South Asia Development Forum

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Home to a fifth of mankind, and to almost half of the people living in poverty, South Asia is also a region of marked contrasts: from conflict-affected areas to vibrant democracies, from demographic bulges to aging societies, from energy crises to global companies. This series explores the challenges faced by a region whose fate is critical to the success of global development in the early 21st century, and can also make a difference for global peace. The volumes in it organize in an accessible way findings from recent research and lessons of experience, across a range of development topics. The series is intended to present new ideas and to stimulate debate among practitioners, researchers, and all those interested in public policies. In doing so, it exposes the options faced by decision makers in the region and highlights the enormous potential of this fast-changing part of the world.

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  • Publication
    Engendering Access to STEM Education and Careers in South Asia
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2023-06-20) Sosale, Shobhana; Harrison, Graham Mark; Tognatta, Namrata; Nakata, Shiro; Gala, Priyal Mukesh; Brown, Sherrie; Holtz, Paul
    Building a skilled and diverse science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial for economic development, cross-border trade, and social inclusion in South Asia. However, underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM education and careers remains a persistent issue. What kinds of macro and micro socioeconomic interventions are needed to increase girls’ and women’s access to and participation in STEM education and careers in South Asia?
  • Publication
    From Jobs to Careers: Apparel Exports and Career Paths for Women in Developing Countries
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2022) Frederick, Stacey; Lopez-Acevedo, Gladys; Robertson, Raymond; Vergara Bahena, Mexico A.
    It is well-established that bringing more women into the formal labor force is critical for economic development. One strategy often cited is further integrating developing countries into global trade, particularly global value chains (GVCs), to contribute to female labor market outcomes through the expansion of female-intensive industries. As a result, a big question frequently debated, is whether the apparel industry – which is the most female-intensive and globally engaged manufacturing industry – can be a key player in this regard. In recent decades, the apparel industry has shifted its production to low-wage developing countries, increasing the demand for women, closing male-female wage gaps, and bringing women into the formal labor force. Indeed, the benefits of apparel exports have reached the female population, but is an apparel-led export strategy sufficient to induce the transition from jobs to careers? This Report provides an answer by focusing on seven countries where the apparel industry plays an important role in its export basket – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam. The Report’s key finding is that countries should take advantage of the apparel industry as a launching platform to overcome the fixed costs of introducing more women into the labor market. However, for this approach to work, there needs to be complementary policies that tackle the barriers that hinder women in their pursuit of long-term participation in the labor force and better-paid occupations. A hope is to shift the paradigm of how we think of women’s participation in the labor force by demonstrating the importance of the distinction between jobs and careers. Although aspirations towards careers are achieved in different ways, understanding how progress is being made in each country towards a more equitable life between men and women will pave the way for a better route forward.
  • Publication
    Hidden Potential: Rethinking Informality in South Asia
    (Washington, DC : World Bank, 2022) Bussolo, Maurizio (ed.)
    Informality remains widespread in South Asia despite decades of economic growth. The low earnings and high vulnerability in the informal sector make this a major development issue for the region. Yet, there is no consensus on its causes and consequences, with the debate polarized between a view that informality is a problem of regulatory evasion and should be eradicated, and another which equates informality with economic exclusion. These views are at odds with the heterogeneity observed among informal firms. Recent advances in analyzing informality as the outcome of firm dynamics in distorted economic environments can help reconcile them. Building on these advances, the approach adopted in this volume clarifies that there are different types of informality, with different drivers and consequences. Using this approach, the papers in this volume revisit old questions about the relationship of informality to regulation and taxation, and also pose new ones, such as how digital technologies and multi-faceted policy designs can improve prospects in the informal sector. They have four main messages. First, informality in South Asia is dominated by firms that happen to be outside the purview of regulations because they are small, as opposed to those that remain small to escape regulations. Second, reforms of business regulations tend to have small direct effects on the informal sector, though they could have sizable indirect impacts on it if they succeed in removing major inefficiencies in the broader economy. Third, e-commerce platforms (and similar technologies) offer new opportunities to informal firms and workers, but many of them lack complementary skills or credit to benefit from such technologies. Fourth, a combination of contributory and non-contributory programs recognizing the heterogenous saving capacities of informal workers may be necessary to achieve more universal coverage of social insurance. A multi-pronged strategy is needed to tackle the developmental challenges presented by informality.
  • Publication
    Regional Investment Pioneers in South Asia: The Payoff of Knowing Your Neighbors
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2021-11-17) Kathuria, Sanjay; Zhu, Xiao’ou
    Regional economic engagement within South Asia may gain increasing importance owing to several factors that are currently in play, including strategies to diversify global value chains and locate such value chains nearer home. These developments offer South Asia a chance to enhance its low levels of regional economic engagement and capitalize on significant unrealized development opportunities. This report shows that examining intraregional investment and knowledge connectivity enhances our understanding of the low levels of intraregional trade and limited regional value chains in South Asia. Creating a new and unique data set for South Asian investment, it provides a detailed and nuanced understanding of the drivers of outward investment, both regional and global, for South Asian firms. “Regional Investment Pioneers in South Asia” provides key considerations for policy makers in South Asia, which remain particularly relevant in the aftermath of the pandemic. First, it makes a case for regulatory relaxation of outward FDI regimes, based on new micro foundations, grounded in value chains. Second, it spells out details of smart inward FDI promotion techniques and investment facilitation. Third, it identifies distinct cross-border information-enhancing and network development activities. Fourth, it suggests that digital connectivity and continued interventions in reducing trade costs are warranted to increase investment as well as trade flows. There is particular scope to build on the digitalization initiatives in trade and investment facilitation taken during the pandemic. “Regional Investment Pioneers in South Asia” follows on, and is complementary to, the earlier World Bank report, “A Glass Half Full: the Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia.”
  • Publication
    The Converging Technology Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asia
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2021-09-08) Bashir, Sajitha; Kanehira, Naoto; Tilmes, Klaus
    South Asia is heavily impacted by the devastating loss of lives and human capital from the COVID-19 pandemic and the converging technology revolution sweeping the globe. The Converging Technology Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asia looks at how the region could capitalize on these technologies to accelerate its development of human capital and promote adaptability and resilience to future shocks. The convergence of technological breakthroughs spanning biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science is driven by artificial intelligence, data flows, computing power, and connectivity. These breakthroughs can improve service delivery, productivity, and innovation, but they can also exacerbate inequalities and eliminate people’s agency and empowerment. This report analyzes these trends in the region, offering a comprehensive agenda to exploit the opportunities offered by converging technologies while minimizing the risks to vulnerable populations. It proposes strategies for building public sector capacity and promoting data and technology governance frameworks in a rapidly evolving technology landscape.
  • Publication
    Ready to Learn: Before School, In School, and Beyond School in South Asia
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2020-02-19) Beteille, Tara; Tognatta, Namrata; Riboud, Michelle; Nomura, Shinsaku; Ghorpade, Yashodhan
    Countries that have sustained rapid growth over decades have typically had a strong public commitment to expanding education as well as to improving learning outcomes. South Asian countries have made considerable progress in expanding access to primary and secondary schooling, with countries having achieved near-universal enrollment of the primary-school-age cohort (ages 6–11), except for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secondary enrollment shows an upward trend as well. Beyond school, many more people have access to skill-improving opportunities and higher education today. Although governments have consistently pursued policies to expand access, a prominent feature of the region has been the role played by non-state actors—private nonprofit and for-profit entities—in expanding access at every level of education. Though learning levels remain low, countries in the region have shown a strong commitment to improving learning. All countries in South Asia have taken the first step, which is to assess learning outcomes regularly. Since 2010, there has been a rapid increase in the number of large-scale student learning assessments conducted in the region. But to use the findings of these assessments to improve schooling, countries must build their capacity to design assessments and analyze and use findings to inform policy.
  • Publication
    Exports to Jobs: Boosting the Gains from Trade in South Asia
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2019-02-24) Artuc, Erhan; Lopez-Acevedo, Gladys; Robertson, Raymond; Samaan, Daniel
    South Asia’s economy has grown rapidly, and the region has made a significant reduction in poverty. However, the available jobs for the growing working population remain limited. Policy makers are contending with lingering concerns about jobless growth and poor job quality. Exports to Jobs: Boosting the Gains from Trade in South Asia posits that exports, could bring higher wages and better jobs to South Asia. We use a new methodology to estimate the potential impact from higher South Asian exports per worker on wages and employment. We find that increasing exports per worker would result in higher wages, mostly for the better-off groups—like the better-educated workers, men, and the more-experienced workers—although the less-skilled and rural workers would benefit from new job opportunities outside of the informal sector. Our report shows that to spread the benefits from higher exports widely, policies are needed to raise skills and get certain groups, such as women and youth, into more and better jobs. Complementary measures include removing trade barriers and investing in infrastructure, and increasing the ability of workers to find higher-paying jobs. Together, these actions would help South Asian countries spread the gains from being closely integrated into the global economy through exporting. This book, which is the product of a partnership between the International Labour Organization and the World Bank, contributes to our understanding of the impact that growing exports can have on increasing well-being, and it bridges the gap between academic research and policy making.
  • Publication
    In the Dark: How Much Do Power Sector Distortions Cost South Asia?
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2019) Zhang, Fan
    Electricity shortages are among the biggest barriers to South Asia’s development. Some 255 million people—more than a quarter of the world’s off-grid population—live in South Asia, and millions of households and firms that are connected experience frequent and long hours of blackouts. Inefficiencies originating in every link of the electricity supply chain contribute significantly to the power deficit. Three types of distortions lead to most of the inefficiencies: institutional distortions caused by state ownership and weak governance; regulatory distortions resulting from price regulation, subsidies, and cross-subsidies; and social distortions (externalities) causing excessive environmental and health damages from energy use. Using a common analytical framework and covering all stages of power supply, In the Dark identifies and estimates how policy-induced distortions have affected South Asian economies. The book introduces two innovations. First, it goes beyond fiscal costs, evaluating the impact of distortions from a welfare perspective by measuring the impact on consumer wellbeing, producer surplus, and environmental costs. And second, the book adopts a broader definition of the sector that covers the entire power supply chain, including upstream fuel supply and downstream access and reliability. The book finds that the full cost of distortions in the power sector is far greater than previously estimated based on fiscal cost alone: The estimated total economic cost is 4–7 percent of the gross domestic product in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. Some of the largest costs are upstream and downstream. Few other reforms could quickly yield the huge economic gains that power sector reform would produce. By expanding access to electricity and improving the quality of supply, power sector reform would also directly benefit poor households. The highest payoffs are likely to come from institutional reforms, expansion of reliable access, and the appropriate pricing of carbon and local air pollution emissions.
  • Publication
    A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia
    (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2018-09-19) Kathuria, Sanjay; Kathuria, Sanjay
    Trade has played a critical role in global poverty reduction. In harnessing the potential of trade, some of the most successful countries have developed strong trade relationships with their neighbors. However, many South Asian countries have trade regimes that often offset the positive impact of geography and proximity. This report documents systematically the gaps between current and potential trade in South Asia and addresses important specific barriers that have held trade back. These barriers include tariffs and paratariffs, real and perceived nontariff barriers, connectivity costs, and the broader trust deficit. This policy-focused report unpacks these critical barriers to effective trade integration in South Asia through four in-depth studies that produce new, detailed, on-the-ground knowledge. Three of the studies are based on extensive stakeholder consultations. Two also rely on tailored surveys. The fourth study, on tariffs, benefits from new data on paratariffs. The report also marshals new evidence showing how trading regimes in South Asia discriminate against each other. Given the South Asian context, incremental, yet concrete steps aimed at tapping the potential of deeper integration are appropriate. The report has been drafted in this spirit. It offers precise, actionable policy recommendations that could help achieve measurable progress in key areas of trade and integration that would be to the advantage of all countries in the region.
  • Publication
    Violence against Women and Girls : Lessons from South Asia
    (World Bank Group, Washington, DC, 2014-09-16) Solotaroff, Jennifer L.; Pande, Rohini Prabha
    This report documents the dynamics of violence against women in South Asia across the life cycle, from early childhood to old age. It explores the different types of violence that women may face throughout their lives, as well as the associated perpetrators (male and female), risk and protective factors for both victims and perpetrators, and interventions to address violence across all life cycle stages. The report also analyzes the societal factors that drive the primarily male — but also female — perpetrators to commit violence against women in the region. For each stage and type of violence, the report critically reviews existing research from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, supplemented by original analysis and select literature from outside the region. Policies and programs that address violence against women and girls are analyzed in order to highlight key actors and promising interventions. Finally, the report identifies critical gaps in research, program evaluations, and interventions in order to provide strategic recommendations for policy makers, civil society, and other stakeholders working to mitigate violence against women in South Asia.