What Good is Economics as a Science, if Not Based on Field Studies?

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By Dr. Reem Abdel Haliem

This post originally appeared in Arabic on the CIPE Arabia blog.

I currently work with CIPE partner the Federation of Economic Development Associations (FEDA) on a study to bring Egypt’s informal sector into the formal one. Since there are number of studies on this topic, FEDA chose to focus its study on producing a guide – more of a roadmap – that outlines practical steps to facilitating the informal sector’s formalization.

A series of focus groups based on a robust methodology was a must to achieve sound findings and to draw evidence-based conclusions. Through those focus groups, we formed a logical and comprehensive understanding of the problems that the formal sector faces, so to grasp the disincentives that make the idea of formalizing unattractive to the informal sector. Formal sector operators face these problems almost on a daily basis and with a variety of local and national government authorities. This understanding could not be reached through a typical literature review.

Through my experience in the focus groups and with drafting this roadmap, it became clear to me that with the right field research tools, grasping the on-the-ground reality makes policy recommendations more accurate and relevant to addressing the stakeholders’ needs and, as such, makes these recommendations of higher value to the state and the general public.

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Safety First: Secure Communications and Storage Tools for Reducing Risks

Secure messaging apps like Telegram have become an increasingly important part of NGO and civil society work in many countries.

Secure messaging apps like Telegram have become an increasingly important part of NGO and civil society work in many countries.

What makes CIPE’s programs stand out is the caliber of our partners. From developing the first ever local business agendas in Ukraine, sparking economic policy debates for the first time in Nepal, to leading the private sector cooperate with local governments and security forces to combat insecurity in Tijuana, Mexico, CIPE partners around the world are doing tremendous work to create a more sustainable democratic and economic communities.

During this process, however, many of them face risks while operating in challenging – and sometimes dangerous – environments. It may be because they exist in countries where civil society is facing a challenge; or it might because powerful companies are closely tied with the ruling political party. Whatever the reason, CIPE understands that all our partners take risks by challenging the status quo. To this end, CIPE has supported our partners to maneuver in difficult environments by equipping them with mobile or online tools that could lower their risks.

NOTE: As you explore the tools, please keep these points in your mind.

  • Despite the sophistication of the tools mentioned below, organizations should not rely solely on digital security for their safety, even if they are being careful. Many authoritarian governments are digitally savvy, so in some environments it is impossible to be 100% secure. Organizations should make sure they are following all the laws and regulations (even if they are burdensome), and that they are not communicating in ways that would put individuals at risk, even if they were compromised.
  • Carefully review and understand the privacy policies of any tools before using them.
  • Adopting new technology is like a behavior change – it takes time and effort, so be patient if your organization decides to adopt and use one of the tools for your organization.

The following are some suggested tools and strategies that CIPE has shared with our community. They are common threats and risks associated with using certain ICTs, as well as possible products and strategies to consider using to improve your organization’s security measures.

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Democracy that Delivers Podcast #21: After Serving Time for Violating the FCPA, Richard Bistrong Counsels Others on How to Avoid the Same Fate

Podcast hosts Julie Johnson (left) and Ken Jaques (center) with guest Richard Bistrong.

Podcast hosts Julie Johnson (left) and Ken Jaques (center) with guest Richard Bistrong.

Former FCPA violator and current anti-bribery consultant Richard Bistrong (@richardbistrong) was convicted of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, cooperated with the FBI, and served time in prison. Today he works with companies to help them deal with anti-bribery and compliance issues around the world. He discusses what led to his conviction, and what he learned about corruption risks and the incentive structures that make bribery more likely. He also shares the advice he would give his younger self before he embarked on that first international sales trip overseas that started it all.

Learn more about his work at www.RichardBistrong.com.

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The Tunisian Business Community: Still Working to Keep Tunisia’s Democracy on Track

A forum held by IACE in May 2016. (Photo: Kapitalis.com)

A forum held by IACE in May 2016. (Photo: Kapitalis.com)

By Ali Ayadi, Pam Beecroft, and Brenna Curti

In 2015, Tunisia’s business community, government and civil society worked together to overcome a series of political and security crises that almost derailed their grand democracy experiment, and won a Nobel Prize for their efforts.

Now it is the economy that needs an intervention. Instead of transforming and growing, it has been sliding backward. The Tunisian dinar is losing value, public debt is mounting, inflation continues to rise, and unemployment grows daily. Corruption and cronyism are rampant, spreading injustice and slowing growth even more.

As Tunisians lose faith in their leaders, discontent is fueling new social unrest. Violence and terrorism have added new layers of economic woes, virtually wiping out tourism and resulting in $4 billion for economic recovery being diverted to cover national security needs.

It is no exaggeration to say that Tunisia’s democratic future hinges on fixing all this. For one thing, if citizens are worried about basic survival, they cannot focus on elections and civic groups and all those other things that keep leaders accountable and democracy vibrant. For another, Tunisia needs the spirit of enterprise itself – economic dreams, hard work, innovation, and entrepreneurship – to create the prosperity citizens need.

That is why CIPE’s long-time partner, the Arab Institute for Business Leaders (IACE, in French) has joined with one of the Nobel prize winners, the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Crafts (UTICA), as well as the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP) and the government, to get Tunisia’s economy back on track. With CIPE support, they have launched a “National Business Agenda” (NBA) – a CIPE process that helps the private sector consult local businesses, identify economic priorities and advocate government to improve the economy through reforms.

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Debate on Taxation in Pakistan: Reforms Move to the Next Level

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Karachi Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan’s overall tax-to-GDP ratio has been hovering around 10 per cent for the past decade, which is approximately five per cent lower than the average of comparable economies. Despite a large tax base available in all provinces, they collectively contribute only seven per cent in overall revenues.

Federal revenues are low, and government coffers are emptied by debt servicing, high defense spending, and power subsidies, resulting in government institutions without adequate budgets to operate. Without tax reform, Pakistan’s civilian government and its ability to govern remains weak and ineffective. Moreover, Pakistan remains on the brink financial crisis.

Since the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2010 aimed at rolling back the excessive power the central government had built up over years of military rule, the provincial administrations have been entrusted with greater revenue mobilization responsibilities. The amendment was intended to bring education, health, and other basic government services closer to the people and help develop areas that were historically ignored by Islamabad, and was viewed as an important first step in a series of reforms to create a responsive and accountable democratic Pakistan.

However, empowering provinces without the proper mechanisms in place for implementation, and conflict resolution, and without strengthening revenue raising capability at the provincial level, has resulted in greater duplication of bureaucratic structures and processes at central and provincial levels, leading to more wasteful spending and higher budget deficits. Moreover, government services that are now to be provided by the provincial governments are often not provided at all, as provincial governments themselves appear confused or reluctant to take on service delivery and financial responsibilities.

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Empowering Women: Good for Business

When I was born in Taiwan, my grandma commented “such a shame that she is not a boy!” A preference for boys was prevalent at that time—and to some extent continues today. My uncle and aunt gave up on producing a boy only after ending up with five daughters. My aunt would tear up from the talk she overheard from neighbors, accusing her of not being “filial” because she was “unable” to produce a boy. In my parents’ generation, this preference for boys skewed educational opportunity towards males.

Thankfully, I was born a time when the economy was booming, when Taiwan was modernizing rapidly, and when women’s education attainment had become a universal expectation. And so I had the opportunity to explore my own interests and make my own decisions. For extra-curriculars, I traded in the usual “girl” activities of piano lessons and painting to pursue basketball and debating—opportunities that would have been unimaginable for my grandmother, who grew up at a time when the foot binding of girls was still a condoned practice.

In Asia, women’s movements have come a long way in the past three decades. Taiwan’s first female president was sworn in last month – the first female leader in Asia whose path was not paved by a powerful male relative (President Park Geun Hye of South Korea and Daw San Suu Kyi of Burma are both daughters of powerful political dynasties).

Remarkably, Tsai’s primary opponent during much of the presidential election was also a female leader, the Vice Speaker of the Parliament (before she was replaced by her party three months before the election). Analysts believe that a quota system requiring one third of all seats in the legislature be filled by women contributes to the rise of prominent female politicians in Taiwan.

The Philippines has also seen much progress in promoting gender equality over the years. Its outgoing cabinet had the highest percentage of female members in the country’s history. Moreover, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is the first female chief justice in Philippine history. In the most recent presidential election, Leni Robredo was elected as Vice President. Even though Senator Grace Poe lost the presidency, she was leading in the polls for more than three months . Poe emphasized the importance of economic empowerment by urging Filipino women to be financially independent of their husbands during the 8th GoNegosyo Filipina Entrepreneurship Summit in February.

The evidence agrees with Poe. Empowering women economically produces lots of societal benefits, including higher investment in the family, education, and health. Economically empowered women also enjoy stronger awareness of their political rights and face a lower likelihood of becoming victims of domestic violence.

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Democracy that Delivers Podcast #20: Nyaradzo Mashayamombe on Advocating for Women’s and Girls’ Rights in Zimbabwe

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Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow Nyaradzo Mashayamombe discusses her work as an advocate for women’s and girls’ rights in Zimbabwe and the way women are viewed in society is changing in that country. Mashayamombe talks about the hardships she experienced as a child in rural Zimbabwe and how they drove her to help other girls and women. She also discusses the empowering impact of social media and the current economic situation for women in Zimbabwe.

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