What drew you to apply for the Visiting Experts Program?
I was an academic researcher for a large part of my career. But since my arrival at the World Bank Group, nearly fifteen years ago, I have focused on more operational activities in the areas of poverty reduction, inclusive growth, jobs generation, and the linkages between them. More recently I moved even further from my original roots by going into management. Having been exposed to both sides of the research-operational spectrum, I became increasingly aware of the gap that often exists between research findings and the design and implementation of World Bank projects, and of the risk of research becoming disconnected from operational needs.
So, as soon as I found out about the VEP program, I was instantly drawn to the opportunity of making my modest contribution to bridging this gap and shaping an operationally relevant research agenda in an area of particular interest to me: the challenge of enhancing job opportunities in developing countries.
What did you hope you would gain from participating?
I hoped to be able to build on the innovative framework of the 2013 World Development Report: Jobs and, with the help of colleagues in the research department, develop a new operational framework for policy advice in this area. My main aims were to strengthen the linkage between recent World Bank Group efforts to enhance diagnostics/data and the volume and quality of our operations, and to think strategically about an operationally relevant knowledge agenda in this area.
Can you tell us more about what research product(s) you have in mind?
Enhancing job opportunities is a top priority for policy makers struggling to eradicate poverty and boost prosperity worldwide. Globally, around 200 million men and women are formally unemployed and many more work in low-paid subsistence activities. Moreover, another 400 million jobs will need to be created by 2020 in order to provide job opportunities for a growing population and increasing female participation. But, as the 2013 World Development Report: Jobs report underscores, jobs are not just the engine of poverty reduction or a derivative of growth—they are transformative in and of themselves, and can help open the pathways to development. This is because “jobs that are good for development” generate social benefits that go beyond their impact on output and the private benefits of increased income.
My research focuses on the profound implications this insight has for the design of effective development strategies and policy packages at country level, and for the policy advice given by World Bank operational teams. Interestingly this view seems to have been implicit in the thinking behind many of the policy packages implemented by many countries in response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis. I am using cross-country variations in the response to the Great Recession to assess the extent to which this insight permeated policy responses, and whether the adoption (implicit or explicit) of this principle facilitated the recovery and/or mitigated the negative impacts of the economic shock. I am also examining the World Bank Group policy advice to client countries pre-, during and post-crisis to assess the “quality” of the advice given, measured in terms of the extent to which: (i) it reflected up-to-date knowledge of the literature; (ii) the advice given on fiscal, macro and labor were coherent; and (iii) this advice reflected the view that jobs have intrinsic externalities.
I envisage three main products emerging. The first is a publication on policy responses in selected countries to the recent deterioration of employment performance experienced (with particular focus on the G20). The second is an overview of World Bank Group knowledge products (including Technical Assistance and Research products) on jobs carried out since 2007. The third is a paper summarizing the findings of a systematic review of these products and policy recommendations given by World Bank Group operational teams. This paper has been selected to be presented at the IZA-World Bank Conference on Labor and Development to be held in Lima, Peru, in June.
Can you tell us how this experience will benefit you afterward?
Given the process of change in the World Bank Group, it is difficult to pinpoint how this will benefit my work, but I expect that the outcomes will be invaluable to the new Jobs Cross-cutting Solution Area.
Any suggestions for how to put research findings to use in operations?
I personally feel that research is always useful to operations (and vice versa), far more than we are aware of, and willing to acknowledge. However, two important links are often missing and this prevents the full benefits of having strong researchers and experienced operational staff under the same roof to be fully materialized. The first is the connection between the areas of focus of research and operational priorities. Strengthening this link could make research far more valuable to operational staff. The second is the use of a common language and a user-friendly format. In my view, translating the important messages that emerge from research into small bites that can be chewed easily in the field would pay huge dividends in terms of facilitating its use by operational staff.
What is important to you outside of work?
My family and the ability to mentor others.