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Are We Living The Most Prosperous And Peaceful Times In Recorded History?

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The Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017 is being launched at a time of rising income inequality, mounting social and political tensions, and a general feeling of uncertainty about the future.

Growth remains persistently low: commodity prices have fallen, as has trade; external imbalances are increasing; and government finances are stressed. However, it also comes during one of the most prosperous and peaceful times in recorded history, with less disease, poverty, and violent conflict than ever before.

Against this backdrop of seeming contradictions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings both unprecedented opportunity and an accelerated speed of change. Creating the conditions necessary to reignite growth could not be more urgent.

The Report this year is the latest edition of the Forum’s longstanding cross-country benchmarking analysis of the factors and institutions that determine long-term growth and prosperity.

Incentivizing innovation is especially important for finding new growth engines, but laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth requires working on all factors and institutions identified in the Global Competitiveness Index.

Leveraging the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require not only businesses willing and able to innovate, but also sound institutions, both public and private; basic infrastructure, health, and education; macroeconomic stability; and well-functioning labor, financial, and human capital markets.

Although there is broad consensus on the importance of the factors currently measured in the Index, we are undertaking a review process that seeks to understand the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on measures of productivity and the drivers of growth.

In the second chapter of this Report, we present our thinking regarding the potential future structure of the Index, building on consultations with experts on each pillar under the thought leadership of our main academic advisor, Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martín.

It explores new ways of assessing innovation, human capital, and competitiveness at different stages of development, as well as our latest thinking on how our benchmarking tools can be used for policy prioritization.

We face a large challenge—how to build a more prosperous and inclusive world for all. As a flagship effort of the Forum’s System Initiative on Economic Growth and Social Inclusion, The Global Competitiveness Report serves as a tool for public-private collaboration on long-term competitiveness agendas contributing to this objective.

As well as the thought leadership of Professor Sala-i-Martín, The Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017 has benefited from the dedication and collaboration of 160 Partner Institutes worldwide.

We would like to convey our appreciation to all the business executives who respond to our Executive Opinion Survey, one of the unique components of the Index.

Appreciation also goes to Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, who developed the original concept back in 1979; Jennifer Blanke, Chief Economist; Margareta Drzeniek Hanouz, Head of Global Competitiveness and Risks; and team members Silja Baller, Attilio Di Battista, Ciara Browne, Roberto Crotti, Caroline Galvan, Thierry Geiger, Daniel Gómez Gaviria, Gaëlle Marti, and Stéphanie Verin.

RICHARD SAMANS is Head of the Centre for the Global Agenda and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.

Full report below

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Opinions

Why Should You Support Local Brands?

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This week in Singapore, the Woke Salaryman put out one of the best explainers on what it means for Singaporeans to support local products and services.

In a series of cartoons (sponsored in collaboration with the office behind Made with Passion), the online media publisher took aim at the flaws of local brands being entitled to support from the local consumers.

The case study was a hypothetical small side-hustle of baking and selling cookies – incidentally an activity that became an obsession for many during last year’s lockdown. (So perhaps, not hypothetical.)

Even though the cookies might have tasted like cardboard, out of friendship, the baker is told that the cookies taste great. Pleased, he continues to give away his baked goods. His stoic friends soldier on, receiving them with forced smiles.

This cookie-monster situation escalates. Warming to these half-baked compliments, the baker decides to quit his job to start a cookie business.

“Naturally, other people won’t buy your friends’ cookies. Eventually, your friend is forced to shut down the bakery, losing their initial investment and lots of time,” the cartoon said.

Asking for support

It also pointed out that “supporting local” is falsely used as guilt-tripping to buy local products, even if they turn out to be inferior.

A quick scan on social media and online shopping platforms also revealed some shops that asked for support on the basis that they are a “local brand”, even though their products are largely commoditised and in some cases, off Taobao.

It was just over lunch this week that a new acquaintance and I spent some time discussing the ill-fit from designs of a well-known local clothing store. In the end, we pointed out, we’ve lost hope that the clothings’ fit would ever be reliable. Over time, that “local brand” support wears off.

The cartoon points out that instead, honest feedback would help local brands stay competitive. In the long run, our local brands become more valuable.

It was a simple presentation, but it offered much to chew on.

This is a simple lesson on business: before starting a new venture, does the proposed product or service address a large-enough demand to justify the investments and the ensuing risks? Is it good enough?

To get there, that trusted inner circle of feedback counts. But if familiarity bias takes over, a budding entrepreneur doesn’t get the hard truth needed to set business goals in order.

Accurate feedback

This is a natural conflict. Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at Wharton School of Business, notes that while romantic partners and close friends might be more informed about who you are, “they share that pesky desire to see you positively”. (He suggested that colleagues are better at accurate feedback, because they are motivated to see you accurately.)

There is, though, a counterpoint to this. Sometimes in Singapore, a country that is so small and often unforgiving, perhaps we have also given ourselves too slim a margin for error.

What the cartoon depicted was true, but how can businesses then act on honest feedback? What’s helpful is a community – including customers – where small business owners can bounce off ideas on how to improve a product or service, or to execute a strategy. But while there are small communities that have popped up among small entrepreneurs, the rise of the influencer business has also meant some gaming of “likes” among local brands to drum up interest.

How far this artificial inflation of fancy for local brands will go – and the full cost of this – is yet unknown. It is a pity – the bigger benefit to having such a community should be in the more tangible things: refining business plans, sharing ways to grow the brand as success attracts competition, cross-selling, or tackling a new customer base together. Singapore brands should fly the flag, together, but with the right intentions. And we have brands that we can be proud of – we also want more of them.

Singapore brands can be build on the country’s unique selling points to create a niche product. “Perhaps one day we will see Singapore culture being exported as a product that is in demand all around the world, like K-Pop, anime, American TV, etc,” the cartoon points out. “Until then, we have to be honest to our local brands so that they can fulfil their true potential. Because (to) ‘support local’ is a choice, not a rule.”

Which brings us back to the implicit point behind the cartoon. Perhaps what is better to bring together – and hold on to – as a Singapore brand identity is the one that focuses on quality and standards.

In valuing this ethos, a budding entrepreneur is dignified by any negative feedback he receives on his product or service. It cuts out the favourable home bias that threatens the survival of a local business. And this, combined with a vibrant, authentic community for small businesses, might alleviate some of that risk inherent in entrepreneurs starting out on their own in a small market.

None of this is easy. But the truth is, the path of least resistance is rarely the best one.

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Do We Have A Politician In The Person Of Dr. Kayumba?

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My friend Dr. Christopher Kayumba has caught me by surprise. All along he had presidential ambitions? I will find time to discuss with him broadly about his “serious” political ambitions: Ambitions to lead us!

I don’t know why he kept this immense ambition from me. I guess I did not qualify to have privy to “top secret”. Maybe I was gullible and naïve. Either way, I am in awe: a pure sublime moment.   

For now, I want to digest a press release he issued, Tuesday March 16, 2020.  Kayumba, announced the formation of the Rwandese Platform for Democracy (RPD).

He said this is a “forum to advance, promote and contribute to the development of a freer; democratic; secure; sustainably peaceful and developed Rwanda.” He didn’t mention his fellow founding members, but promised to do so in future. I hope that future is near.

Kayumba’s formation of RPD, is, he clarified, “necessitated by unattended to weaknesses in our social, economic, and political system revealed by COVID-19 and deeper problems of widespread poverty and inequality, injustice, historical cycles of armed violence that continue to plague our nation especially originating from groups based in the DRC, the lack of Individual and media freedom, as well as endless exiles all of which have, for many years anchored our county’s continued underdevelopment.” To quote him just in part.

In ink, all his ideas are good, well-articulated. Anyone would expect a person with a Doctorate to express their views, good or bad, without ambiguity.  But I have some questions, concerns and observations to make. I will combine them in five points.

One: Now that Kayumba has declared Presidential ambitions, he has presented himself for unavoidable immense public scrutiny regarding i) his credibility ii) his ability, iii) his background, iv) and his real motivation. How and why? If he manages to mobilise a constituency that buys into his ideas, what will precede is assessing whether we have a politician in the person of Kayumba who can be considered by the public as a trusted servant.

He has a myriad allegation of sexual assault including one against his former student at the University of Rwanda. He served a one-year prison sentence for a felony committed. He has a long list of other offences, including public nuisance or tort of law. Will he survive all these ailments? Won’t he be hanged by the court of public opinion? I hope he expects to be judged, attacked, and criticised as duly. How he manages to impugn from this net of bugs remains to be seen. It would be unexpected that, anyone with the caliber of Dr. Kayumba is not knowledgeable enough to understand that those malaises are recipes for the assassination of political ambition of any aspirant from the word go.

Two: By law, a convict who has served a jail sentence of more than six months, according to the Rwandan Constitution, is prohibited from holding a public office. How will Kayumba escape this axe? He knows better, presumably.

Three: Kayumba is an intellectual, a political analyst, and has welded fame through his pen. One time he told me that when people ask him how he earns a living, he responds: “I earn from thinking.” Equipped with his academic credentials, and access to a resourceful network of people in power, security, academia, business and foreign offices that provides him with informed orientation on political dynamics, one would conclude that he can make vital contributions to society only if he had discipline.  Question is, can Kayumba be rehabilitated and what would it take or he should expect the public to ignore the facts, and trade his credibility for his ability? I will pose this to him.

Four: Kayumba recently wrote two letters to the President. The contents of the letters were markedly contradictory, but raised some fundamental challenges of the contemporary Rwanda. He also accused Kagame’s government of very serious crimes and policy oversights. It was an ugly package. The ordinary folks on the streets whom he assumably spoke for did not know about it. Those who read it, did not give much fuss, but they did casually discuss it because some of its content merited a debate. The intended ignored him, so did the President.  This might have rubbed Kayumba the wrong way. For observes, Kayumba known for harbouring an attitude and an ego that disarms his ability to admit he can honourably go wrong. “He is a disgruntled man,” a political pundit told me. “He needs attention,” another said, but it’s this that left me in stitches: “A drowning man will hold onto a snake.”

Finally, and on a serious note, Kayumba has invited something unpleasant. Take any dimension and you will not find a convincing pointer. His links with a foreign country promising to bankroll his political ambitions. “This is a very dangerous snack, Dr.!” I imagined my opening line when I finally talk to him. For so many times Kayumba lectured me about patriotism and ‘Ubukotanyi,”. I had never imagined he would accept to be financed and supported by a foreign state for they would be meddling with our internal politics, an act that has almost made some countries go to war. I will divulge details of this allegation against him after speaking to him.

I want him to be the first person to hear from me about these details. But this will be an interesting discussion because he never had light words for Dr. Frank Habineza, founder and chairman of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, weeks before he ran for President. Not only did he question his Doctoral authenticity, but also his source of financing and his ability to mobilise a sound constituency. Habineza must be sending him winking emojis via WhatsApp!

I will leave a disclaimer. There is tendency to blackmail critics and those who hold a divergent view, a culture Kayumba himself mentions in his political brochure. I can categorically state that I never betray my friends, but I too don’t pledge allegiance to people we fundamentally disagree on matters as strong as those Kayumba has declared and is getting involved in. Never!

Nevertheless, no one should be stopped from being ambitious. Let the times and circumstances be Kayumba’s judge, I believe.

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Business

Building A Better Normal: Inclusive And Green Economies

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When I saluted friends and colleagues at the beginning of last year and extended New Year wishes for a great start into the “Golden Twenties”, I was making reference to the 1920s in Germany, more broadly referred to in the western world as the “Roaring Twenties”. This was a time of profound societal, cultural and economic advances following World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic. The ground-breaking transformations of that decade were made possible by the evolution of liberal values and the power of modern technology.

A century later, when I said, “Happy New Year”, I had no idea that 2020 would go down in history as the year of lockdowns, recession and mass unemployment. Since then, there is hardly a country or person on the planet who has not been affected by this crisis.

Early into the COVID-19 outbreak, global opinion leaders were quick to define events as the “new normal”, signaling that the return of daily life and circumstances would never be the same again. Such language reflects the human need to deal with absolute unknowns by regaining at least some control and – most importantly – hope when insecurity was at its peak. From here, we moved quickly towards focusing on the opportunities presented by the crisis with regulators, corporate decisionmakers and strategists committing to “building back better”. Declaring that the crisis should not be wasted became a mainstay in agenda-setting language, allowing the concept of a reset to suddenly become popular.

But how can financial policymakers and regulators leverage the potential gains in front of us to manage or cushion the unintended consequences of a crisis in a concrete, practical and feasible way?

Despite existing opportunities, the economic and social realities we are living in are highly problematic. As the pandemic generates shockwave after shockwave, we must not forget those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who are a hospital bill away from falling into poverty and for whom the economic slowdown means less income and mounting debt. Vulnerable groups are rapidly increasing in number with neither solid safety net to fall back on nor financial resilience.

Silver lining of opportunities

COVID-19 has already been a major setback for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the economic crisis that has been developing alongside the ongoing health emergency is not only intensifying existing inequalities in the developed world, but also threatening to set back decades of economic growth and poverty reduction in emerging and developing economies.

In the short term, growth contraction will be most severe in the developed world. In the medium and long term, the COVID-19 impact will be much more critical for emerging and developing economies.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), countries such as the Philippines, India, Mexico, Argentina and Nigeria are at the top of the list of most affected countries with growth projected to shrink by up to 13 percent until 2025. IMF forecasts that declining economic growth will further reduce household incomes of the most vulnerable segments, such as women and less-skilled workers, who are disproportionately represented in the informal economic sector and currently face the brunt of the negative impact of the pandemic. As a result, the gains made in financial, economic and social inclusion we have seen over the last years are at risk.

Furthermore, national and international political processes and decision-making mechanisms remain complex, while trends towards isolationism and nationalism that emerged before the crisis do not seem easily reversed. This was also indicated in the way that COVID-19 was handled by decisionmakers in different regions around the world.

However, what we have learned and achieved over the past decade gives us hope and belief that we can master the outcomes of this crisis. These lessons should be preserved and not wasted, providing a silver lining of opportunities to tame any negative effects on our hard-won gains in inclusion.

Global convergence on financial inclusion

First, one of the most relevant lessons from the 2007-2008 financial crisis was that financial inclusion is among the few practical solutions that can have a substantive impact in strengthening the economic resilience of vulnerable groups and catalyzing economic recovery. We learned that even a simple financial service, such as a mobile money account, can make a huge difference in a poor person’s life.

Over the past decade, financial inclusion has moved into the mainstream of growth and employment, monetary and financial stability, and financial integrity. Global convergence in this space has brought a shared understanding that financial inclusion embraces the provision of safe, sound and sustainable financial services for all. It also includes cutting-edge financial technology (FinTech) policy and regulatory solutions. Resonating with both developing and developed countries alike and breaking traditional distinctions across jurisdictions around the globe, these solutions and policies are designed to respond to major, emerging, public policy challenges such as cybersecurity, systems interdependencies, consumer data management and effective consumer protection.

Although the crisis brought about by the pandemic is different from the global financial crisis, it provides relevant background and experiences for a smart design of policy and regulatory responses. This knowledge could mitigate the immediate, negative socio-economic outcomes of the crisis and facilitate a smooth recovery of hard-hit economies by reinforcing sustainable financial inclusion initiatives.

Leapfrogging

Second, we have learned about innovative policies that allow for and accelerate technological leapfrogging. Emerging markets have shown that deploying technology in a transformative manner permits the rapid emergence of mobile money and digital payments ecosystems beyond conventional banking. For example, Ghana increased the ownership of mobile money accounts (age 15+) to 40 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2014. During the same period, female (15+) mobile money account ownership increased to 34 percent from 12 percent.The advancing digital payments infrastructure enabled effective policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The use of digital payment and electronic money significantly increased after the outbreak and during the lockdown. Within a year, between October 2019 and October 2020, the total value of mobile money transactions has almost doubled from USD $5.3 billion to USD $10.2 billion.

In Ghana, enabling regulatory approaches have facilitated transformative growth that is technology neutral and gender sensitive through a risk-based approach to licensing and supervision of new financial technologies in the market. These are guided by principles of interoperability and proportionality through Bank of Ghana’s active engagement with the commercial banks, mobile money operators, and wider stakeholder groups. This is just one of the many examples from the developing world that we have learned from on how leapfrogging works in practice.

Development policy

Third, in recent years, trends have moved towards peer learning, country ownership and tailored adoption of policies and away from traditional and expensive expert-led technical assistance modes of development cooperation. Strong country ownership has been exemplified in the more than 50 developing and emerging countries which, since 2012, have adopted national financial inclusion strategies.

With this trend making an impact in many jurisdictions at relatively low cost, multilateral development bodies have recognized this demand and adapted their support to developing countries. Development partners have also realized that they cannot do everything on their own as effectively and cost-efficiently as required. Consequently, win-win partnerships that leverage the unique strengths of all institutions involved are increasingly prioritized.

The pandemic has accelerated this shift. With developments moving so fast, there is an urgent need to understand policy responses from other jurisdictions in real time, opening further opportunities for a bottom-up cooperation model based on peer learning, friendly peer pressure and peer understanding. Former geographical, economic and political patterns, such as north or south, rich or poor countries and developed or developing economies, do not properly reflect reality anymore. The future will bring new coalitions as knowledge and its practical application is scattered in pockets around the globe, and what will be needed is a mechanism to bring it to the surface to be shared for the benefit of all.

Empowering emerging and developing countries toward new growth trajectories does not always and necessarily require huge pots of development finance. Infrastructure finance deployed by multilateral institutions and development banks is indeed important. It is country-owned, demand-driven approaches that secure and maintain the political will needed to implement inclusive growth policies toward which developing economies contribute significant resources of their own.

A good example is AFI’s Inclusive Green Finance workstream. With relatively small investment, we currently have policymaking institutions from 44 developing and emerging economies working together to leverage linkages between financial inclusion, green finance and emerging technologies. The political will is there, paving the way for important policy innovations by financial regulators for a recovery that is both inclusive and green. This is essential given that climate change will be a source of future shocks that will require the building of financial resilience, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Most importantly, the workstream gives voice to a vital group of stakeholders – both in terms of countries and type of institutions – within the broader global climate change debate. Its innovative policy approaches are balancing financial inclusion and sustainable growth and enabling pathways for development financing and private sector investment to be deployed wisely and cost-efficiently.

Inclusive and Green New Economy for resilient future

I am happy to refer once again to the wise words of Governor Benjamin Diokno from the Central Bank of the Philippines who, when the pandemic hit, explained that we should “prepare for a ‘new economy’, not a ‘new normal’, which is an oxymoron”. I looked up the meaning of “oxymoron” and found that it is a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect.

Considering our lessons outlined above, which are a public good, the notion of a “new economy” should be built around the experiences of the many countries that have recognized and understood the need for and have worked on financial and social inclusion over the past decade. Groups disproportionately affected by exclusion, such as women, youth and forcibly displaced persons, should be the focus when emergency and recovery responses are brought underway. Financial inclusion after COVID-19 can unlock and further drive economic participation among women and youth and enable transformative opportunities while leaving no one and their small business behind.

This crisis also offers opportunities to incorporate inclusive green finance into a recovery ushering in the dawn of a ‘new economy’ that is green, resilient and socially inclusive. Building resilience for future crises and risks, such as climate change, can be achieved by investing in low-carbon economies and in the well-being of the most vulnerable. This would enable a just transition that does not come at the expense of those at the base of the economic pyramid. COVID-19 can, therefore, be instrumental in revitalizing the crucial role of the SDGs to overcome the impact of the crisis on marginalized groups.

Finally, the future of financial inclusion and a broader recovery will continue to be shaped by technology. Emerging regulatory and policy frameworks suggest that there is scope for more innovation in the digital finance space, built on effective digital financial literacy solutions for existing customers such as the elderly and newly included groups, like women and youth. Regulators must ensure that new and arising risks are used in responsible, safe and sustainable ways that break down barriers and empower the marginalized and the excluded.

If we agree that further exclusion is not an option and move inclusivity to the core of our thinking and practice, we will be empowered to achieve a “normal” that may not be “new” but will be “better” than what we have been used to due to a solid foundation in the lessons we have learned in past years. We might even be in the position to make a humble contribution to what the second post-pandemic “Roaring Twenties” will be referred to in the history books of the future. However, unlike its predecessor a century ago – which partly contributed to the Great Depression –, the decade ahead of us might show more awareness of shared global challenges and address the disadvantage and inequality of the excluded.

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