Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in BulgariaThe impact of COVID-19 globally is undeniable. From Canada to Ukraine, every nation is fighting the virus. Bulgaria is facing a similar battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty. Organizations are fighting to keep both under control while implementing solutions to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria and around the world.

The Fight Against COVID-19

Bulgaria’s first COVID-19 case occurred on May 8, 2020, which was later than many of its neighbors. The Bulgarian parliament quickly went into a state of emergency on May 13, 2020, due partially to the weak healthcare system. Discussions about how to balance the economy and COVID-19 precautions soon started. Despite the government’s best efforts, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria was significant.

The Past Against the Present

Bulgaria’s past has contributed to its present state. Bulgaria became its own independent country in 1908, with the occurrence of World War I six years later. The defeat of Bulgaria in World War I saw the loss of 100,000 people. Twenty years afterward, World War II started, resulting in an eventual Soviet invasion. Communism ruled for the next five years.

These events led to economic unrest for several years. Bulgarians boycotted and protested the crisis several times throughout the years, most recently in 2013. The first protests led to Bulgaria joining the European Union but the transition was rough on living standards. Structural reforms in the late 1990s led to faster growth and better living for Bulgarians, with some economic issues in 2008, 2013 and 2014, despite overall improvement. The impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty has many experts concerned about a possible relapse into economic decline.

The Virus Against the Economy

The negative impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria began when the country’s economy was doing well. COVID-19 dragged the economy into a recession throughout 2020 and 2021. As a result, poverty in Bulgaria in 2021 could increase before it declines. Job losses and poverty have hit young people especially hard. Bulgaria will take time to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19, according to many experts. Alongside high productivity, experts have emphasized several components that Bulgaria must prioritize for its economic recovery:

  • Optimal use of EU money
  • Reopening of businesses
  • Reducing crime rates
  • More job prospects
  • More educational opportunities

Solutions in the Present

Bulgaria’s long-term recovery will take years, but organizations are currently attempting to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty. SOS Children’s Villages prioritizes the well-being of young people who have suffered the most from poverty in Bulgaria.

SOS Children’s Villages dedicates itself to helping lift children and teenagers out of poverty all over the world. The organization has two bases in Bulgaria — the cities of Sofia and Trjavna. Its focus is on strengthening families, improving care in families and providing support for young people. The organization also promotes advocacy and improves emergency programs for unaccompanied refugee children. Reducing the child poverty rate is the overall goal of SOS Children’s Villages in Bulgaria.

Despite the significant impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria, organizations like SOS Children’s Villages are providing substantial aid. With the continued commitment of organizations, poverty in Bulgaria will reduce and Bulgaria will find its way to economic recovery,

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Corruption in LebanonEvents surrounding the massive blast that decimated the cosmopolitan city of Beirut have sparked outrage regarding poverty and corruption in Lebanon. The conclusion that many journalists and analysts have come to is that the bomb that went off on the Port of Beirut was an accident due to negligence by a corrupt, inefficient and sectarian government. As a result of the blast, 200 people died, many more were injured and 300,000 became homeless. Not to mention the economic devastation to Lebanon, with an estimated cost of $15 billion in losses to the entire country. The bombing has damaged an already strained healthcare system that is dealing with a global pandemic, causing a humanitarian crisis. This has sparked massive outrage in the form of protests taking over government ministries, calling for a revolution and a complete overhaul of the political system. However, this catastrophe only represents the tip of the iceberg, as we will see how the problem of corruption (and its link to poverty) has been mounting in Lebanon.

The Troubles Underneath

Lebanon scores 28 out of 100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being least corrupt) in the Corruption Perception Index. This is in many ways due to the system of patronage. The country is ruled by a patronage system in which the political elite exchange political support for jobs, contracts and other benefits and resources distributed by sectarian division. Political rule is inherited through sectarian lines as the government and legislative seats are filled through the use of sectarian networks and contacts. The result is a political system made up of three parties that cannot be challenged by independent actors. Not to mention, a system with no accountability and massive inefficiencies.

Maya Terro, co-founder and executive director at FoodBlessed, spoke with The Borgen Project, stating “in Lebanon, the effects of corruption permeate every corner of public life.” She went on to explain that corruption is widespread at all levels of Lebanese society. The Lebanese public tends to view both the political institutions, such as political parties and parliament, and government institutions, such as public administration and the police, as “the most corrupt institutions of the country.” Terro then expanded on the economic life in Lebanon, pointing out that corruption, as well as a lack of proper infrastructure and bureaucracy, leads to disincentivizing of conducting economic activity in the country. Businesses are usually faced with a weak judiciary system that is subject to petty bribes as well as political interference.

Private industry is also hampered by an unreliable and unaccountable police force, public services covered in bribes and sectarian patronage. This scenario shows further problems with a public procurement system filled with favoritism. Protecting whistleblowers is one of the ways to combat this corruption. Unfortunately, a report from Transparency International in 2015 did indicate a lack of major laws protecting whistleblowers and access to information from the government, which are important when investigating corruption.

The Correlation with Corruption and Poverty

Poverty and corruption in Lebanon are highly linked. As the country is embroiled in corruption, half of its population lives under the poverty line. The top economic 1% in Lebanon owns a quarter of the wealth, with 0.1% making the same amount of income as the bottom 50%. The unemployment rate is a staggering 30%. In her interview with The Borgen Project, Terro pointed out that income inequality is a major drive for corruption. Those who are very well off are incentivized to engage in corruption to further their wealth while impoverished communities are motivated by poverty to make a living. She further explains, “I can say from my own observations and based on scientific research is that the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable as inequality increases.”

Additionally, “at the institutional level, economic loss and inefficiency are further exacerbated by corruption. Corruption also exacerbates poverty by creating a state of unequal opportunities in which advantages arise only for those within a corrupt clientelistic network,” says Terro. The power-sharing patronage system has caused further poverty and corruption in Lebanon to the point where a bomb blast occurred in the middle of an economic crisis that the country was experiencing.

Drivers of Change

When asked about her view on the roles of NGOs and aid organizations such as USAID have in helping with the issue of poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “it doesn’t fight it much because institutions like these only deal with the effects, they don’t and can’t do much when it comes to the root causes of corruption in Lebanon, which are many-fold indeed and vary sometimes from one institution to another and from one person to another.”

However, it is worth highlighting certain actions that NGOs have taken in tackling poverty and corruption in Lebanon. For one, Transparency International engaged in an investigative and documentary campaign that highlighted pollution of the riverside in the Bar Elias town and the sickness it was causing the locals after the government ignored the problem. Advocacy by NGOs has partly helped create the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is composed of experienced professionals independent and inexperienced in politics. When asked about her view on what’s the best way to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “you need to start with the root causes and beyond filing reports and media — shaming the corrupt, not much has been done beyond that. What is needed is action, not more reports.” This action was manifested in the October Revolution and recent protests from cross-sectarian divisions demanding radical change to the political system. Finally, there is the mounting pressure that is coming from the international community (especially from Emmanuel Macron) in forcing the government of Lebanon to implement necessary reformations to receive necessary foreign aid.

Today, the country is currently going into uncertainty after the resignation of the designated MP Mustafa Adib after it became clear that Iran-backed militias are hijacking the French initiative to reform the country. Following Adib’s resignation, former Prime Minister and billionaire Saad Al Hariri took the position after being ousted from that position a year ago. The political class seems incapable of implementing a reformation that would topple the system it has put into power. It appears that the three factors showing hope to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon are the anger and revolt of the Lebanese people, external pressures by actors like Macron and civil society groups that have previously filled the vacuum left by the government. For example, the environmental NGO Al-Shouf Cedar Society, and the majors of different districts are in cooperation in the management of Al-Shouf Ceder Nature Reserve. When it comes to aiding refugees from Syria, Lebanese NGOs, which are mostly funded by the U.N., tend to be the primary provider of aid. After the blast in Beirut, three women affected by the explosion started the grassroots community organization Khaddit Beirut and identified 100 local businesses that it aims to help, thereby creating 1,600 jobs. The group aims to harness the local energy of volunteers to aid the recovery of the city after the tragedy happened.

Following the Beirut explosion, NGOs and the Lebanese government are highlighting poverty and corruption in Lebanon and are actively working to address the root causes. However, there is still much to be done to alleviate the political corruption in Lebanon. Civil society groups and Lebanese NGOs are critical actors in reforming political action.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in LatviaLatvia is a small country in the Baltic region with a population of fewer than 2 million people. The republic was under Soviet control from 1940 until it gained its independence in 1991. Latvia has made noticeable progress increasing its life expectancy rate at birth over the last few decades from 70.2 years in 2000 to 74.8 years in 2015. However, the country is currently undergoing major demographic shifts. While its birth rate is decreasing, its death rate is high, ranked fourth in the world. In addition to various public health threats, the healthcare system in Latvia is grappling with significant challenges that affect its efficiency and quality. Here are five things to know about Healthcare in Latvia

5 Things to Know About Healthcare in Latvia

  1. Several indicators show that the public health profile in Latvia is relatively weak in relation to comparable countries. For instance, the country’s life expectancy in 2015 was the third-lowest among EU countries. In the same year, Latvia had the highest notification rate of Hepatitis C in the EU. In 2014, adult obesity levels were at 21%, placing Latvia third among EU countries.
  2. Latvia spends less than similar countries on healthcare. In 2015, the country spent only 5.8% of its GDP, equal to €1,071 per capita. This falls considerably below the EU average of 9.9%. These statistics showcase the lingering challenges of the country’s underfunded healthcare system. Physician and hospital bed density rates also provide clarity in this respect. In 2017, Latvia had 3.19 physicians and 5.6 beds per 1,000 people.
  3. Obesity, smoking and heavy drinking are major poor health trends in Latvia. In 2015, the average Latvian adult consumed 10.8 liters of alcohol. Furthermore, 20% of adults in the country heavily consume alcohol regularly, with men being the greater consumers than women. In addition, one in four adults in the country smoked daily in 2014. This is a higher percentage than the EU average of 21%.
  4. Healthcare in Lativa has undergone many reforms since the country gained independence in 1991. In 2011, the country created a National Health Service (NHS)-type system. The NHS controls the implementation of healthcare policies, while the Ministry of Health develops policies and oversees the system. Though all citizens receive coverage through the system, patients still have to pay for user charges and other significant out-of-pocket costs. In 2014, Latvia ranked second among EU nations in its household out-of-pocket expenses to health expenditures ratio, which was 39%.
  5. A Latvian individual’s likelihood of exposure to poor health outcomes depends on his social and economic status. For instance, according to the European Health Interview Survey, more than 3% of Latvians have asthma. People from lower-education and lower-income backgrounds are the most susceptible group. Inequalities also emerge with regard to perceptions of health among Latvians. Approximately one-third of Latvians from low-income backgrounds claim to be in good health, in contrast to two-thirds from high-income backgrounds. Similarly, access to healthcare varies depending on location. Those living in rural areas may face greater difficulty accessing health services owing to shortages of medical professionals in these areas.

Based on these facts, it is clear that healthcare in Latvia needs critical adjustments in order to improve the country’s health profile. Not only is Latvia’s spending on this sector very low compared to other EU nations, but problems like obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption signal an urgent need for improvement. Ensuring equal access is also an important goal for the country to strive toward.

Oumaima Jaayfer
Photo: Pxfuel

education reforms in indiaAfter 30 years, the government of India has finally revamped its standards in secondary and higher education. Among the education reforms in India, there has been an increase in socioemotional care, staff qualifications and access to innovative program opportunities in the public school system. These changes are significant for today’s Indian children, who made up 30% of the world’s poorest children in 2016.

Impoverished and Uneducated?

In 2017, 22% of India’s population lived in poverty. Among them, 287 million were unable to read or write: the basic fundamentals of primary education.

India has the highest worldwide rate of illiterate children. Sadly, illiteracy makes many students unable to keep up in classes and causes them to be removed from the public school system. Disproportionately, 78% of the children out of school are girls.

Children who fail out of lower school due to illiteracy are in greater danger of falling or staying beneath the poverty line if their family is already facing hardships. Indian children who are not included in the school community face greater social seclusion and lack of community support. Without support and opportunities from their communities, these challenges greatly stunt a child’s socioemotional and economic growth.

Building the Budget

Although there are difficulties, education reforms in India are growing. In 2019, the Indian government in New Delhi declared the 2019-2020 school year budget for public institutions to be ₹94,853.64 Indian rupees ($1,254). This was a raise of $149 U.S. dollars since the previous school year.

Although the New Delhi government is increasing its budget with the funds it can spare, India spends nowhere near the U.S. $64 billion yearly budget for public education.

Building the budget for public education in India means much more than funding for materials and updating technological services in school buildings. Along with a lack of access to education, many children in India are malnourished, making it more difficult to focus during school.

The budget has also increased the amount allocated for the lunchtime meal plan to ₹11,000 Indian rupees. Thus, students receive more services than classroom instruction while in the school building. This betters the overall physical and mental health of a student.

Three Initiatives of Public Education Reforms in India

  1. Happiness Curriculum: The implementation of the Happiness Curriculum in 2018 created requirements to include meditation and mental exercises in the public schools’ daily programs. The 45-minute daily “happiness” period takes students into a deep reflection and meditation. As a result, students reduce feelings of anger, anxiety and fear – all emotions that stunt students’ physical and mental growth.
  2. No Detention Policy: In the vital years of middle school, students in grades fifth through eighth are now able to retake their final examinations if they fail for their grade level. Following the 2017 Right of Children Act and immense community advocacy for struggling students this bill was written; the legislation was put into action for the 2018 school year.
  3. Ph.D. Required for College Professors: The New Delhi government has increased the required level of education to a Ph.D. for university staff. This requirement raises the level of education that students at public universities will pursue and receive. By 2021, the government plans for all college-level professors to have received a Ph.D. and undergone a month’s worth of induction training. The training teaches innovative ways to structure the professors’ school year. For example, teachers learn the tools to use two hours of their days for mentoring and extracurricular activities. This change has created layers of education reforms in India.

Is Socioemotional Learning the Future?

India has invested in enhancing the level of mental and emotional growth that a child can have at school. This includes self-enhancing and enlightening engagement from the school curriculum and staff. The benefits of these initiatives implemented by the government are making many nations around the world start to question the benefits of investing in their children’s emotional and social well-being during the school day.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi
Photo: Flickr

Drug Reform in Southeast Asia
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has set forth its own sustainable development goals to reduce global poverty systematically. The third objective of its mission is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages,” and Target 3.5 within that states its intent to “strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug use such as opium and heroin.” In suit with this target, the UNODC has recently progressed drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Taking Action

In Bangkok on November 19, 2019, the UNODC concluded a two-day meeting with ministers and other government officials from Mekong countries including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The collaboration between the six states and UNODC produced the establishment named The Mekong Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Drug Control. The sole purpose of the November discussion among these states was to confer over the implementation of necessary legislation that focuses on drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The current illicit substance situation in the Mekong countries is primarily the selling and use of methamphetamine in either pill or crystal form. China and Thailand make up significant shares of the global methamphetamine market (a USD $61.4 billion market) with the largest seizures of the illicit substance reported there. Another concern is the trafficking of precursor chemicals necessary to concoct these synthetic drugs and emerging new psychoactive substances (NPS). On a global level, Mekong countries and China, in particular, have become the largest suppliers of NPS as a result of their advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Illegal horticulture for opium also continues at high levels in this subregion of Asia.

Progress Against New Psychoactive Substances

Previously initiated drug policies have kindled substantial efforts to combat the war on drugs in the Mekong. Record high seizures of substances have occurred in most recent years. In 2018, Thailand law enforcement seized 515 million methamphetamine tablets, which is 17 times greater than the amount for the entire Mekong region 10 years ago. Moreover, Thailand authorities captured more than 18 tons of crystal meth, resulting in a larger number than what authorities found in East and Southeast Asia combined five years ago. The Thai government implemented suppression campaigns along the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand) borders, forcing the trafficking routes to its western border, by the Andaman Sea through Laos and Vietnam. These areas have had seizure numbers in the first half of 2019 that already surpass the 2018 totals.

While significant headway has occurred, the UNODC and MOU know continued actions need to happen to increase the suppression of narcotics within the region. UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, explains, “the epicenter is North Shan in Myanmar, with active supply routes in and out. And the organized crime syndicates behind the trade have demonstrated they can maintain production even if labs are seized, and that new precursors can be used when others are unavailable.” Consideration of all the relevant circumstances for the illicit substances in Mekong countries is essential when countries and organizations formulate further drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The two-day negotiations in Bangkok are proof that the governments of the six states plan to keep moving in a forward direction. Jeremy Douglas added that the consensus from the meeting is to “emphasize dampening market demand through preventive education and addressing health, harms and social consequences, by increasing cross-border operations, joint training and justice cooperation, and continuing to support impoverished opium farmers in Myanmar and Laos to transition away from the drug economy.”

Eyes on Organized Crime

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam made a statement in Bangkok addressing organized crime’s hand in its drug problem, “Organized crime takes advantage of gaps and vulnerabilities that result because of uneven law enforcement capacity and coordination problems. The Mekong MOU helps by providing a framework through which we can deliver a more coherent regional approach.”Organized crime in this subregion of Asia is its government’s new primary focus. It is evident that in future years, there will be a global reduction in illicit drugs, specifically in methamphetamine and NPS, due to the continuing drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

 

how to help people fleeing violence in central america
Central America is currently facing a growing and uncontrollable issue of violence and corruption. Many innocent civilians, in search of more stable living conditions, have decided to attempt to escape the devastating violence of the region. However, considering the various situations in nations like Venezuela and Colombia worsening, a large number of migrants are journeying toward the safety of the United States. In recent years, violence has run rampant in Central America and, specifically, the Northern Triangle (the region comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Drug cartels and gangs have taken over, perpetuating corruption and violence that has crippled the region’s economy and political stability. The situation seems bleak, but here is how to help people fleeing violence in Central America.

Violence in the Northern Triangle

First, it is crucial to understand the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. Specifically, two well-known gangs are to blame for much of the violence and conflict in the region. MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown to control most of the crime and extortion rackets in Central America. These criminal organizations heavily involve themselves in drug trafficking as well, increasing the prevalence of violence and death in the region. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that focuses on the analysis of crime and threats to national and citizen security and safety, 47.4 percent of homicides in Guatemala in 2015 related to gangs or organized crime. On top of that, 49 percent of other homicides had unknown motives and perpetrators between 2012 and 2015.

The third country comprising the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, has also fallen victim to this festering cycle of violence and crime. Since 2015, gang violence alone has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people in El Salvador, and to this day, innocent civilians are still trying to flee this volatility and corruption.

How Organizations are Helping

That said, there is still hope for the desperate refugees who have been displaced from the region. Organizations like The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International have developed programs by which people can donate money and garner support for the humanitarian crisis in Central America. UNHCR and Amnesty International have done extensive work to analyze migrations from the Northern Triangle, chronicling why and how people are fleeing from the region. The organizations have also called upon various nations and leaders, such as the United States, to provide more aid to this desperate region through financial appeals processes and garnering support from the general public.

How Anyone Can Help

Those looking for how to help people fleeing violence in Central America can do so by emailing and calling their local representatives in Congress in support of the rejection of any proposed cuts to foreign assistance going to the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. It is as easy as sending an email or making a quick phone call, but the impact of these small gestures can have tremendous effects on policymakers, as they all must consider the ideas and sentiments of their constituents.

By reaching out to policymakers and creating more awareness regarding this growing issue, foreign aid will eventually reach the Northern Triangle. Though the proliferation of political instability and gang violence in the region makes for a bleak situation, foreign aid facilitated by active public engagement can have a positive impact on the people fleeing violence in Central America.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

Health Care Reform in Turkey
In a very revolutionary move, Turkey has made cancer treatment essentially accessible for all. Labour and Social Security Minister Jülide Sarıeroğlu announced in a written statement that the country has abolished all extra fees that were charged in treatment, surgery and medication of cancer.

This new shift in policy is part of a longstanding effort to improve health care in Turkey and make health care coverage available for all, particularly the nation’s poor.

Universal Health Care in Turkey

The policy was approved earlier this year and shows further commitment to universal health care in Turkey. Sarıeroğlu added that Turkey will continue to make improvements to its health care system regardless of costs.

The impact this will have on the population is significant as 20 percent of deaths in Turkey are caused by cancer and 450 individuals are diagnosed with cancer on a daily basis, totaling to approximately 164,000 cases every year. As part of the shift, the government also increased cancer treatment payments in private hospitals by 200 percent for those with social benefits.

The Labour and Social Security minister has additionally committed to improving the conditions of public health care providers and state universities. Lastly, to avoid overcrowding, hospitals owned by the Health Ministry and the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (Social Security Institution) were merged.

The History of Health Care in Turkey

In 2002, Turkey’s health care system was riddled with inefficiencies. The country’s allocation towards cancer treatment was a paltry 3 percent in overall spending. The infant mortality rate was at 26.1 per 1,000 live births, and two-thirds of the population had no access to health insurance.

With the support of the World Bank Group, the Health Transformation Programme was initiated. The programme’s main goal was to overhaul the previous health care infrastructure and equalize access to health facilities in rural and urban areas alike. Along with addressing systemic regional imbalances, the World Bank has helped Turkey confront non-communicable diseases, including but not limited to cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Reform of the Health Care in Turkey

Since the implementation of better and more comprehensive health care in Turkey, the citizens of the country have seen an increase in insurance coverage from 2.4 million people in 2003 to 10.2 million people in 2011. Coverage specifically for Turkey’s poorest decile jumped from 24 percent in 2003 to 85 percent in 2011. The enhanced financial protection provided by insurance has reduced the relative number of out-of-pocket payments, especially for lowest-income households, subsequently leading to a decline in exorbitant health expenditures.

Furthermore, life expectancy at birth is now close to the average level proposed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). An average Turkish newborn in 2014 has the chance to live 6 years longer than a Turkish baby born in 2002. This is an increase from 71.9 to 77.7 years. Only 39 percent of the population was content with health services in 2003, whereas 2011 saw satisfaction bloom to 75.9 percent.

This upward trajectory of health care in Turkey has validated the optimism of citizens looking forward to universal health care. The country’s existing hospitals are experiencing a reformation period and 500 new hospitals have opened in recent years. In her written statement, Jülide Sarıeroğlu assured that there are more improvements to come in the future period.

Yumi Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Vision 2030 Saudi Arabian Reform Opens Markets
With the recent rise to prominence of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has committed to a vast economic and social reform plan. The Kingdom’s strategy is in its initial stages, but early signs indicate how the promise of socioeconomic Saudi Arabian reform opens markets for American business.

Saudi Vision 2030

The ambitiously conceived Saudi Vision 2030 is a reform plan for diversifying the Kingdom away from its traditional dependence on oil revenues. The plan’s goals are varied, with objectives ranging from enhancing the competitiveness of non-oil sectors, such as leisure and tourism, to increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22 to 30 percent.

Although it is in its early stages, the plan has made some progress toward its social liberalization goals, providing an ongoing illustration of how Saudi Arabian reform opens markets. After the Saudi Ministry of Culture ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters late in 2017, the Chinese-owned, American-operated AMC Theaters obtained a license to open 30 movie theaters over the next 5 years as part of a joint operation with the Saudi government.

Film and Tourism

This expansion isn’t limited to AMC: one Saudi official estimates the cinema market to reach $21.3 billion over the next 10 years, and companies such as the U.K.-based Vue International and Imax of Canada plan to open 30 and 20 theaters in the Kingdom in the coming years, respectively.

Beyond theatrical entertainment, the emphasis on promoting tourism in the reform plan is opening up investment opportunities for international hospitality companies and employment opportunities for local women. Marriott International’s managing director for the Middle East and Africa has said that the demand for new hotels in the country has been steady, with the company scheduled to more than double its hotels in Saudi Arabia from 23 to 52 by 2022.

Steps Towards Gender Equality

And an increasingly greater shares of the jobs created in this industry are being filled by women. Saudi women appear to be more amenable to working in the hospitality sector than their male counterparts, the latter tending to seek roles in traditional public or energy sector jobs. In fact, a 2017 working paper by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Research cites researchers’ belief that women will an essential role in the tourism sector.

The social progress made by Saudi Vision 2030 is incremental and should not be overstated. The merits of the highly publicized repeal of a ban on women being granted a driver’s license are countervailed by the country’s continued human rights violations, such as this month’s arrest for dissent of women activists who had fought in previous years to overturn that very ban.

A Decade For Progress

However, as the name of the reform plan suggests, the timeline for Saudi Vision 2030 completion is over a decade.

A final judgment of its success will take time, but incremental progress to date shows how, if implemented, social and economic Saudi Arabian reform opens markets and could enhance opportunity for international businesses. The plan could also liberate opportunities for both male and female residents of the Kingdom in the coming years.

 – Mark Fitzpatrick
Photo: Flickr

Economic Reforms in Macedonia Make Doing Business Easier

Unemployment remains high at about 23 percent in Macedonia, but the country maintains its macroeconomic stability. Since its 1991 independence, Macedonia has made progress in liberalizing its economy and improving its business environment. Economic reforms in Macedonia have focused on registering property, protecting minority investors and gaining credit access.

During the global financial crisis, Macedonia maintained its macroeconomic stability by practicing conservative monetary policy. Conservative monetary policy ensures that the domestic currency is pegged to the euro and that inflation remains at a low level.

Macedonia’s economic performance has been halted by internal political crises in the last two years. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), domestic private investments and public investments declined in 2016. The same year, public debt peaked at 50.5 percent of GDP before settling at 47.8 percent at the end of the year. Macedonia distributed a $495 million Eurobond to fulfill 2016 and part of 2017 budget requirements.

Doing Business, of the World Bank, evaluates economic reforms in Macedonia and their influence on the ease of doing business. According to the organization’s measures, Macedonia’s 2017 business reforms are as follows:

  • Getting Credit
    Credit access in Macedonia was strengthened by amending its laws to provide modern features for the collateral registry, to allow parties to grant nonpossessory security rights and to implement a functional secured transactions system.
  • Resolving Debt
    Macedonia made it easier to get out of debt by increasing creditors’ participation in insolvency proceedings and changing voting procedures for reorganization plans.
  • Protecting Minority Investors
    Macedonia reinforced minority investor protections by extending requirements for immediate disclosure of party transactions to the public, increasing access to corporate information during trial and expanding shareholder rights.
  • Enforcing Contracts
    Enforcing contracts has become more difficult with recent amendments to the Law on Civil Procedure that require mediation before a claim is filed. Required mediation lengthens the beginning phase of judicial proceedings.

Most of the past year’s economic reforms in Macedonia focused on registering property, getting credit and protecting minority investors. According to the World Bank, Macedonia ranks eleventh out of the region’s top ranked economies and has carried out 41 reforms, the second highest number among the top 20, over the past 15 years.

Macedonia is the only upper-middle-income economy that ranks within the top 20 economies in the overall ease of doing business. Thus, reforms in Macedonia have made it easier to do business, leading to better quality of life for citizens.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

 BrazilBy hosting both the Football World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games in recent years, Brazil put the focus of the world’s attention firmly upon itself. In the resulting spotlight, many Brazilian citizens took the unique opportunity to voice concerns to the Brazilian government, with the wider world audience looking on. Protests and reform movements abounded in the past decade as a rapidly widening middle class made unprecedented demands in Brazil’s increasingly mobile and globally integrated society.

Among these movements, students and teachers in Brazil banded together to protest deficiencies in an education system that has long underserved Brazil’s citizens. In 2016, protestors occupied hundreds of schools nationwide to bring attention to the country’s needs.

In response to the protests and upheavals of the past few years, governments at every level in Brazil are beginning initiatives to address educational shortfalls. In many areas, education reforms in Brazil look familiar to readers from the United States. Ideas like performance pay for teachers and turning school management over to private charter organizations are spreading throughout the country at a rapid rate.

Application of the new American-inspired techniques is inconsistent however, and most education reforms in Brazil are still too new to evaluate effectively. In particular, schools in large urban centers are innovating at a faster rate than systems in less developed areas of the country. Regardless, enthusiasm is high. Many of the movements are being fueled by the personal initiative of teachers, who are in some ways pulling their more conservative institutions forward with them.

Technology in Brazilian schools shows a similarly inconsistent yet hopeful picture. Schools in Rio de Janeiro, for example, are leaders in educational technology use in South America. In Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, one nonprofit foundation leads an initiative to translate and implement the Khan Academy materials for use in Brazilian schools. This popular online curriculum and method now features in hundreds of Brazilian schools reaching over 70,000 students.

In addition to the visible presence of the popular video-based curriculum, officials at the Lemann Foundation are even more excited about the potential for the support material and quality measurement features of the Khan Academy method. They see these “back end” features as creating real lasting value for future advances in Brazil’s schools.

Still, regions outside of the country’s largest cities have not progressed as quickly. Internet speeds to schools in Brazil are one unexpected challenge. While Brazil is a world leader in mobile internet infrastructure, most connections to schools do not reach the 2Mbps threshold considered ideal for the delivery of online materials. Fortunately, one potential solution to this challenge is on the way. KALite, a compressed, offline version of the Khan Academy materials, is now being implemented in areas with less robust infrastructure.

Some of these tech-heavy initiatives are showing early signs of success. Brazilian students using these self-paced, interactive tools are more likely to show up to class, and anecdotal reports indicate a higher level of morale and enthusiasm as well.

Brazil instituted compulsory primary education in the 1980s, after the end of military rule. In many ways, that change was impressively successful. Literacy rates, for example, are far higher today than in the latter half of the 20th century, and enrollment has strongly improved. Still, educational attainment lags behind nations at a similar stage of development. Brazil’s education system is ranked 105th in quality out of 122 nations by the World Economic Forum.

As time passes, results from more structural changes will be seen as well, and time will tell whether the legacy of these education reforms in Brazil will garner the same attention as the sporting events that precipitated their beginning.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr