The 11th South Asia Economic Policy Network Conference on Social Progress in South Asia

Conference Day One:

The conference’s opening day featured inspiring speakers who shared their expertise and insights. Dr Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD, emphasized the need for policies addressing inequality of opportunity and low intergenerational mobility in South Asia to create an equitable society. Abdoulaye Seck, Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, World Bank highlighted the importance of reducing socio-economic disparities in South Asian countries, especially in education, to address unequal access to opportunities and foster overall growth in terms of jobs, earnings, consumption, and welfare.

Conference Day Two:

The second day continued to impress with diverse topics. Hans Timmer, Chief Economist, South Asia, World Bank emphasized that reducing inequality of opportunity and increasing economic mobility in South Asia is crucial for broadening the tax base, making mobility a central aspect of current reform programs to ensure fiscal sustainability and unlock the region’s full potential. Nasima Begum, Senior Secretary, Planning Commission, GoB, mentioned the conference’s role as a valuable platform for stakeholders to discuss persistent disparities hindering social mobility and contributing to poverty in South Asia.

South Asia has suffered an unprecedented combination of shocks over the past three years, and moving from recovery to growth requires ensuring economic development is inclusive, says the World Bank in its latest regional economic update. Expanding Opportunities: Toward Inclusive Growth was the subject of the conference, organized by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and the World Bank. The conference provided academics and researchers a platform to discuss South Asia’s economic outlook, and how socio-economic disparities prevent the region from achieving its development goals.

Over the past two decades, sustained economic growth in South Asia has lifted some 250 million people out of extreme poverty and improved living standards. However, economic growth has not benefited all groups equally, and social progress remains elusive. South Asia has among the world’s highest inequality of opportunity. Between 40 and 60 per cent of total inequality in the region is driven by circumstances out of an individual’s control such as place of birth, family background, caste, ethnicity, and gender. Intergenerational mobility is also among the world’s lowest – less than 9 per cent of individuals whose parents have low levels of education reach education levels of the upper 25 per cent.

Inequality of opportunity is not only unfair, but it is also inefficient. It prevents an optimal allocation of talent and reduces incentives to accumulate human capital, and derails long-term economic growth.

“Bangladesh has made significant progress in bridging gaps between low and high opportunity groups, particularly in the education sector. However, much remains to be done,” said Abdoulaye Seck, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “South Asian countries must continue to reduce socio-economic disparities as they lead to differences in access to jobs, earnings, consumption, and welfare, and impact overall growth.”

“Reducing inequality of opportunity and increasing economic mobility in South Asia is important because it is an essential part of broadening the tax base,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia. “Therefore, eliminating obstacles to mobility is not merely a long-term agenda, but should be a central part of current reform programs that aim to make the fiscal outlook more sustainable, and help South Asia achieve its full potential.”

To this end, the report recommended continuing to improve the quality of primary education and expanding access to secondary and higher education, evaluating and strengthening affirmative action policies targeted to “low opportunity” groups, and policies to improve the business climate for small and medium enterprises, who account for the bulk of job opportunities for the less well-off. In addition, reducing barriers to labour mobility can have a powerful equalizing impact as urban areas tend to offer more opportunities for social mobility.

“The high levels of inequality of opportunity and low intergenerational mobility in South Asia are not only unjust but also impede long-term economic growth,” said Imran Matin, BIGD Executive Director. “Policies to address it will create a more equitable society and help unlock the region’s full potential. We should remember that lack of social progress means lack of social justice.”

Session Speakers

Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, PhD

MP Hon’ble Speaker, Bangladesh Parliament

Hans Timmer

Chief Economist, South Asia Region, World Bank

Maurizio Bussolo

Lead Economist, South Asia Region, World Bank

Hossain Zillur Rahman

BRAC Chairperson

Abdoulaye Seck

Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, World Bank

Haris Gazdar

Director and Senior Researcher at the Collective for Social Science Research, Pakistan

Shaheen Anam

Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladesh

Imran Matin, PhD

Executive Director

Nasima Begum

Member (Senior Secretary), Department of Socio-Economic Infrastructure (SEI), Planning Commission, Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh

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