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Small States Confront Big Challenges with Natural Disasters and Climate Change

2019-03-26T13:53:30-04:00December 22, 2016|

taozhangBy Tao Zhang

Versions in 中文 (Chinese), and Français (French)

Small states are far more vulnerable than other countries to natural disasters and climate change. On average, the annual cost of disasters for small states (economies with a population of less than 1.5 million) is more than four times that for larger countries, in relation to GDP. These countries—whether landlocked nations or small island states—need a range of approaches to deal with catastrophe, including not only better disaster response but also more focus on risk reduction and preparedness. (more…)

Make the Most of What You’ve Got: Small States in the Spotlight

2017-04-15T13:55:23-04:00April 1, 2013|

Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

The economies of small states have unique features. They have relatively higher costs, higher public spending needs, and more volatile economies. And their growth has not matched the improved economic performance of the rest of the world since the late 1990s, despite their many efforts over the years. We wanted a better grasp of why this is so we can better tailor our advice and support. Here is what we found.

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Digital Solutions for Small Businesses in the Middle East and North Africa

2020-09-22T13:45:41-04:00September 22, 2020|

By Inutu Lukonga

عربي, Français

Small and medium-sized enterprises dominate the business landscape in the Middle East and North Africa region. These enterprises account for more than 90 percent of the region’s businesses and, in some countries, contribute as much as 50 percent of employment and 70 percent of GDP.

Yet they face impediments to growth, and their contribution to employment is below potential. In much of the region, small and medium-sized enterprises are handicapped by limited access to credit, unfavorable business environments, and talent gaps.

Digital technologies present new opportunities for these businesses to achieve faster growth. Emerging technologies and broadband internet can facilitate operational efficiencies, innovation, access to markets and finance, and can enable firms to operate remotely during lockdowns. The flexibility of remote working can help integrate women and youth in the labor market.

But so far, small and medium-sized enterprises in the region have been slow to embrace digital technologies and e-commerce, and businesses trail governments and consumers in internet usage.

As consumers rapidly shift to online shopping and increasingly prefer rapid and convenient services, smaller businesses will need to adopt digital solutions to remain competitive and survive.

Because small and medium-sized enterprises hold the key to employment generation, governments can help expedite their digital transformation by developing and implementing national strategies that address both supply and demand constraints standing in the way of digitalization.

On the supply side, priority should be given to removing barriers to competition and increasing investment in information and communications technology to ensure universal access to affordable high-speed internet. Currently, while all countries have easy access to international fiber optic networks, many maintain barriers to entry such as government monopolies or restrictions on foreign participation and network peering. These, coupled with high capital investment requirements, have slowed deployment of advanced network technologies and internet exchange points. Apart from the Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (GCC), many countries have limited access to high speed broadband internet, and internet services are often slow, unreliable, and unaffordable, constraining use of the internet for business creation.

Educational and labor market reforms are needed to reduce the digital skill gaps. Digital skills are in short supply across the Middle East and North Africa region and some countries with high levels of digital expertise, such as Lebanon and Egypt, sometimes suffer brain drain to higher income countries, including the GCC. Mandating science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and providing technical and vocational education and training through public-private partnerships can increase supply of tech skills in the medium term. At the same time, easing labor restrictions to facilitate expatriates in highly technical areas can reduce the skill gaps in the near term.

Reforms are also needed to improve E-commerce logistics and reliability of electricity, without which the Internet cannot function. Deficiencies in E-commerce logistics—unified address systems, area codes, postal service, land and customs clearance—currently delay delivery and increase costs for online trading.

Regulatory and other reforms are also essential to facilitate development of digital financial infrastructures. Digital financial services currently do not provide a strong foundation for digital transformation as the infrastructure and instruments for accepting electronic payments—such as point-of-sale terminals, credit and debit cards—have limited penetration, and payment systems are mostly not interoperable.

Digitalization of government services and procurement can incentivize small and medium-sized enterprises to follow suit given the significant size of the public sector in most countries and the pervasiveness of making payments to, or receiving payments from, governments.

On the demand side, the digital usage gap—the disparity between people who live in areas covered by broadband but who are not using internet—is several times the coverage gap. This suggests that demand is being constrained for reasons other than the non-availability of internet access.

To increase demand for digital services, governments should develop digital literacy and awareness programs as well as foster consumer trust by strengthening frameworks for cybersecurity, digital identification, data privacy, and consumer protection. Across the region, consumers reportedly do not trust websites to handle their information and are unaware of their consumer rights. In some countries, consumers are not well equipped to adopt digital solutions as large segments of the populations are not connected to the internet and are unbanked. In parts of the region, including North Africa and Iran, ownership of smartphones and other internet-enabled devices is below the global average.

Finally, for digital benefits to materialize, the digital strategy must be underpinned by financial sector and business environment reforms, particularly strengthening financial infrastructures—credit registries and bureaus, modernized bankruptcy laws, collateral registries—and business support, all of which will help SMEs access credit.

Mapping Income Polarization in the United States

2019-03-14T11:50:22-04:00May 15, 2018|

By Ali Alichi and Rodrigo Mariscal

May 15, 2018

Versions in EspañolPortuguês

Investment in education an important countervailing force in addressing income inequality (photo: Istock by Getty Images).

When it comes to income inequality among American households, outcomes have varied widely across the 50 U.S. states.  The impact of international competition gets a lot of the blame, along with automation, in states that have fared the worst. (more…)

Securitization: Restore Credit Flow to Revive Europe’s Small Businesses

2019-03-27T17:28:01-04:00May 7, 2015|

By Shekhar Aiyar, Bergljot Barkbu, and Andreas (Andy) Jobst

If financing is the lifeblood of European small businesses, then the effect of the financial crisis was similar to a cardiac arrest. The flow of affordable credit from banks was choked off and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were hit hardest. Today, with bank lending still recovering from that shock, smart policy actions could open up securitization as a source of financing to help small businesses start up, flourish and grow.

SMEs are vital to the European economy. They account for 99 out of every 100 businesses, two in every three employees, and 58 cents of each euro of value added of the business sector in Europe. Improving access to finance would therefore not only revive small businesses, but also support a strong and lasting recovery for Europe as a whole.

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More Jobs That Pay Decent Wages: How To Fight Poverty In The United States

2017-04-14T01:55:33-04:00August 28, 2014|

Deniz IganBy Deniz Igan 

(Version in Español)

Something unusual happened this year. For the first time in almost ten years, a book by an economist made it to Amazon’s Top 10 list. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century captured the attention of people from all walks of life because it echoed what an increasing number of Americans have been feeling: the rich keep getting richer and poverty in America is a mainstream problem. 

The numbers illustrate the troubling reality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 6 Americans—almost 50 million people—are living in poverty. Recent research documents that nearly 40 percent of American adults will spend at least one year in poverty by the time they reach 60. During 1968–2000, the risk was less than 20 percent. More devastatingly, 1 in 5 children currently live in poverty and, during their childhood, roughly 1 in 3 Americans will spend at least one year living below the poverty line.

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United States: How Inequality Affects Saving Behavior

2017-04-15T14:03:39-04:00September 13, 2012|

By Oya Celasun

(Version in Español)

The incomes of U.S. households have become more unevenly distributed over the past three decades. For example, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that after-tax income almost tripled for the top 1 percent of households between 1980 and 2007, but grew only 22 percent for the bottom 20 percent.

Recent research has focused on the link between income inequality and growth, but less attention has been paid to the link between inequality and savings. So together with a few colleagues we have looked at how income distribution is linked to saving behavior.

Saving rates matter because they are an important factor for the U.S. economic outlook. The decline in the saving rate in the years leading up to the crisis (from 10 percent of after-tax income in 1980 to 1.5 percent in 2005) is the mirror image of the unsustainable boom in consumer spending during the bubble years.

Following the crisis, sharp losses in the values of houses and financial assets, as well as difficulties in obtaining new credit, forced American families to save more and rebuild their wealth. The ensuing rise in the saving rate, which stood at 4 percent in the second quarter of 2012, has been an important reason why the recovery from the 2008–09 recession has been sluggish.

Therefore, our study looked at which types of households drove the aggregate saving rate down before the crisis and those that drove it up afterwards, so as to improve our ability to assess the potential for future U.S. growth.

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