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Urban Youth: A Great Source of Untapped Growth

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world’s growing urbanization means that a whole generation of youth will have a dramatically different life than their parents. The world’s 3.3 billion urbanites now outnumber rural residents for the first time (UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report). And the vast majority live in slums or periurban areas, places of sprawl, where public services are poor and housing conditions unhealthy. Most young people working in the urban informal sector live in slum areas: for example, 75 per cent in Benin in Africa, and 90 per cent in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Chad and Ethiopia. Most of this work is just bare survival work: according to the International Labour Organization, approximately 85 per cent of all new employment falls into this category.

Getting youth into quality work and earning more than enough simply to survive is critical to building a healthy society. Young people are bombarded every day with good and bad influences, and as UNFPA found in its Youth Supplement: Growing Up Urban, “the interactions with the urban environment can have an intense impact on the socialization of young people, exposing them to a multitude of influences as they develop, experiment, question, and assume roles in their societies.”

It is predicted that over the next 10 years, 1.2 billion youths will enter the working-age population (UNFPA). But youth unemployment is a huge problem around the world. Unemployed young people make up almost half (43.7 per cent) of the world’s total unemployed (UNFPA). Young people aged 15 to 19 are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. Young people are the future, a resource no society can afford to waste. If their innate energy and enthusiasm is tapped, countries can see significant economic growth.

There are youth entrepreneurs who are defying the gloom and coming up with great business ideas. Five finalists for BBC Swahili’s regional entrepreneur competition – Faidika na BBC (Prosper with the BBC) – offer inspiration for youth across the South. Finalists from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda were selected for their bright schemes.

The overall winner was 24-year-old Burundian student Ashura Kisesa for a plan to build commercial public toilets in the cities and towns of East and Central Africa. Ashura, who entered but failed to reach the Faidika na BBC finals last year, has 12 brothers and sisters and is studying for a degree in agronomy at Burundi University.

“I am very happy to win the top prize in this competition,” she told the BBC. “The lack of public toilets throughout East and Central Africa is a major problem that needs to be addressed and I hope to make a difference with my business idea. My whole family wanted me to win and they really supported me which makes me especially proud. I cannot wait to get started with my business.”

On June 26 in Kampala, Uganda, Kisesa was awarded US $5,000 to put towards her business.

Kenyan national winner, 22-year-old Witness Omoga from Kakamega, wants to make identity cards for schools. Right now he works as a volunteer at his uncle’s photo studio, and hopes to get into Makerere University to pursue a degree in computer science. “I am very excited,” he said to the BBC. “I have never been number one in my life, but now I have emerged first in this competition.”

The Rwandan winner is a pioneer in the growing field of biomass energy production. A 17-year-old student from Kigali, Rangira Aime Frederick, impressed the panel of judges with his idea to turn domestic waste into energy. The national winner for Tanzania is a private tutor from Dar es Salaam, Apolinary Joseph Laksh. A business education tutor, 23-year-old Apolinary’s idea is to produce charcoal from recycled materials to offer people in rural areas sustainable and affordable cooking fuel.

Ugandan finalist, 23-year-old Dereick Kajukano, is in his last year at Kampala International University doing a degree in business administration. Dereick’s business idea is to make bags out of plastic trash. He was inspired by last year’s Faidika na BBC winner, David Ssegawa from Uganda: “When I heard him defend his proposal on air, I said to myself, why don’t I do it as well. That’s when it all started, and here I am.”

Resources

  • 2008 Global Youth Enterprise Conference: Designed as a participatory learning event, this conference aims to support youth enterprise and entrepreneurship programs and policies achieve greater effectiveness around the world.
    Website: www.youthenterpriseconference.org
  • KickStart is a South African project aimed at inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship among young people between the ages of 18 and 35, by promoting business awareness through training, providing grants as start-up capital and providing mentorship and assistance during the setting up phase of the business.
    Website: http://www.sabkickstart.co.za/
  • iDISC – the infoDev Incubator Support Center – is a virtual networking and knowledge-sharing platform for incubators and technology parks leveraging ICT to facilitate entrepreneurship and new business creation in developing countries.
    Website: http://www.idisc.net/en/Index.html
  • Climate Capital Network: this company offers strategic advice, intelligence and assistance with fundraising for low-carbon solutions around the world. They have 2,000 investors looking for projects to invest in.
    Website: http://www.climatecapital.net/
  • Global Entrepreneurship Week: the website for this event in November has many opportunities for youth entrepreneurs to connect with each other through social networking websites.
    Website: http://unleashingideas.org/welcome

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=waeXBgAAQBAJ&dq=Development+Challenges+February+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsfebruary2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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African Youth Want to do Business in Fast-growing Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Africa’s growing economy is meeting head-on an optimistic young population keen to start businesses. At least that is what a new poll of African youth says, finding that one in five Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 without a current business wants to start one in the next 12 months.

The Gallup surveys (www.gallup.com) of 27 African countries and areas also found young women were just as keen as young men to start a business.

Throughout the decade of the 2000s, Africa experienced an average economic growth rate of 5.4 percent (World Bank) – a big gain from the poor growth rates of the 1980s and early 1990s.

The turnaround in Africa’s economic growth prospects was the product of a number of trends and factors. One has been better policies and easier trade. Other factors include rising tourism, a growing service sector, rising commodity prices, greater demand for African exports in emerging economies and rapidly improving communications: the surge in mobile phone usage during the last five years has surprised many. Africans are also avid spenders on goods and services, spending US $860 billion on them in 2008, more than India’s US $635 billion or Russia’s US $821 billion (Economic Report on Africa 2011).

The African Development Bank predicts Africa’s growth rate for 2011 will decline to 3.7 percent from 2010’s 4.9 percent, largely as a result of turmoil in North Africa. East Africa is projected to grow the fastest this year at 6.7 percent, with West Africa close behind at 5.9 percent.

Africa as a continent collectively had a gross domestic product in 2009 of US $1.6 trillion: equal to Brazil’s or Russia’s. The continent is considered among the fastest-expanding economic regions in the world (McKinsey & Company).

In fact, while economic prospects are grim in many developed countries, Africa joined Asia as the only continents to grow during this recession.

But major problems still confront the continent, among them youth unemployment. Those between 15 and 24 make up more than 60 percent of the continent’s population and are 45 percent of the total labor force (African Economic Outlook). Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a youth explosion, with the proportion of youth there to rise to 75 percent of the population by 2015. Demographers forecast this rising youth trend will not stop for the next 20 years.

Getting these youth actively engaged in the economy and society is a major challenge for the continent. Already, 133 million African youth are illiterate. They have few skills and are marginalised from more productive sectors of the economy.

Even those with an education find their skills often don’t match the needs of the labor market. In sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment is believed to be 20 percent.

So even with better economic prospects and growing economies and incomes, youth unemployment looms large.

The Economic Report on Africa 2011 (www.uneca.org/era2011/) finds the “persistent high youth unemployment rate is a cause of concern and a potential source of political instability.” Job creation is still not adequate: “The growth rates are still below the levels needed to make a significant impact on unemployment and poverty reduction.”

While Africa will experience higher growth in 2011, for youth it is looking like a “jobless recovery,” according to the report. Overseas investors are mostly throwing their money at the resource sector, which doesn’t create many jobs in the economy.

But for young Africans looking to start a business, the opportunities are there in sectors such as retailing, telecommunications, banking, infrastructure-related industries, resource-related businesses, and all along the agricultural value chain.

The booming communications industry has added 316 million new subscribers since 2000, for example. And all those people now connected need new services.

And once a business is up and running, it is possible to make higher profits in Africa than on other continents, according to the UN. Africa leads the emerging market economies for returns for businesses. This is because competition isn’t as intense and there is still plenty of built-up consumer demand that needs to be met.

All of this means young people willing to start a business and put in the hard work, will have a better chance of reaping the rewards.

Resources

1) iHub Nairobi: iHub Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. It is part open community workspace (co-working), part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator. Website: http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php

2) The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge by Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble: On how businesses need to follow through with execution if they really want to innovate. Website: http://hbr.org/product/baynote/an/13219-HBK-ENG?referral=00505&cm_sp=baynote-_-featured_products-_-13219-HBK-ENG

3) “The Globe: Cracking the Next Growth Market: Africa” by Mutsa Chironga et al, Harvard Business Review. Website: http://hbr.org/2011/05/the-globe-cracking-the-next-growth-market-africa/ar/1

4) 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference: This 5th anniversary conference will provide a learning platform for the world’s leading funders, practitioners, technical assistance providers, policy makers, and academics working to increase and improve economic opportunities for young people. Join 400 professionals from over 60 countries to share lessons learned, promising practices, and innovative ideas through technical workshops, engaging plenary sessions, and interactive networking. The result? Higher-impact programming, breakthrough solutions, and proven approaches. This year’s theme, Breakthroughs, reflects the focus on the innovative ideas, proven practices, and visionary insights that are taking this emerging field to new heights. Website: http://www.youtheconomicopportunities.org/

5) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for fair design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

6) Francophone Africa Hackathon: Taking place on 24 September 2011, a ‘hackathon’ to develop mobile phone applications will take place for Francophone Africans. Website: http://www.mobilehackaf.com/

By 2012, Southern Innovator had completed its global reader impact study.

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=waeXBgAAQBAJ&dq=Development+Challenges+February+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsfebruary2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Southern Innovator In Dhaka, Bangladesh: Public Service Innovation Workshop | December 2017

Southern Innovator issues 1 and 5 at the Bangladesh workshop on public service innovation, 9-11 December 2017, and the launch of the South-South Network.

The following blog report does not reflect the views of the UNOSSC or UNDP. 

Dateline: Dhaka, Bangladesh (9-11 December 2017) – From 9-11 December 2017, I participated in the Workshop on Innovations in Service Delivery: The Scope for South-South and Triangular Cooperation held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hosted by the a2i (access to information) division of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, the implementing unit for Digital Bangladesh, it was convened by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

I was asked to do a presentation for the health component of the Workshop on my past experience in public sector digital innovation. This work stretches back to the beginning of the roll out of the Internet in the late 1990s. I chose three projects I have led that had a large and significant impact in the digital public space: the UN Mongolia development web portal I launched and ran for two years (1997-1999), the GOSH Child Health Web Portal I launched and ran for two years (2001-2003) and the Southern Innovator brand I launched for the UNOSSC (2010-2015). 

I also joined a panel discussion as Senior Partner representing the David South Consulting/David South International consultancy at the end of the last day (we have worked with the UNOSSC since 2007 and with UNDP since 1997 – a timeframe which saw the rise of the Internet and the mobile and information technology revolution take the global South by storm). 

As the Workshop invitation letter says, “The digitization of service delivery, user-centric methodologies, and experimentation geared towards improvement in service delivery, and the data revolution may have originated in developed countries but is now of increasing relevance for the developing world. To respond to rapidly rising expectations of the citizens, governments in both developing and developed countries are embracing approaches and tools to adopt more citizen-centric approaches in their service delivery. These practices are establishing a culture of citizen-centric innovation within governments, breaking silos of operations and helping move towards a whole-of-government planning and execution.”

According to the a2i, Bangladesh has the “world’s largest government web portal” comprising over 25,000 government websites for 43,000 government offices (Bangladesh’s population was over 162 million as of 2016 – World Bank). Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world and is considered the 8th most populace country in the world (Wikipedia). In total, these government websites receive 60 million plus hits a month, according to the a2i, from an online population of 79.7 million people, nearly half the population.

A lot is at stake: According to the World Bank (which has been supporting the country since 1972), “Bangladesh has made substantial progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, Bangladesh reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, and is projected to decrease to 12.9 percent in 2016.

The country achieved the MDG 1 on halving poverty five years ahead of time, with 20.5 million people rising out of poverty during the 1991-2010 period. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly.  Progress was underpinned by strong economic growth, with 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.1 percent growth in 2015/2016. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2014.      

However, sustained growth has rapidly increased the demand for energy, transport and urbanization. Insufficient planning and investment have resulted in increasingly severe infrastructure bottlenecks.”

Arriving in the capital, Dhaka, on the 9th of December, it was clear to see what the World Bank is highlighting: the “severe infrastructure bottlenecks”. Just like other megacities, Dhaka is clogged with traffic and suffers from the air pollution this causes (one of the worst cities for this in Asia). But these are just the visible signs of success if you think about it (as frustrating as that might be), as booming economies combined with rapid urbanisation, if not planned well, tend to lead to traffic congestion and high levels of air pollution. 

The country’s rising living standards since 2000 and impressive gains in the provision of information and mobile technology services and connectivity, reveal a country brimming with potential and capable of getting a handle on its many development challenges. The streets are visibly lined with small and medium enterprises and there are construction projects in various states of completion all around Dhaka. At the airport, glossy posters advertise many real estate developer’s dreams and show-off the heavy construction equipment for sale or lease from China and Russia. 

The population no longer suffers from food crises such as the 1974 famine, which killed 1.5 million people (Christian Science Monitor). According to the UN, Bangladesh cut chronic hunger by half since 2000 and is considered one of the success stories from the past 10 years that the rest of the developing world can look to as they push to eliminate hunger by 2030 as part of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2015/0617/From-famine-to-food-basket-how-Bangladesh-became-a-model-for-reducing-hunger). Clearly, Bangladesh is a country that can get things done when it draws on the power of its population. 

According to Digital Bangladesh, with a deadline of 2021, it has achieved half its goals to get the population online and its economy and government services online. In 2017, the country made US $800 million from exporting ICT (information and communication technologies) products and services. It is currently building 12 hi-tech parks with the ambitious goal to export US $10 billion in ICT services from them by 2030 and make US $5 billion by 2021. 

The streets of Dhaka.

Workshop

Sharing ideas at the Workshop.

Speaking at the Workshop, Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister’s Office, believes the concept of South-South Cooperation (SSC) is about enlightened self-interest but at present there is no framework for SSC in Bangladesh and most cooperation is ad hoc. If global South countries are not cooperating, then they are just re-inventing the wheel, he added. SSC is about avoiding feeling each country has to make it own their own: SSC can facilitate development leapfrogging and prevent leaving country success to chance. However, there needs to be better ways to communicate Southern solutions.

And Bangladesh has a good story to tell to the global South: To date, Bangladesh’s digital public service delivery has saved the country US $2 billion in cost for government services plus 1 billion man days in time spent trying to carry out tasks using government services, according to the a2i. With this success under their belts, the hope is to market Bangladesh as a world leader in innovation. To go from MDGs poster child to leader of the global South. 

UNOSSC Director and Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on SSC, Jorge Chediek (https://www.unsouthsouth.org/about/unossc-director/), emphasised the need to tell stories of how South-South is changing the world; the pressing need to change the narrative around the global South in order to be able to achieve the 2030 agenda.

It was an honour to be invited to present my three case studies on public sector digital innovation (GOSH Child Health Portal, Southern Innovator Magazine and the UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal). All three share the same characteristics: a public demand for digital resources and a need to create high-quality content on limited budgets and to build public confidence in those resources. These projects were also engaging with enormous complexity and needed to find a way to simplify this for online readers.

I was impressed by the level of debate at the Workshop, and how Bangladesh’s digital initiatives are communicated (the excellent use of infographics and simple step-by-step explanations), and the overall excitement and energy around digital and the digital economy in Bangladesh. But, importantly, the foresight to give attention to the coming wave of automation and robotics (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) and how this will affect Bangladesh. 

In the health workshop, we shared two projects for the reverse engineering component: the GOSH Child Health Portal and the magazine Southern Innovator (link to PowerPoint). Using the Reverse Engineering tool (see images below), each project was broken down as to how it worked and also what was its contribution to South-South Cooperation. 

I shared experience from the early days of digital public innovation in the late 1990s. This has included applying digital to crisis recovery, healthcare modernisation in the early 2000s, and the campaign to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), as well as during the mobile/information technology and social media revolution in the global South, which took off after 2007. 

Reverse Engineering

GOSH Child Health Portal (2001-2003)

Issues discussed here included the recent online fake news scandals and how important it is for the public sector to offer the antidote to this with quality, factual digital information and resources. The GOSH Child Health Portal was one good example, where it entered the crowded online medical and health information marketplace and succeeded in drawing a large online audience by offering high-quality, peer-reviewed resources, thoroughly fact-checked and proofread and presented using high-quality online design. By the end of the project’s two-year timeframe, it was receiving over 7 million hits a month and was acknowledged as a trusted global source in child health. The content is cited in many books and papers, as well. 

Reverse engineering GOSH Child Health Web Portal, 2001-2003.

Southern Innovator Magazine (2010-2015)

Throughout the Workshop, I heard over and over again about the urgent need for a more cohesive platform for sharing Southern innovations and initiatives. Many complained this was currently very fragmented. While there are many media and development organisations documenting innovations and stories, there is no one-stop shop for countries to go to. 

The Southern Innovator brand (incubated and developed by the UNOSSC) is a good example of what can be achieved with a more cohesive and strategic approach. Southern Innovator, first launched in 2011 by the UNOSSC, was able to leverage its limited resources to reach a large global audience via the web and social media. The brand became established with innovators and five issues were published (from 2011 to 2015). An Action Plan for scaling-up the Southern Innovator brand was also developed with the UNOSSC in 2015 (but awaits funding). 

The original Southern Innovator website (southerninnovator.org, now southerninnovator.com) did fulfil the role of offering a one-stop shop for stories on global South innovation and these stories were widely cited in websites, papers and books on the global South. But the terrain has shifted radically in the global South – and at the UN – since Southern Innovator’s launch in 2011. With the widespread adoption of mobile and digital technologies, the opportunities to communicate innovator solutions have never been better but require a more sophisticated approach to be effective. In fact, we now exist in a world where the solutions already exist to the major problems affecting the global South (and even the funding is available through many sources). The problem is not the lack of solutions, innovators or technologies and business models to resolve problems (both e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator proved this) but how people can access these resources and in a format that makes sense to them and is available when they are searching for a solution. With modern computing technologies, this is no longer an unsolvable problem. And the people to connect with to do this also already exist in the global South. What is missing is a coherent and cohesive approach. The multiplicity of development actors in this case are hampering effective action by dissecting and scattering resources, leaving end-users confused and poorly communicated with in many cases. As an example, there was a definite need to assist people in understanding how the 17 SDGs can fit into practical actions and a definite psychological need for simplicity: a problem highlighted by former UNDP head Helen Clark back in 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/07/sustainable-development-goals-will-be-hard-sell-for-united-nations).

For UNDP, with its human development approach and presence in most countries, an opportunity exists to rapidly accelerate development gains and shorten the time it takes to recover when disaster or conflict strikes. Something that came out of the Workshop is the presence of excellent examples of global knowledge sharing already underway for decades around the world. Think of the scientific community in general (working on vast projects such as the CERN facility in Switzerland), or aerospace industries, or the global adoption of the principles of air safety managed by IATA in Montreal, Canada, or sport – all proof countries do successfully share knowledge and adopt common, high standards when they feel it is a priority and necessity. No country wants to be frozen out of flight routes, for example. 

Reverse engineering the Southern Innovator magazine brand, 2010-2015. 

Panel Discussion

At the closing panel discussion, I was asked how to engage more donors to be part of the South-South Network. I said there is a need to get people excited and show why the South-South Network is different; how it is related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There needs to be a communications strategy and to establish some ambitious first goals that are original: to show that this is part of a clear trend. International aid and development is a crowded space so there is a need to show how the Network would tackle the challenges of the global South in the 21st century head-on, with a more effective solution. And of course, I championed the existing and successful Southern Innovator brand developed by the UNOSSC since 2010 as, potentially, part of this communications strategy. 

Senior Partner David South is third from the left on the panel. Photo: Yoko Shimura.
Senior Partner David South is centre at back with the South-South Network for Public Service Innovation, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2017.

Finally

This impressive embracing of e-initiatives and all things digital was visibly missing at the airport. On the way in, long lines and then a confusing scramble to buy a visa created confusion for visitors. As the first impression for visitors, this could be a great place to show-off Bangladesh’s digital capabilities. 

And finally, as the World Bank says, this all about job creation and increased living standards: “The World Bank has identified job creation as the country’s top development priority. Bangladesh needs to create more and better jobs for the 2.1 million youths entering the job market every year. But to do so, Bangladesh will need to remove the barriers to higher growth posed by low access to reliable and affordable power, poor transportation infrastructure, limited availability of serviced land, rapid urbanization and vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, among others.”

Bangabandhu International Conference Center hosting Digital World 2017 and Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport.

Further reading and links: 

South-South in Action: Citizen-friendly Public Service Innovation in Bangladesh

Digital Bangladesh: Digital Service for All

GOSH Child Health Web Portal

UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal 

Southern Innovator and Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017 

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Cuban Entrepreneurs Embracing Changes to Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The Caribbean island of Cuba has gone its own way economically and socially since its revolution in 1959. The country has seen significant gains in its human development in the decades since, and can boast impressive education levels and good public health care.

Cuba enjoys a good ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) – 59 out of 187 countries – and it has been rising since 1980. For Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba is above the regional average (http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/CUB.html).

But the country has also had a turbulent economy with periods of severe economic contraction. This has increased poverty levels and hunger, in particular during the Special Period beginning in 1990 (http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/havana/lperez2.htm) when the significant subsidies enjoyed by the country from the Soviet Union were pulled and the country saw a steep drop in its ability to import fuel and other goods. Cuba is still trying to repair the economic damage.

In the book Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, Louis A. Perez, Jr. explains: “The old socialist bloc Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) had accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, transactions conducted almost entirely in nonconvertible currency. Commercial relations with the former Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent, from $8.7 billion in 1989 to $4.5 billion in 1991 and $750 million in 1993. Trade with eastern European countries ended almost completely.

“Soviet oil imports decreased by almost 90 percent, from 13 million tons in 1989 to 1.8 million tons in 1992. Shipments of capital grade consumer goods, grains, and foodstuff declined and imports of raw materials and spare parts essential for Cuban industry ceased altogether.”

Conducting private business in Cuba was discouraged after the revolution as the state became the dominant arbiter of all economic transactions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has experimented at various times with moving to a mixed economy, only to pull back and return to the old ways. But now things are changing significantly after economic reforms that have accelerated since Cuban President Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008.The reforms began in 2008 with the liberalizing of access to mobile phones, and accelerated between 2010 and 2013, when the number of people working in small businesses tripled.

Cuentapropistas – the Cuban term for entrepreneurs, named after “cuenta propria,” the ability to do business for oneself – have flocked to be officially registered as small businesses, with the number shooting up from 143,000 in 2010, to 429,000 by June 2013 (Report on Business).

Gustavo Kouri told the Report on Business magazine, “Although I enjoyed the work I was doing before – at an information centre in specialized health sciences – it wasn’t possible to earn enough to support my family.

“And then the state opened more opportunities to develop private businesses, for cuenta propia.”

He now owns the Rio Mar restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/restauranteriomar).

Artists and athletes have also been attracted to the opportunities that have opened up.

One is former volleyball Olympic gold medalist Mireya Luis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mireya_Luis), who now owns Las Tres Medallas (http://www.alamesacuba.com/en/la-habana/restaurant/las-tres-medallas/), a pizza-and-pasta restaurant.

For Luis, becoming an entrepreneur means the chance to “realize a dream.”

“Being able to open a place – a restaurant, a bar, a cafeteria, whatever – is a good opportunity for self-development, for people to demonstrate a capacity for business, and for them to grow personally,” she said. “It’s something incredible.”

Gilberto Valladares owns a hair salon in Old Havana, Arte Corte Studio, and has been able to employ others.

“Initially, it was a dream of dignifying and recovering a certain degree of respect for the trade of hairdresser and barber,” he told the Report on Business. “As my business grew, so did the dream.” He now employs a half dozen people from the neighborhood.

Cuba is attempting to reform and modernize its economy while holding on to the things people hold dear and see as the good achievements of the revolution: free healthcare, education and other public services.

Gregory Biniowsky is a Canadian-trained lawyer and political scientist who has spent more than 15 years living and working in Cuba and works for Havanada Consulting, a firm that focuses on sustainable development projects and social enterprise initiatives. “The irony is those that will save the Revolution are the emerging small- and medium-sized private businesses,” he said. “And those that could destroy it are those elements in the bureaucracy that resist those changes.”

The entrepreneurial spirt gripping the island is infectious. At one time, much of the only reading material available in bookshops were works with a communist or socialist theme.
But Cubans now have an alternative: an English-language bookshop called Cuba Libro (https://www.facebook.com/cubalibroHAV). It is filing an urgent gap in the marketplace for English-language books and foreign works in general.

Set up by an American writer and journalist Conner Gorry (connergorry.com), who has been living in Havana, Cuba since 2002, the bookshop has become a hub for free thinking and new ideas.

“I know how hard it is to get English-language sources here,” she told The Associated Press. “So I started cooking this idea.”

Libro is the Spanish word for book and the play on words is meant to evoke a Cuba Libre, a rum-and-cola drink named for the country’s liberation from colonial Spain. The store bills itself as a “cafe, bookstore, oasis,” and  its logo features a woman reclining with a cup of coffee and a good book for reading.

The idea came about when a friend of Gorry could not find a place to unload 35 books she had. In time, Gorry amassed a collection of 300 English-language books, and this embryonic library became the book shop. The store also carries magazines, including U.S. titles The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

So far, the store faces little competition. Government book shops feature the occasional Cuban novel translated into English or the English-language versions of state-run newspapers such as Granma (http://www.granma.cu/ingles/).

Cubans are enjoying the slow thaw and what it could bring. “It is increasing in Cuba, the possibility to have different alternatives,” said Carlos Menendez, a 77-year-old retired economist Menendez.

Cuba Libro has two licenses to operate – one for selling food and one for selling used books – and is run as a type of cooperative, a group-owned private enterprise with five Cubans.

Doing business in Cuba is not without challenges. The bookshop needs to steer a steady path and avoid selling anything that would be considered “counterrevolutionary.” Gorry also needs to avoid problems with the U.S. government, which bans Americans from any financial transactions with the Cuban government.

“I’ve had to tread extremely carefully, everything above-board and legal, because I’m an American, I’m a North American, I am beholden to U.S. laws,” she said. “And so I’m not in agreement with those laws, but I abide by them.”

The bookshop has the benefit of a well-educated pool of potential customers; the annual Havana book festival is a popular draw in the country (http://feriadellibro.cubaliteraria.cu/).
There is a strong thirst for self-improvement in Cuba, and to gain knowledge is to get a better paying job. To widen access to the shop, there will be a lending library for those who can’t afford to buy the books on offer, and there will also be English classes.

And how will the bookshop get restocked in a country that still exercises a lot of control over information?

“Getting donations is going to be another interesting piece of it, because importing books here is very difficult,” Gorry said.

Resources

1) Cuba Research Center: The Cuba Research Center is a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.  Founded in 2013, its purpose is to provide information about Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, to participate in public debate about those subjects, and to build bridges between Americans and Cubans interested in those topics. Website: http://www.us-crc.org/

2) Havanada Consulting: Havanada Consulting is a consulting firm which focuses on sustainable development projects and social enterprise initiatives in Cuba. Website: havanada.com

3) Havana Cuba Business: If you are engaged in or would like to learn more about Cuba-related business or travel activities, Havana Cuba Business offer a customized consulting service that will address your questions and concerns. Website: cuentapropistas.com

4) A business-friendly Cuba gets a hand from Canada (Report on Business). Website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/a-business-friendly-cuba-gets-a-hand-from-canada/article14006239/?page=all


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© David South Consulting 2021