Posted in Reports & Indices

Human Development Report 2020

The first Human Development Report sent a ripple of excitement in the development community as it moved from tabulating mere incomes, to measuring the capacities and capabilities of human beings, as an indicator of the successes and failures of nation-states in providing a better quality of life to their citizens.

The pioneering work of economists like Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen left its impact on a whole generation of development economists, but as the years rolled by, some of the excitement of measuring every possible aspect of education, health and gender in a society, gave way to a certain predictability and tedium.

The HDR 2019, the first under a refreshingly multi-disciplinary team, reignited this enthusiasm because it was much more grounded in current realities: growing inequalities, slower social mobility, democratic backsliding and rising authoritarianism around the world. As it clearly outlined, in an increasingly fragmented world, collective action on anything from pandemics to climate change to labour-friendly work cultures, becomes increasingly difficult.

As the Human Development Report 2020 points out, in little more than a decade, the global financial crisis, the climate crisis, the inequality crisis and the COVID19 crisis have all shown that the resilience of the system itself is breaking down, buffering systems are maxing out, and once-supple connections are becoming brittle – leaving them more inclined to break than to bend, further destabilizing the Earth system.

Lurching from managing one crisis to another, how is the global community going to find the resources and time for human development? That is the question the HDR 2020 tries to address.

As an anthropologist, one was thrilled to note that the HDR 2020 is definitely anthropological in flavour. For three reasons:

It proposes that we look at the planet as having exited the Holocene Geological era, which spanned some 12,000 years, and saw the blossoming of human civilization, and enter the Anthropocene — in which humans are a dominant force shaping the future of the planet.
It proposes a holistic approach (so dear to anthropologists), wherein problems are not dumped in separate silos, but are perceived as “…multidimensional, interconnected and increasingly universal predicaments.”
Finally, it looks for solutions in a matrix that combines capabilities, agency and values – one cannot enhance human development singularly by just enhancing people’s capabilities. Nor can we assume that by empowering more people, we will ensure that a stronger ‘agency’ will necessarily make the right choices. All individual and collective action must be underpinned by universally accepted values – but people cannot realize their values without having sufficient capabilities and agency.


The hinge for this report, is of course, provided by the COVID-19 Pandemic which ripped through every country in the year under report. It provides the authors with the perfect framework to posit their underlying theme that as social imbalance increases, so do the pressures on our planet – and the two feed on, and reinforce each other, in a way which directly impedes human development:

The Report argues that “… to navigate the Anthropocene, humanity can develop the capabilities, agency and values to act by enhancing equity, fostering innovation and instilling a sense of stewardship of nature. If these have greater weight within the ever-widening choice sets that people create for themselves—if equity, innovation and stewardship become central to what it means to live a good life—then human flourishing can happen alongside easing planetary pressures.”

Because, in the Anthropocene, it is essential to do away with stark distinctions between people and planet.

This time, the way forward is not only about expanding people’s capabilities and choices, but also enhancing their agency and ability to participate in decision-making, within a framework of universal values that allow us to become true stewards of our only home – planet Earth.

Posted in Reports & Indices

Human Development Report 2019

“The wave of demonstrations sweeping across countries is a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is not working. Different triggers are bringing people onto the streets: the cost of a train ticket, the price of petrol, political demands for independence.

A connecting thread, though, is deep and rising frustration with inequalities.

Too often, inequality is framed around economics, fed and measured by the notion that making money is the most important thing in life. But societies are creaking under the strain of this assumption, and while people may protest to keep pennies in their pockets, power is the protagonist of this story: the power of the few; the powerlessness of many; and collective power of the people to demand change”

UNDP’s Human Development Report 2019 begins with these powerful words in the Foreword penned by Achim Steiner, Administrator UNDP.

Here in India, we are at a pivotal moment in our history where the CAA-NPR-NRC triad threatens to embed inequality in the very concept of citizenship – and the nationwide demonstration of ‘collective power of the people’ resonates around the globe.

The HDR 2019 makes a quantum leap from earlier Reports insofar as it looks at a different set of ‘enhanced’ capabilities, without which, large swathes of humanity will continue to fall further and further back, leading to greater disparities and consequent frustration and unrest around the world.

The Report has 5 key messages to deliver:

Key message 1: Disparities in human development remain widespread, despite achievements in reducing extreme deprivations. For example, while mobile telephones may have penetrated deep into villages and squatter settlements, how many users are capable of using the internet for banking? Or how many of those who stay the course through primary and secondary education have access to higher and vocational education which will help them earn a decent livelihood in a globalized economy?

Key message 2: A new generation of inequalities is emerging, with divergence in enhanced capabilities, despite convergence in basic capabilities. Thus, while immunization against childhood disease may be universally available, tertiary care for more serious illnesses may not.

Key message 3: Inequalities accumulate through life, often reflecting deep power imbalances. Malnutrition begins in the womb for the children of the poor, and becomes a lifelong liability affecting their mental development and capabilities to learn and participate fully in a modern knowledge society, making poverty endemic from generation to generation.

Key message 4: Assessing and responding to inequalities in human development demands a revolution in metrics – new ways and means of measuring need to be introduced to correctly assess the new inequalities of modern society.

Key message 5: We can redress inequalities if we act now, before imbalances in economic power are politically entrenched. The HDR 2019 proposes the following framework for designing policies to redress inequalities in Human Development:

In present-day India, every such report which doesn’t show the country in a very good light is either pooh-poohed as a leftist conspiracy, or everybody is consoled if India outperforms Pakistan. However, in my humble view, if our PM struts the stage at every meeting of the BRICS countries, why shouldn’t we compare our HDR parameters with these four instead?

The results are indeed very illuminating, and I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Posted in Reports & Indices

World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work

It had to happen I suppose. After the World Development Report 2018 on Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, it was only to be expected that the World Development Report 2019 would look at the Changing Nature of Work.

Last year, the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim reminded us how education helped his country to rise from the ashes of war: “Today, not only has [South] Korea achieved universal literacy, but its students also perform at the highest levels in international learning assessments. It’s a high-income country and a model of successful economic development.” This year he reminds us that “investing in Human Capital is not just a concern of ministers of health and education; it should also be a top priority for heads of state and ministers of finance.” Simple economics indeed!

The Report points out that the nature of work is changing in several ways:

  1. Digital technology is gradually replacing the traditional input-output production process, with the global platform marketplace which brings together producers, providers and customers in a multi-sided model
  2. The skill set required of workers today is shifting from manual skills to socio-behavioural, which require higher cognitive skills and greater adaptability
  3. There is a global shift from manufacturing to services, which again requires a differently skilled workforce and only those countries which have invested heavily in human capital (like Singapore and South Korea) have used this opportunity to move from developing to developed country status
  4. South Asia, on the other hand, has again missed the boat in this regard, and the result has been the unrelenting informalization of their economies, with a concomitant poor quality of life for their citizens

The Report suggests areas in which governments need to act promptly, to ensure that they are not left behind by the rest of the world, often frittering away their demographic dividends:

  • Investment in human capital, particularly early childhood education, to develop high-order cognitive and socio-behavioral skills in addition to foundational skills.
  • Enhanced social protection. A solid guaranteed social minimum and strengthened social insurance, complemented by reforms in labor market rules in some emerging economies, would achieve this goal.
  • More fiscal space for public financing of human capital development and social protection.

To back up its argument, the Report presents its first Human Capital Index for ranking its member nations. The index follows the trajectory from birth to adulthood of a child born in a given year, and quantifies the milestones in this trajectory in terms of their consequences for the productivity of the next generation of workers.

It has three components:

  1. a measure of whether children survive from birth to school age (age 5)
  2. a measure of expected years of quality-adjusted school which combines information on the quantity and quality of education
  3. two broad measures of health—stunting rates and adult survival rates.

The HCI calculated for nations is graphically presented as below:

The World Bank’s Human Capital Index has really set the cat among the pigeons, by calling to account governments like the present one in India, which only chase growth in GDP at the cost of long-term human development of future generations. The Indian Government has cried foul about the data used in this Index, but statistical hassles notwithstanding, it is very clear that the present government has grossly neglected the human, social and environmental aspects of development in favour of physical infrastructure alone. And as we know, sustainable livelihoods can be provided only when ALL five types of capital are amply provided and balanced – human, social, natural, physical and financial. 

No wonder then, it may well be the issue of livelihoods in both urban and rural areas which may see drastic political changes across India in the coming days and months…



Posted in Reports & Indices

WDR 2018: Learning to realize Education’s Promise

It is very interesting to compare how the great Asian nation states of today emerged from the chaos of World War II and subsequent decolonization. While Japan, China, South Korea and other East Asian countries each dismantled their old feudal order (at great human cost) to step into a modern and more egalitarian world; the fragments of what was the Indian sub-continent were kept busy in confrontation and conflict with each other, while the old feudal hierarchies flourished with a patina of modernity, albeit in discarded Western garb.

The choice to build a society of equals (with a natural outcome of inclusion in all policy, precept and practice) has been East Asia’s greatest strength and nowhere has inclusion paid richer dividends than in the universalization of education and the consequent enhancement of human capital for nation building. South Asia meantime, has concentrated on building elite institutions for the elite. Full stop.

In his introduction to the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2018: LEARNING – TO REALIZE EDUCATION’S PROMISE, the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, gives the example of his own country “… After the Korean War, the population was largely illiterate and deeply impoverished. Korea understood that education was the best way to pull itself out of economic misery, so it focused on overhauling schools and committed itself to educating every child—and educating them well. Coupled with smart, innovative government policies and a vibrant private sector, the focus on education paid off. Today, not only has Korea achieved universal literacy, but its students also perform at the highest levels in international learning assessments. It’s a high-income country and a model of successful economic development.”

The World Development Report this year is a refreshing change in that it looks at quality not quantity, effectiveness not efficiency, learning not schooling. Moreover, it admits that the global learning crisis is a moral crisis and schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. “… More than that, it is a great injustice: the children whom society is failing most are the ones who most need a good education to succeed in life.”

The WDR 2018 sums up the reasons for the learning crisis, and the four immediate factors that break down:

Unprepared learners: Across the world, students from poorer households have more problems learning than those from richer households. Because of deprivation and malnutrition, a child’s innate learning ability is not fully developed and many come from homes where both parents may be illiterate/uneducated. The artifacts of learning, like books, are absent from the environment as the child grows to the age of enrollment, and child experts agree that if by the age of three, a child’s brain has not developed its full potential, it is unlikely to do so later.

Unskilled and unmotivated teachers: Poor training and the subsequent lack of knowledge and pedagogical tools make teachers in most developing countries a hindrance rather than a help to learning. The situation is made worse by widespread absenteeism with little or no monitoring and evaluation.

School inputs: Necessary resources often fail to reach classrooms or to affect learning when they do. One normally expects that with adequate resources, the quality of education would improve. However, resources in the hands of unmotivated and unskilled teachers are seldom deployed effectively and may have little or no impact on learning outcomes. (The other side of the coin is that one has seen highly motivated and dedicated voluntary workers achieving impressive results with few, if any, material resources in roadside ‘schools’ for street children or in the slums of large Indian cities.)

School management: Poor management and governance often undermine schooling quality. Although effective school leadership does not raise student learning directly, it does so indirectly by improving teaching quality and ensuring effective use of resources.

The Report goes on to suggest three complementary strategies to realize education’s promise and prioritize learning, not just schooling. It argues that achieving learning for all will require countries to:

  • Assess learning to make it a serious goal. Information itself creates incentives for reform, but many countries lack the right metrics to measure learning.
  • Act on evidence to make schools work for learning.
  • Align actors to make the entire system work for learning.

Finally, the WDR 2018 points out that the rapid technological change of recent years has led to major shifts in the nature of work, and the demand for new skills will require “… foundational skills that allow individuals to size up new situations, adapt their thinking, and know where to go for information and how to make sense of it.”

If the learning crisis continues to remain unaddressed, then countries like India will forever lose their demographic dividend, and sink into a low-productivity-and-endemic-poverty trap, which they have so assiduously fought to break out of, in the past 70 years…

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”


Posted in Reports & Indices

HDR 2016 – Human Development for Everyone

When it first came out in 1990, the Human Development Report (HDR) laid down a whole new way of thinking about deprivation – it identified poverty not by what a person has or doesn’t have; but what he can or cannot do. This approach to development spoke of humanity’s very basic capabilities – to simply stay alive a reasonable length of time, to be able to read and write, and to earn enough to provide a life of decency for families and communities… The concept of human rather than economic development was to electrify all stakeholders, as they thought of new means of tackling deprivation in their countries – other than government hand-outs, subsidies and the ‘trickle down’ effect.

As the HDR 2016 proudly states:

The human development approach shifted the development discourse from pursuing material opulence to enhancing human well-being, from maximizing income to expanding capabilities, from optimizing growth to enlarging freedoms. It focused on the richness of human lives rather than on simply the richness of economies, and doing so changed the lens for viewing development results.

The HDR 2016 rightfully gives credit to its progenitor (UNDP) for making it possible for diverse countries to adopt the Millennium Development Goals in 1995, for putting the onus of poverty reduction on national governments, and achieving quite substantial results by 2015. But sadly, the MDGs were viewed by the developed world with benign tolerance, and as an acceptable means of channeling donor funds to the poor and deserving in Asia, Africa and Latin America… Nothing more.

However in the last few years, the Left-Right divide has sharpened in Europe and North America, discrimination has become legitimised through travel bans, the 1% are being increasingly resented, every G20 summit takes place amid violent protests, and multilateralism has come under attack everywhere. Add to this the growing awareness of climate change, global pandemics and environmental damage, and the developed world can no longer stand apart as a mere spectator and reluctant benefactor.

Thus, when the 8 MDGs gave way to 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the issues of sustainability moved centre-stage, then every country – rich and poor – had to perforce become part of a global multilateral project. Human development, if it is to be achieved must be achieved everywhere – in the refugee camps of Italy, the war fields of Syria, among the indigenous populations of Australasia and North and South America, the Dalits of India, and the minority enclaves in China. Hence, the theme of the latest HDR – Human Development for everyone.

Essentially, the Report conveys five basic messages:

Universalism is key to human development, and human development for everyone is attainable
• Various groups of people still suffer from basic deprivations and face substantial barriers to overcoming them
• Human development for everyone calls for refocusing some analytical issues and assessment perspectives
Policy options exist and, if implemented, would contribute to achieving human development for everyone
• A reformed global governance, with fairer multilateralism, would help attain human development for everyone

Of course the Report dwells especially on the heightened barriers to development placed in the path of indigenous groups, religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls, migrants and refugees, the elderly, disabled, and the differently inclined. These are the disadvantaged, universally acknowledged. What I find more disturbing though, is the almost universal marginalization of the poor because they are poor and without choice or voice – be it reduced health support in the US, or cut in allocations to primary education in India. It’s as if the world has decided to simply write off its bottom 10%, the hungry and the homeless, as being beyond help…

And in this darkening scenario of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ the slogan of development for everyone seems rather idealistic, although the UNDP claims that it is possible through the right policies and actions by national governments, and the strengthening of the multilateral framework of global governance.

The Report’s prescription for national governments are summarised beautifully in this diagram:

And the Report ends with an appeal to strengthen the multilateral framework of global governance, so grievously undermined by nationalistic rhetoric, growing insecurity leading to an unending arms race, religious hatred and ethnic conflict.

Its formula for strengthening the multilateral framework is:

• Stabilizing the global economy
• Applying fair trade and investment rules
• Adopting a fair system of migration
• Assuring greater equity and legitimacy of multilateral institutions
• Coordinating taxes and monitoring finance globally
• Making the global economy sustainable
• Ensuring well-funded multilateralism and cooperation
• Globally defending people’s security
• Promoting greater and better participation of global civil society

So there you have it… A blueprint for a better world? Perhaps.
A voice to be listened to? Definitely.


Posted in Reports & Indices

Suffer Little Children…

One watches the TV News at one’s own peril these days. The UN Secretary-General asking for over $4 billion for the starving children of Africa; the ragged and emaciated children scavenging for scraps in Yemen; the wounded children of Aleppo and the dead of Gaza… and TV channels vying with one another with more ‘in-depth’ reports about the inhumane juvenile justice system in ‘developed’ countries. Peddling more and more misery in High Definition, but with a polite warning ‘Viewers may find some of the images disturbing.’ Then they move on to more important things, like the Great Twitter Wars of the twenty-first century…

Frankly, activists and development agencies have simply given up on the poorest of the poor. In the face of growing disparities, extremist polities, unprecedented inequality and insatiable greed, what chance do the children of humanity’s lowest quintile have? Branded and damned by an accident of birth. Ironic that millions live and die with their low ascribed status in an era which worships merit and achievement and makes billionaires of tech lords for a single innovation.

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016 reflects this growing despair with the same tired pleas for:

  • More accurate Information (They have to beg for this in the age of Information?!)
  • Greater Integration across sectors like education, nutrition, health and housing
  • Innovations that accelerate development for the most disadvantaged
  • Investment to create equitable solutions
  • Involvement of communities, businesses, organizations and citizens around the world who believe that change is possible.

Five I’s to combat the big I – Inequality.

However elegantly alliterative the Report may be, it doesn’t acknowledge one simple fact. The poorest of the poor across the world have not only become marginalized, but are increasingly redundant for the rest of us, our governments and our big businesses. The five I’s listed above will not happen, because it is in nobody’s interest to alleviate the lot of the most disadvantaged – as simple as that.

Just look at each of these in the South Asian context, for instance:

  • India prides itself on developing and implementing the biggest biometric ID programme (Aadhar) for a billion-plus people, and provides the bulk of Information Technology’s foot soldiers across the world. Yet in its deep hinterland, millions of births go unregistered. Why?
  • The Human Development Index was said to be the brainchild of a Pakistani and an Indian, yet neither country has been innovative or effective in integrating child development programmes, and both remain high on the malnutrition and illiteracy indices. Instead, tireless advocates of child rights like Kailash Satyarthi remain unheard and unknown until anointed by the Nobel Prize, when they are famous for a week and return meekly to obscurity, with nobody paying heed to their words anymore. Instead, the Indian Government goes so far as to legitimize child labour in family trades, washing its hands of millions of the most disadvantaged children in the country. Why?
  • As regards investment, no country in this region is willing to step back from an unnecessary arms race, and invest instead in its women and children and their future. Why?
  • And the middle and business classes in the entire South Asian Region are clones of one another – materialistic and self-centred to a fault. So much for their involvement in reaching the poorest of the poor…

The report has its dire warnings too, if the Sustainable Development Goals are not met by 2030:


The Report rightly points out:

The arithmetic of equity is relatively simple and it is not a zero-sum game. Everyone should move forward, in rich and poor countries alike. But with greater investment and effort focused on reaching the children and families who have made the least progress, advances in child survival, health and education can be more equally shared to the benefit of all. To realize our global development goals, we must invest first in the children who are furthest behind.”

All we need: political will and a social conscience… and the resources can always be found.


Posted in Reports & Indices

WDR 2017: Revisiting Corruption, Capture and Clientelism

It was one of those cold misty mornings that you only get in North India in January, and I was being dropped to the airport at 5 a.m. by the hotel cabbie, and we were  lamenting the state of the world (ALL Indians always lament the state of the world when passing the time with total strangers…). Anyway, it emerged that despite working for a luxury hotel run by what is considered India’s most ethical business group, the driver is paid such a paltry salary that his family just makes it above the poverty line. And this despite being at the hotel’s beck and call 24/7. I am sure his father would have blamed his poverty on bad karma from an earlier life, and as a younger man, this gentleman would have ranted about discrimination (in arguably the world’s most discriminatory and unequal society), but in Modi’s India he blamed it on one single thing – corruption.

There is of course, a growing school of thought which believes that neo-conservative regimes like the current Indian government come to power by promising development, and blaming the preceding governments for holding the country back because of widespread corruption. Come elections, they promise to eradicate corruption through ‘good governance’. Their concept of governance (based on the classic World Bank model) is however, more like corporate governance with all emphasis on efficiency, grand announcements and fast but centralized decision-making, with the citizen-centric governance promoted by UNDP, totally forgotten along with effectiveness, participation, responsiveness, and accountability. Naturally, in this context, the entirely business-centric scales like Transparency International’s to measure corruption, or WEF’s ease of business are given far too much importance, and the UN reports on social indicators generally neglected. Consequently, wealth qua wealth is worshipped and accumulated, enterprise rewarded, bad debts incurred, and the informality and inequality in the country keep rising.

This is how the very core neocon agenda undermines itself, because as the social analyst Jong-Sung You argues in his latest book, inequality produces several causal mechanisms that serve to embed corruption within democratic structures and make them difficult to eradicate. Linking economic to political power, he explains how the ruling elite in an attempt to safeguard its own interests, buys political influence through both legal and illegal channels in order to ensure their interests are over-represented in the corridors of power. High rates of inequality thus compound the problem of state capture by powerful figures in politics, business and the media, with the result that democratic processes of accountability are undermined by corrupt practices.

Further, Dr You points out that an unequal state with enfeebled democratic infrastructure is ripe for persistent and prevalent clientelism, forcing the poor to become dependent on corrupt chains of patronage for the provision of particular benefits like medicine, education and nourishment, which would otherwise be considered entitlements in a functioning democracy. These chains of patronage on which the poor rely, are then mobilized during elections to buy votes and, in the bureaucracy, to buy favours. Importantly, this illustrates that the role elections should play as a mechanism for accountability ceases to function under high conditions of inequality; elections meant to fight corruption, become a means to legitimize a corrupt regime. And so we have come full circle.

Maybe it is the work of thinkers like Dr Jong-sung You which has begun to influence that bastion of free enterprise, the World Bank. Their latest World Development Report is a refreshing recant on their earlier version of governance and now considers governance as “… the process through which state and non-state actors interact to design and implement policies within a given set of formal and informal rules that shape and are shaped by power. This Report defines power as the ability of groups and individuals to make others act in the interest of those groups and individuals and to bring about specific outcomes.”

So there you have it: in the end, the institutions of governance do eventually subserve the demands of the most powerful in society. The WDR 2017 acknowledges that the power asymmetries in society can greatly undermine development and policy making and implementation because they lead to exclusion, capture, and clientelism. This in turn leads to the power of elite bargaining in a modern democracy, and its impact on policy-making and eventually, development.

As part of the World Development Report 2017, the World Bank, in collaboration with the V-Dem Institute, has conducted expert surveys to generate cross-national indicators that enable comparison of who holds bargaining power and how they wield this influence. The surveys cover more than 100 years of data in 12 countries across six regions and their findings are very interesting, as this graph shows:

WDR 2017 Elites.png

Some observations:

  • Power in Russia, Turkey (and Rwanda!) is apparently centralized totally to the exclusion of all other actors. So what happens when the mighty One is no more?
  • Do Brazilians really feel that the media there are such powerful players? Perhaps, especially after the media hounding of a democratically elected President…
  • Are foreign governments and international donor agencies really so powerful in Sri Lanka, or is there a defence angle India should worry about?
  • Local Governments, Organized Labour Unions and Civil Society Organizations seem to wield power only in Bolivia making it some sort of last refuge for the socialist idealist, and
  • Finally, India is true to the South Asian archetype, where power is centralized in the National Executive, National legislature, the Judiciary, national political parties and the All-India Civil Services – a permanent bureaucracy bequeathed by our erstwhile rulers to the entire sub-continent. Noticeable too is the absence of influence at the local or municipal level, despite the 74th Constitutional Amendment on decentralization, dating back to 1992, and that goes a long way in explaining the pathetic state of India’s burgeoning cities…
Posted in Reports & Indices

Good Countries, Bad Countries…

Growing xenophobia, islamophobia, racism and communalism do not sit well in an increasingly connected and globalised world – especially where challenges like climate change, air pollution, depleting fresh water resources, and disaster management require a transnational and multinational response. And any attempts to go it alone only end up dividing a nation, as the British have recently found out…

Simon Anholt is a British researcher and independent policy adviser, who believes that leaders across the world must be accountable not only for what they do within their national borders, but for the good or harm they do to the greater global community. To provide a quantifiable and comparable tool for the assessment of countries in the good/harm they do globally, he came up with the Good Country Index in 2014. This index concerns itself with the balance sheet of each of the 163 countries (for whom data are available) in terms of what it takes from others, and what its global contribution is, as reflected in these 7 essential indicators:

  1. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, measured by the number of international students, journal exports, international publications, Nobel Prizes, patents
  2. CULTURE, measured by creative goods exports, creative services exports, UNESCO dues in arrears as percentage of contribution, freedom of movement, press freedom
  3. INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY, measured by peace-keeping troops, dues in arrears to UN peace keeping budgets, international violent conflict, arms exports, internet security
  4. WORLD ORDER, measured by charity given, refugees hosted, refugees generated, birth rate, UN treaties signed
  5. PLANET AND CLIMATE, measured by ecological footprint, reforestation since 1992, hazardous pesticides exports, CO2 emissions, ozone
  6. PROSPERITY AND EQUALITY, measured by open trading, UN volunteers abroad, Fairtrade market size, FDI outflows, development assistance
  7. HEALTH AND WELLBEING, measured by food aid, pharmaceutical exports, voluntary excess donations to the WHO, humanitarian aid donations

Not surprisingly, the top 10 in the latest rankings are: Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, France, Austria and Canada – the high resourced and low population countries, which have done all they can to ensure the best quality of life for their own people, and can now afford to look elsewhere and do some good at the global level.

However, if we take a detailed look at what the BRICS countries contribute to the greater good of humanity, per this index, we come across plenty of surprises:


Firstly, it’s a pleasant surprise that all BRICS countries are in the upper half of global Good Country rankings but that Brazil fares the best and Russia the worst, is rather surprising. Another encouraging fact is that BRICS as a whole is doing reasonably well in the health and well-being sector globally, even when their domestic health services are often downright abysmal and inequitable. But that’s the way the indicator is designed. For instance, Indian pharmaceutical companies have fought restrictive trade practices to reverse engineer several life-saving drugs, making them available cheaply for the worst affected areas, as in the case of HIV drugs in Africa.

That South Africa ranks as the number one contributor to international peace and security is indeed a matter of pride, and China, India and Brazil all do well in this regard. Russia is again the odd man out – but being the world’s second largest arms exporter, that is hardly surprising!

The fact that Brazil has at last got its environmental act together is a relief for the whole planet, but the world’s most polluted cities and reckless mining continue to give India, China and South Africa low rankings on this count.

Finally, the saddest performance of BRICS as a whole is in their failure to eradicate (or even reduce) poverty among their citizens, and narrow the growing divide between rich and poor – BRICS has among the highest Gini Coefficients of any group of countries. This makes them net consumers, rather than contributors of development aid and brings down their ranking (with Russia as an exception in this instance).

Globalisation is inescapable and has both negative and positive fallouts: who would have believed that a blog, essentially on governance and development in India, would be read in 111 countries within a year of its inception? But that’s global connectivity for you. So why not a new paradigm of governance based upon global participation, global accountability and global responsibility?

After all Rabindranath Tagore’s prayer for his beloved country ran:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…

Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls…”


Posted in Reports & Indices

Schools and Skills

Two items of concern to all Indians. A Statista chart on the countries with the greatest skill shortages, with India in a disturbing second position:

Skill Shortage Bar Chart


And John Kurrien in the Times of India citing an Educational Initiatives study of 35,000 Class 2, 4 and 6 students in 300 municipal schools in 30 towns of 5 states, indicating that more than two-thirds of Class 4 children were unable to divide 20 by 5; and more than half of Class 2 students were unable to match an alphabet letter with its sound -­ a skill mastered by most children attending an average private pre-primary school.

The article goes on to lament that instruction in most municipal schools is extremely limited in quality and scope, confined as it is to the “… mindless teaching of languages and mathematics from prescribed textbooks, and a smattering of science and social studies…”

We must bear in mind that the parents who send their children to a municipal school are essentially domestic workers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors and other stalwarts of the urban informal sector, whose ONE aspiration is that their daughter or son will NOT follow in their footsteps, but get the education and skills to procure a secure, permanent and well paid job in the formal sector.

And this is exactly the type of student that programmes like Skill India should be targeting.

But if the municipal school education is as abysmally poor as the above report suggests, how successful will the government’s ambitious vocationalisation efforts be? Not very… and there goes India losing its demographic dividend, while countries like China and South Korea forge right ahead, especially in the small, medium and heavy manufacturing sectors.

While Japan may suffer a skill shortage because of the increasingly sophisticated technology of its industry coupled with an aging population, ‘younger’ countries like India, Brazil, Turkey and Mexico need to get their educational act together, if they are to overcome their respective skill shortages and the ensuing informalisation and deprivation of their urban economies.


Posted in Reports & Indices

HDR 2015: Work and Development

The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2015, looks at Work for Human Development. It points out that ‘work’ covers much more than a job and includes unpaid care work, voluntary work, or creative work. In this sense, work adds to the richness of human lives and has a synergistic relation with Human Development:

Work & HD Synergy HDR2015

The HDR 2015 points out that since 1990, the world has made major strides in human development, and the number of people living in low human development fell from 3 billion in 1990 to slightly more than 1 billion in 2014. “Today, people are living longer, more children are going to school and more people have access to clean water and basic sanitation. This progress goes hand in hand with rising incomes, producing the highest standards of living in human history. A digital revolution now connects people across societies and countries. Just as important, political developments are enabling more people than ever to live under democratic regimes. All are important facets of human development.”

The Report explains how work in various forms by 7.3 billion people has contributed to this progress:

  • Nearly a billion people who work in agriculture and more than 500 million family farms produce more than 80% of world food supplies, improving nutrition and health
  • Worldwide, 80 million workers in health and education have enhanced human capabilities
  • More than a billion workers in services have contributed to human progress
  • More than 450 million entrepreneurs are contributing to human innovation and creativity
  • Some 53 million paid domestic workers are addressing the care needs of people
  • Care work for children is preparing them for the future
  • Work that involves caring for older people, or people with disabilities, is helping them maintain their capabilities
  • Work by artists, musicians and writers is enriching human lives
  • More than 970 million people who engage in volunteer activity each year are helping families and communities, building social networks and contributing to social cohesion

Yet human progress has been uneven, human deprivations are still widespread and much human potential remains unused. Worldwide 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger, 11 children under age 5 die every minute and 33 mothers die every hour. About 37 million people live with HIV and 11 million with tuberculosis. More than 660 million people use an unimproved source of drinking water, 2.4 billion people use an unimproved sanitation facility and nearly a billion people resort to open defecation. Worldwide, 780 million adults and 103 million young people (ages 15–24) are illiterate. In developed countries 160 million people are functionally illiterate. Globally 250 million children have not learned basic skills – even though 130 million of them have spent at least four years in school.

According to the Report, the biggest deprivation in society today is the non-utilisation or underutilisation or misuse of human potential and capabilities. In 2015, 204 million people were out of work, including 74 million young people. About 830 million people in the world are working poor (living on less than $2 a day) and more than 1.5 billion are in vulnerable employment, usually lacking decent working conditions and adequate voice and social security.

The Report cautions that not all work can enhance human development, and some work actually damages it. For example, if the work is hazardous, where workplace violence is common, where women workers face harassment and abuse, where forced and child labour is tolerated, then work can hardly be said to contribute to either the quality of life or human development. In 2009, some 30 million EU workers experienced work-related violence, such as harassment, intimidation, bullying or physical violence – 10 million in the workplace and 20 million outside it! Obviously, such data is not recorded in other regions where work conditions are known to be much worse.

The world has around 168 million child labourers, almost 11 percent of the child population, some 100 million boys and 68 million girls. Around half are engaged in hazardous work. Similarly, in 2012 about 21 million people worldwide were in forced labour, trafficked for labour and sexual exploitation or held in slavery-like conditions. Forced labour is thought to generate around $150 billion a year in illegal profits. After arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking is the most lucrative illicit business worldwide. Between 2007 and 2010 trafficked victims of 136 nationalities were detected in 118 countries, 55–60 percent of them women. Paid domestic work is an important means of income for millions of workers, the majority being women; but exploitation and abuse are rife in this sector.

The following infographic illustrates well just how work can either enhance or diminish human development:

Global picture of Work HDR2015

I have quoted at such length from the Report, because I see how little attention is paid to the human development and sustainability aspects of work in all developing countries, while economists remain wholly obsessed with the number of jobs ‘created’ by a government in this quarter or that financial year. In reality, this age of digital technology and global trade has set new challenges: there has never been a worse time to be a worker with only ordinary skills and abilities. A more holistic and societal approach to enhancing the quality of all work (of which paid jobs are a mere subset) is needed, if our countries are not to become more unequal and divided – with pockets of wealth glittering among deprivation and despair.

The Report lists possible measures for a country to take to move towards sustainable work, and it is interesting to see how far the actual policies of a Government (such as India) diverge from the desirable:

  • Identify appropriate technologies and investment options, including leapfrogging opportunities. An interesting example is the spread of mobile telephony throughout Asia and Africa, where the landline networks were practically non-existent.
  • Set up regulatory and macroeconomic frameworks to facilitate adoption of sustainable policies. On the contrary, infrastructure and industrial projects are being cleared with such haste in India, that sustainability and the environment are getting chucked out of the window
  • Ensure that the population has the appropriate skills base combining technical and high-quality skills with core abilities for learning, employability and communicating. India with its highly stratified society has always shown a hint of elitism in its education policies – with world class institutions for ‘people like us’ and virtually nothing for ‘them’. This elitism is now being increasingly challenged and is the major cause for the growing unrest on Indian campuses.
  • Retrain and upgrade the skills of large numbers of workers in informal sectors, such as agriculture. As long as the farmers provide India with food self-sufficiency, who cares about upgrading their skills? Ironically, when sons of farmers graduate from a good Agricultural University in Maharashtra, their one aspiration is to pass the State or Union Public Service Exam and become a bureaucrat. So much for education…
  • Manage the adverse impacts of the transition by offering diversified packages of support and levelling the playing field to break the transmission of intergenerational inequality. No one has even noticed this impact of transition (creeping urbanization being an example), let alone frame a policy to deal with it…
  • Continue to build the skill base of the population. This will require a lifecycle approach that recognizes the cumulative nature of interventions that lead to learning. Large investments in the number and quality of health and education workers will be necessary, underscoring the continuing role of the public sector in transforming skills. Again, the desired investment in health and education is simply not happening. 

So perhaps it is time for the Indian PM to pay greater heed to Nobel Laureates like Amartya Sen and Kailash Satyarthi… and put his US-educated experts back in the multinational consultancy firms where they belong. Or watch the winds of unrest grow into a whirlwind…