knowledge, etc.
  • Indirect impact of ICT4D and access to income, knowledge, education, etc. on self-confidence and self-esteem. ICT4Ds have an impact on empowerment, in changing relationships, in agency.
  • Emergence of new roles (of women).
  • Changes in relationships

Why gender evaluation in ICT4D?

  • Evidence of change in gender roles and relations can be used for more gender sensitive policies and programmes.
  • Evaluations contribute to developing benchmarks and indicators for gender equality in ICT
  • Developing capacity in gender evaluation (and gender planning) is a key contributing factor in mainstreaming gender in ICT for development

Q & A

Q: What’s the general procedure for such projects? A: There are mentors that capacitate evaluation facilitators through workshops, and then an evaluation plan is developed together with all the members of the partnership working on the project. Online spaces are created (e.g. with Ning) to support interaction and network creation.

Assumpció Guasch: It’s easier to work about gender evaluation if the promoters — especially governments — of ICT4D projects already have some gender awareness. Another issue is knowing the ICT Sector and the Industry, what’s the legal framework they’re facing. And it is also important knowing what are the technological issues that are crucial in these projects.

Q: How important is the role of capacity building? How is sustainability dealt with in gender projects? A: To be able to have some impact, capacity has to be built. As part of the capacity building strategy, handbooks and toolkits are built so that a certain levels of capacity and impact can be achieved quickly. Empowerment is, arguably, a measure of sustainability, as the more empowered the people the more self-replicable the model. But projects are not that easy to translate from one place to another.

Cecilia Castaño: Besides direct, action and empowerment, a gender focus has also some other derivatives: a sense of listening to “unheard” people, creating community and raising awareness about gender.

Comment: mobiles vs. Internet? People like Barry Wellman state that mobile phones help strengthening the strong ties (e.g. family), while the Internet helps broadening your network of weak ties.

Ismael Peña-López: can the Gender Evaluation Methodology be transposed to other collectives (e.g. immigrants, lower income collectives, etc.) so that to better design ICT4D projects? I guess that in gender-based projects there is a part that is strictly related to gender, but another part that deals with identifying and managing inequality and difference. Inasmuch there is a “managing the difference” issue, I wonder whether some gender-based projects could be just slightly adapted to identify and improve other projects aimed to bride other “differences”: educational, income, etc. Methodology, handbooks and toolkits, etc. could be then split in two parts: identifying, managing and evaluating the differential factor; and then focusing in the specific differential factor: gender, education, age, income, disabilities…

A: Gender is not only man vs. men but is much more complex: education, income, etc. So, it really makes sense to address the gender issue in itself. A gender approach does not mean that the project is focused towards the e-development of women, but just trying to include a new variable in the project. And there’s gender everywhere, so it maybe does not make a lot of sense thinking about “taking gender out” of the equation.

Assumpció Guasch: some projects in Extremadura (Spain) have tried to apply gender methodologies into e.g. age issues. The difference between gender and other issues is the pervasiveness of the former.

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Urbanization and Growth

Posted in Population and Development by DS on May 16, 2009

Originally posted at WorldBank Poverty and Growth Blog.

Urbanization is increasing at a rapid pace. Between 2005 and 2030, the world’s urban population is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.78 per cent, almost twice the growth rate of the world’s total population. The proportion of people living in rural areas will shrink significantly after 2015. While increasing urbanization has led to greater per capita incomes and productivity, at the same time, it has led to increasing informal sector, greater urban poverty, increasing number of slums, scarcity of housing, spiraling urban real estate prices, and inadequate infrastructure facilities. Given this phenomenon of economic concentration in one area and spatial disparities elsewhere, the key issue is “should rural labor move to jobs or should jobs move to rural areas?”  Finance and labor do not automatically move towards poorer areas. Available evidence from across the world suggests that policy makers should strive to remove impediments to capital and labor flows and reinforce agglomeration economies.  This can be done by policy makers encouraging labor movement by abolishing national minimum wages, cutting unemployment benefits and social benefits, and abolishing rent control to increase supply of housing.  Similarly, improving business climate, increasing access to finance, including microfinance and availability of credit to small enterprises, and developing infrastructure services before firms move in, are likely to affect the decisions of firms in location of their productive activities.  Strengthening the capacity of provincial and local governments in provision of essential services would be key to reduce economic concentration and spatial disparities.

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals means addressing these development issues in cities. Urban planning is now not a luxury, but a necessity. The Commission of Growth and Development succinctly summarizes the urbanization process by noting that “If history is any guide, large-scale migration to the cities is part and parcel of the transformation economies must go through if they are to grow quickly…..Ultimately a successful city will need urban planning, building codes, and robust property rights. It will need drainage, sewerage, rapid transit, and a sophisticated financial system capable of mobilizing the funds for these. But accumulating this infrastructure, expertise, and sophistication takes time. Governments should avail themselves of whatever shortcuts they can find, including the experience and expertise of other cities that have gone through this turmoil before them”.

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