By Ryan Lasnick
The UN estimates that there are currently 59.5 million displaced people living in the world, the highest number in since World War II. While the common perception of refugees is an image of people living in rural tent cities set up by humanitarian organizations such as the UN, this is no longer the case. In fact, more than 55 percent of all refugees now live in urban areas, and this is consistently growing. The influx of refugees into urban environments poses vastly different problems than that of a traditional refugee camp and requires new and creative approaches.
Refugees in camps are afforded assistance and protection as part of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) mandate and as an incentive for the host country to keep them in one area. In contrast, urban refugees receive little assistance and what they do receive is insufficient to meet basic needs. A recent study by the Refugee Studies Centre stated that 78 percent of urban refugee households in Uganda manage to survive despite receiving no support of any form from UNHCR or other refugee-supporting agencies.
Syrian refugee Fawaz Rarhail Turkey stands with his family outside his home in Al Mafraq Jordan. “After the army forced their way into our homes we were afraid for our children’s safety and decided to flee the country,” he said. Andrew McConnell/IRC/Panos Pictures for the European Commission via Flickr.
By William Kabagambe
Africa’s economic expansion over the last decade can be attributed to natural resource production and increased manufacturing productivity that has caught the attention of foreign investors. The continent is seen by some as the next economic frontier, as seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are located in Africa. However, as commodity prices continue to fall African, oil exporters face serious challenges in the form of depreciating currencies, corruption, and deep cuts in government spending. In many ways, Nigeria is emblematic of this reality. In 2014, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the largest African economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nearly $510 billion. Nigeria, like many African countries, faces serious challenges in the form of plunging oil prices, security threats, corruption, and economic turmoil. As a result, fear and uncertainty now overshadow rapid growth in the once hopeful West African nation.
Nigeria’s economy has enjoyed sustained growth for over a decade, with an annual real GDP increase of seven percent. The attractiveness of doing business in the country has caught the eye of global investors, as Nigeria received nearly $6 billion of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013. The non-oil sector is seen as the major driver of this new-found growth, where activity in the manufacturing, agriculture, and service industries are increasing. While Nigeria’s economy has diversified relative to other oil-rich nations such as Venezuela and Gabon, oil production remains a vital sector for the country’s fiscal revenue. In 2013, oil and gas represented 70 percent of Nigeria’s government income revenue as well as 94 percent of the country’s total export revenue.
Women bargaining for fruits in the ‘Park’ market, Nigeria. As commodity prices fall, increases in food prices become more apparent to the local community. Photo by Andrew Moore via Flickr.
By Amy Chang
The ready-made garment (RMG) industry has been the main contributor to transformative growth in Bangladesh in the last four decades, but in more recent years it has drawn international attention for its poor working conditions. In 2013, collapse of the Rana Plaza building in the capital city of Dhaka killed 1,130 people, putting Bangladesh in the international spotlight for labor reform. The response to this incident, however, has been largely PR-based and failed to create long-term change. In many ways this is unsurprising, as unfortunately international retailers are faced with increasing global competitiveness, creating difficulty in pushing for higher standards and regulation.
As exploitative as the current situation can be, the industry has created jobs for millions and produced extraordinary economic activity in a once poverty-ridden country. Since the arrival of RMGs in the 1970s, the poverty rate in Bangladesh has fallen from 70 percent to 40 percent. Clothing manufacturing accounts for almost 80 percent of exports and generates more than $20 billion in revenue annually. Apart from creating employment for more than four million people, the RMG industry has also made great strides in empowering women financially. In the industry, 90 percent of workers are female; unlike many developing countries where women can still obtain a role in the agricultural sector, women in Bangladesh typically do not work outside the home. The arrival of RMGs has changed this and spurred an exodus of poor rural women into cities to become crucial financial providers for their families, and prevented many young Bangladeshi women from marrying underage.
A worker spins yarn onto bobbins in the Wooltex Sweaters Limited factory in Shewrapara, Dhaka. In 2008, the Asian Development Bank loaned $50 million to the Bangladesh Ministry of Education to improve the skills of millions of workers in the ready-made garments and textiles, light engineering, and construction industries. Photo courtesy of the Asian Development Bank.
By Erin Nealer
Microfinance was the trendiest new player in economic development for the first decade of the 2000s. In 2004 Vinod Khosla, founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems, called microfinance “one of the most important economic phenomena since the advent of capitalism.” In 2006 Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in establishing micro-loans for entrepreneurs struggling to rise out of poverty. Microlending programs such as Kiva, World Vision Micro, and Zidisha have sprung up to take advantage of the internet, creating peer-to-peer lending programs where individuals can supply small loans or pool funds for larger loans for entrepreneurs all over the world. The ability of microfinance institutions (MFIs) to reach those experiencing the greatest need and to provide long-term solutions for extreme poverty, however, remains uncertain.
The term “microfinance” refers to a broad umbrella of economic opportunities with one common objective: increasing access to financial services for those who are unable to access traditional banks. The theory is that small loans, savings accounts, insurance programs, and other basic financial services will provide the structure necessary for low-income individuals to lift themselves out of poverty, begin businesses, and provide for their families. MFIs that focus on underserved populations – particularly women, those living with HIV/AIDS, and populations in inaccessible rural areas – have the potential to enact great change in the lives of individuals, enabling them to participate in the local and global economy.
Women submit applications for microloans in Ghana. While microfinance is a popular and relatively new vehicle for increasing access to financial services, the lasting impact of microloans on business profits and overall income is negligible. Photo by Rachel Strohm via Flickr.