Author Archives: Frank Stroker

Property Markets, the Rule of Law, and Real Estate Investment

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Real estate investors are attracted to the United States because its strong legal system protects their investment and because of the easy availability of accurate information. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I recently participated in George Washington University’s 2015 Global Real Estate Conference in New York. Having been invited to share CIPE’s work developing the International Property Markets Scorecard at the International Real Estate Federation’s (FIABCI-USA) annual meeting, which dove-tailed with the conference, I took the opportunity to educate myself on the current happenings in the real estate field and see how CIPE’s work might resonate with the professionals most connected to international investment in property.

Headliners at the conference included international representatives from such prominent companies as Morgan Stanley, CBRE, Knight Frank, and Cushman & Wakefield. Mostly I learned a great deal of “inside baseball” language and can now boast a broader vocabulary, but there was another theme that kept coming up. Whether talking about mitigating risk, conducting valuation of property, or trying to determining capitalization rates, it all came down to the need for reliable information and a stable environment that allows for confident investing.

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How Can Youth Make a Difference in Democratic Reform?

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While young people tend to be the most active participants in movements for democratic change, their involvement is often confined to staging demonstrations and other similar activist activities. However, in order for democratic reform — or any reform for that matter — to be meaningful and sustainable, youth must not only be involved in demonstrations, but also in the decision making processes that chart the way forward.

When they have a voice in the policymaking process, youth also gain a stake when it comes to implementation. Having contributed their ideas and opinions in a meaningful way, they become staunch advocates when it comes to accountability and will work into adulthood to ensure that the solutions they helped create are realized.

In addition to building youth buy-in, engaging young people in decision-making processes has other benefits. Youth can help drive innovation in policy by injecting new ideas and solutions and also bring new tools to the table as they are typically the first group to adopt new technologies and behaviors.

Though it is vital to ensure youth are engaged in policy advocacy campaigns, taking this from idea to reality can be difficult. Youth is generally thought of as a singular demographic, but in reality, youth can be extremely varied. Young people come from different social and economic backgrounds and age boundaries are not always well defined. Additionally, mobilizing young people can be easy, but policy reform is a long term goal and it can be challenging to maintain youth engagement for the duration of a campaign.

Over the course of its history strengthening democracy through market reform, CIPE has developed and implemented proven advocacy strategies including for youth. To capture and share this knowledge, CIPE recently published its Guide to Youth Advocacy, meant to share experience and best practices for organizing youth and organizations that support youth to engage in successful advocacy initiatives. In addition to outlining strategies and approaches, the resource provides small case studies of CIPE supported projects from around the world that organized youth to advocate for real reforms.

Read the guidebook here. 

Frank Stroker is an Assistant Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.

Giving Women a Voice in Pakistan’s Media


Watch an interview with Tasneem Ahmar conducted by CIPE Program Officer Jennifer Anderson.

It is widely accepted by development experts that women are a largely untapped source of potential around the world. Women constitute approximately 50 percent of the human population and whether talking about political, economic, or social development, they have the ability to contribute vast advancements. However, in many countries around the world, women are excluded from participating in meaningful ways. In Pakistan, CIPE friend and partner Tasneem Ahmar is working through the media to change the perception of women in order to increase their ability to contribute to the nation’s development.

Having been raised in a family of media professionals, Tasneem discovered early on that women were not portrayed the same as men in print and broadcast media, leading to an undervaluing of women as a whole. Using Pakistan’s recent elections as an example, she has described how women candidates were only portrayed as objects with the main topics of discussion focusing around their wardrobe, hairstyles, and accessories rather than meaningful conversation about their stance on the issues. In an effort to change this pattern and change Pakistani perceptions, Tasneem established the Uks Research Center in 1997.  

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Can Boards Help Fight “Compliance Fatigue” In Emerging Market Firms?

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In the first half of 2014, anti-corruption enforcement actions by the U.S. alone cost the business community more than $500 million. It would seem logical that as a result anti-corruption compliance would be at the forefront of every multinational corporation’s activities. But that’s not the case, at least as described in the 2014 Global Fraud Survey, perhaps one of the largest and most credible surveys on the topic, released by Ernst and Young (EY) earlier this summer.

The report indicates that businesses around the world are suffering from what EY has dubbed “compliance fatigue.” After surveying more than 2,700 business executives in 59 countries, EY discovered that “despite the aggressive enforcement environment…the percentage of companies that have anti-bribery/anti-corruption (ABAC) policies has increased by only 1%.”

According to the survey, the reason for such stagnation rests with chief executives who are reluctant to participate in compliance training programs and take other necessary steps. EY does note that “the majority of businesses have put in place many of the building blocks of effective compliance programs.” However, “one-fifth of respondents say that either their business does not have an ABAC policy or that they do not know if there is a policy” representing a “persistent minority” of firms that have yet to adopt any measures to prevent bribery.  Within this minority, the report shows that executives are not only apathetic towards compliance, but “are willing to act unethically to win or retain business.”

Because executive officers face greater exposure to corruption risks, EY posits that the best course of action to alleviate this compliance fatigue is for boards of directors to maintain a high level of pressure on C-suite executives to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions. The survey authors state, “This level of scrutiny will drive a higher level of engagement among senior executives.” This solution, however, hinges on the idea that board members have sufficient knowledge and understanding to provide such oversight. Unfortunately, CIPE’s work in emerging markets around the world have shown that this is not always the case.

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The Democratic Alternative from the South

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Each year on September 15, the UN observes the International Day of Democracy to celebrate efforts to promote and consolidate democracy around the world.  Despite these efforts however, the realization of consolidated democracy continues to be a struggle for many reformers.  This year, the UN has chosen a theme of “Engaging Young People in Democracy” and acknowledges that “study after study show declining faith among young people…with declining levels of participation.”  Compounding this declining faith in democracy is a rising ideological competitor in the form of economically successful authoritarian regimes.

As much as young people are recognized as dreamers and agents of change, these characterizations tend to be the result of youth wanting to see an improvement in their quality of life.  In emerging countries such improvements are often delivered through economic growth, and in cases such as China and Singapore youth populations can honestly say their standard of living has gotten better year after year.  These examples can lead youth to become disillusioned with democracy, especially at a time when the world’s major democracies are suffering the aftereffects of a major financial crisis. Meanwhile, in the developing world, kickstarting growth in democratic regimes often takes time due to a need to build consensus and develop proper policies.

Quality of life, however, is not measurable only in terms of indicators such as income levels, consumption, and GDP — though almost all of the world’s most prosperous countries are democracies.  Other, arguably more important aspects such as human rights, liberty, and freedom are also vital components.  Since 2012, CIPE has been part of a consortium seeking to analyze the development paths of three emerging democracies (India, Brazil, and South Africa) in order to create an argument in support of democratic development.

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How Does Corruption Affect the Alibaba IPO?

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Last week Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering (IPO). As one of the largest companies in the world’s second largest economy, Alibaba represents an enormous opportunity for investors. They are expected to raise between $15 and $20 billion, making this IPO potentially bigger than Facebook’s.

While Alibaba already handles more sales volume than eBay and Amazon combined, there is added room for growth as internet penetration in China is only around 45 percent. Online shopping is projected to increase at a rate of 27 percent per year as the still-poor country grows richer and more connected.

Regardless of the perceived opportunities, foreign investors are not entirely convinced that Alibaba will be a good buy. The attitude toward Chinese companies in general is one of skepticism and uncertainty — perpetuated most recently by concerns about the transparency in auditing practices. Alibaba’s complex network of businesses and a lack of details surrounding partnerships with domestic logistics companies also raise some questions for potential investors.

In all the buzz surrounding Alibaba’a IPO, however, there is a missing element that could be cause for additional concern. By selling shares in the U.S., Alibaba opens itself to more exposure to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a piece of legislation that makes it illegal for companies to bribe officials of foreign governments. A number of multinational companies from around the world have already been ensnared in FCPA investigations as a result of corruption in China and the idea that Alibaba has grown within a market rife with corrupt acts could be cause for increased suspicion. Compounding this risk is the fact that the company has been the subject of investigations by domestic authorities in the past.

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The Energy Source of the Future

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“Scientists have discovered an enormous energy source for the world…located in the poorest countries in the world,” announced  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) President John Hamre recently. “If we tap it, this energy source will double or triple GDP growth in those countries.”

The resource Hamre was discussing is not a fossil fuel like coal or oil and is not a new form of renewable energy.  His remarks were a reference to the 1.8 billion young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24.  This youth population is the largest the world has ever seen and their contributions to society have drastic implications for the development of emerging markets and fragile states.  If youth become productive civic and economic participants in their communities, the benefits are immense. However, when young people are forced to the fringes of society and do not have sufficient opportunities to participate in society the consequences can be devastating.

In order to help policy, society, and business leaders better understand how to ensure that young people are best positioned to be drivers of growth and development, CSIS recently developed the Global Youth Wellbeing Index in partnership with the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide.

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