Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)
While it is hard to identify all of the issues that drove Sri Lankans during the country’s recent – and for many observers, surprising – elections, a cry for change was evident. Voters had clearly grown tired of corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism, and there have been widespread calls for investigations into a range of alleged human rights abuses.
On January 8, in an unexpected turn of events, 15 million Sri Lankans, representing a 75 percent voter turnout, went to the polls and ousted incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who shocked many by declaring his intent to run for office. Rajapaksa, who was South Asia’s longest-serving political head of state, in office since 2005, had turned increasingly authoritarian. He called these elections two years early, seeking a third term. It seems unlikely that he anticipated the defection of Sirisena and a number of other parliamentarians.
A Burmese man checks his mobile phone.(Photo: Flickr)
Since 2011, Burma has slowly been transitioning into a fledgling democracy from a reclusive military dictatorship. Some positive steps have taken place – multi-party elections have been held and more than 3,000 political prisoners have been freed. Yet as the U.S. deputy national security adviser stated recently, “[p]arts of the reform effort have stalled, parts have moved forward and parts, we’ve seen, have even moved backward, so it’s a mixed picture.”
The biggest test for Burma’s democratic transition is the upcoming general elections taking place in November. For citizens to make informed decisions and to hold future leaders accountable, they must be empowered with knowledge. The potential political leaders also must be educated about how to govern, as well as find ways to communicate and engage with their constituents. And technology, more specifically mobile phones, will have a large role to play for both groups.
In early November, the World Bank published its annual “Doing Business Report,” which assesses government regulations that support or constrain business activity across 189 countries. This year, Afghanistan again ranked near the bottom, down one spot from last year, in the 183rd position. The full report on Afghanistan can be found here.
There is no disputing that Afghanistan is a difficult place to do business, yet as has been noted in the past on the CIPE blog, there are inherent limitations to what the Doing Business rankings measure. We frequently point out that these indicators reflect the “laws on the books,” or the formal economic environment, but do not address the so-called implementation gap between those laws and practice. There have been cases in which countries introduce reforms specifically to move up the rankings, but surveys of entrepreneurs reveal that business continues “as usual,” as these new laws do not work in reality, either because of a lack of political will or low public administration capacity. In addition, political stability and democratic legitimacy are not captured in the Doing Business rankings. Egypt was a “top reformer” prior to 2010, but the events in Tahrir Square were to a great extent fueled by economic woes.
In order to get a more comprehensive view of a country’s economic environment, it is useful to consider public opinion and understand attitudes towards state institutions and processes. In the case of Afghanistan, the Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People is one such tool. This year’s report is especially meaningful given the country’s post-election mood, and its implications for public confidence in the country’s economic environment.
A recent World Bank report suggests that the country will not meet the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education by 2015. The report ranks Pakistan 113th out of 120 countries in the “Education for All Index.” With seven million out-of-school kids, the challenge is snowballing with each passing year.
Afghanistan’s image in the news media is often shaped by negative stories focused on security and political challenges. What is often not highlighted are a number of successes, achieved over the past several years, in shaping the country’s economic policy and democratic governance. These reforms have improved the business enabling environment and made a positive difference in the lives of small business owners whose livelihoods depend on a predictable and efficient regulatory environment.
Entrepreneurship has become a major phenomenon in Pakistan. Among the highlights of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014, local startup “TalLee” was selected for the GEW 50 2014 as one of the top 50 startup ventures from around the world — chosen from among 600 startups from 38 countries.
TalLee sells door bells; the innovation that makes these door bells so special is that they have GSM capability, so that the owner of the house gets a phone call (irrespective of location) and connects with the person who has pressed the doorbell. The idea was conceived by Rafi, who founded TalLee in April 2014 and was offered incubation space at NUST Technology Incubation Center (TIC).
A seminar on Entrepreneurship for Economic Growth was also held in Karachi on November 21, 2014, jointly organized by the Karachi School for Business and Leadership and the National Entrepreneurship Working Group. Various factors that inhibit the growth of entrepreneurship were discussed. Among these, the lack of focus on critical creative thinking in the country’s education system was identified to be a key reason why graduates prefer joining the rank of job-seekers and not creators.
This inspired me to visualize my job hunting days and also to further investigate why critical creative thinking is absent from our education system. In 2004, when I graduated from an engineering university, seeking a job was written on my forehead. Dropping CVs to company after company was foremost on my to-do list, and after several interviews, one company hit me with an unusual question: why don’t you become an entrepreneur?
Women entrepreneurs are increasingly important participants in the new global economy. In many emerging free-market economies and newly democratic countries, women comprise a significant — and sometimes dominant — portion of the business infrastructure, not only in the informal and small business sector, but in corporate ranks as well. Yet their participation on the management of business overall and the making of public policy is still hindered by lack of adequate gender representation, legal, institutional and cultural barriers, and traditional societal practices.
For over 30 years, CIPE has been working to strengthen democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market oriented reform. CIPE’s program for women focus on empowering them as entrepreneurs and encouraging their full participation in civil life and policymaking with the goal of building democracy that delivers for all.
In honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, CIPE hosted a Google Hangout with a distinguished panel of women leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss how women’s economic participation could be advanced globally. The panel featured Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI); Lina Hundaileh, Chair of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association (YEA) in Jordan; and Lucy Valenti, President of the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN). Discussant and moderator were CIPE Program Officer Maiko Nakagaki and Research Coordinator Teodora Mihaylova.