Key Takeaways from Recent World Bank Annual Meetings in Bali-Indonesia: An Interview with Co-Chair Lenora Ebule
By Dorice Njonkep
Dorice Njonkep (DN): From October 8-14, 2018 in Bali – Indonesia, you attended the IMF/World Bank Group Annual Meetings. What were the main topics on the agenda?
Lenora Ebule (LE):The Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) hold annual meetings with ministers of finance and development, central bankers, private sector executives, and representatives of civil society organizations to discuss a range of issues related to poverty reduction, international economic development and finance. This annual meeting was full of critical discussions that will have future implications for how countries position themselves to grow their economies and address their most pressing challenges.
The topics on the Annual Meeting’s agenda were varied but primarily focused on energy transition to more environmentally friendly options, harnessing technology for inclusive growth, the state of human capital development, the evolution of the World Bank’s governance structures, and on opportunities to mobilize public and private financing into investments that target measurable positive social, economic, and environmental impacts for profitable returns.
DN: Panelists and experts stressed on the importance of investing in human capital. Do you think that human capital is crucial for countries competing in the global economy?
LE:Yes. Absolutely yes.
According to The World Bank, Human Capital is the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, and experiences that enables people to reach their full potential and be the primary driver of their nation’s economic growth. Its research highlights that human capital accounts for the largest share of a country’s wealth, and more critically, it has a direct relationship with a country’s GDP. In fact, human capital is the source of two-thirds of the world’s GDP! The report’s Human Capital Index (HCI), which shows how much human capital a child born today will accumulate by age 18, goes a long way to make this relationship very clear.
Let’s look at Cameroun, which plans to someday compete effectively in the global economy. Its HCI score is 0.39. This means that the productivity of a future worker born today is 61% below what could be achieved with complete education and good health. Think about that… 61% below what could be achieved. Also, because HCI is linked to how much income a country can generate, Cameroun’s score of 0.39 means the GDP per worker could be almost three times as high! This score is due to the country’s 9.1 average years of school of which only 5.5years are high quality years of education versus a target of 14years, and an inept health care system that results in a 67% adult survival rate and 32% stunting of children under 5years. Stunted children do no develop a similar level of mental and physical capabilities as do non-stunted children. Therefore, if the country continues on this path with a third of its population stunted and only 5.5 years of quality education, it will leave a large proportion of its growth potential untapped, making it very uncompetitive in the global economy.
So again, yes. A focus on developing human capital is crucial for any country to grow.
DN: What were some of the resolutions/conclusions reached at that stands to benefit Africans?
LE: Mr. Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank Vice President for Africa highlighted a grave statistic for the African continent: While the percentage of poverty on the continent has declined, the actual number of poor has increased by roughly 50 Million people between 1990 and 2012! In discussion with African Ministers, policymakers, entrepreneurs and civil society leaders, a number of recommendations for all African countries were made. Some of these recommendations include:
- Investing more and better in people through better education and healthcare to particularly reduce mortality rates and child stunting
- Changing the narrative. Stop referring to human capital investments as investments in “social sectors”. Talk about investments in human capital as investments in economic drivers
- Creating the environment to leapfrog into the digital economy by first actively getting all Africans connected to the internet. This will require political commitment and investments in skills and infrastructure development
- Investing in agriculture and leveraging technology to build efficiencies and productivity
- Building the basic infrastructure to enable commerce, growth and competitiveness such as roads, ports and airports
- Reducing the likelihood and cost of conflicts and fragility on the continent. A combined focus on security and development will go a long way to achieve this. As Mr. Ghanem so aptly put it, “there is no lasting security without development and development cannot happen without security”.
DN: As a Co-Chair at the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation, do you think that your respective institutions are playing these roles of investing in human capital?
LE:Yes, we are. Our Foundation plays an important role in advocating for better policies that ensure the government makes greater investments in education and health sectors and provides skills-based trainings. As you know, we have a number of initiatives currently underway.
- Under the Health Initiative, we are advocating for significant reduction in shortages in health care personnel, better infrastructure, and the introduction of credible health insurance schemes to reduce morbidity and mortality.
- Under theSustainable Development Program, we are focused on issues and policies that will ensure equitable economic growth today and for future generations. These include, but not limited to education, public health, private-sector growth as well as government policies to spur economic growth in Cameroon and Africa. One initiative I am proud of is the pilot education program we have been running in the Far North region where we provide financial assistance in the form of primary school teacher salaries. This support keeps children in schools and provides some relief for the community displaced by Boko Haram.
- Under the STEM Prize, we encourage young Cameroonians and Africans, especially girls and young women (aged 13 – 21 years) to pursue careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Years of empirical evidence show a strong positive correlation between investments in STEM education and economic growth.
I will like us to remember that Human Capital is the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, and experience. At an individual level, it is how much education and health a child born today will accumulate by age 18 to contribute positively to the economic growth of a country. So, unlike investing in roads or ports which bring quick economic benefits, investments in people do not return economic benefits until those children grow up and join the work force. Given how critical it is to propel economic growth and enhance a country’s completeness, political leadership and a concerted commitment to the following is required from the Cameroun government:
- Security and stability for all Camerounians, especially children who will make up tomorrows’ workforce
- Expansion of government investment in education and healthcare
- Commit to equity and fairness so that the poorest members of society have an equitable opportunity to contribute to its development
- Providing the environment to foster inclusion of private sector, non-profit, and civil society organizations to support effective delivery of education and healthcare services, and accountability for expected outcomes
DN: What do the Foretia Foundation and Nkafu Policy Institute stand to benefit from such a high-profile event?
LE:My view on this question is very different. I do not focus on what our Foundation and Nkafu can benefit from participating in such events. Instead, Denis and I focus on how we can leverage networks created and apply knowledge gained from rich discussions to inform how we execute the Foundation’s strategy towards achieving its goal to catalyze Africa’s economic transformation.
DN: What advice can you give to policymakers and entrepreneurs in Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular?
LE:My message to policy makers is, the country is full of energetic and passionate people eager to grow their country. It is time create and implement policies, with input from the people, that address fundamental issues and set the country on a path to prosperity.
To entrepreneurs, I say thank you for creating jobs.
DN: Thank you for your time