Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Remarkable Women of 2012

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 20, 2012
Pakistani students stand next to a portrait of Malala Yousufzai as they attend a meeting organized by South Asian Women in media to mark "Malala Day" in Lahore, Pakistan, November 10, 2012 (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters). Pakistani students stand next to a portrait of Malala Yousufzai as they attend a meeting organized by South Asian Women in media to mark "Malala Day" in Lahore, Pakistan, November 10, 2012 (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters).

Among the many compelling stories of 2012 have been those of remarkable women fighting for rights and opportunities—for themselves, their communities, and their countries. In this post I highlight several such women and their courageous struggles. Read more »

Five Development Innovations to Watch in 2013

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Children run alongside a rice paddy field outside the village of Andriampamaky, around 50 km (31 miles) north of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo on April 21, 2012 (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters). Children run alongside a rice paddy field outside the village of Andriampamaky, around 50 km (31 miles) north of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo on April 21, 2012 (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters).

Although this year had welcome news about poverty rates falling across the globe, almost two and a half billion people still get by on less than $2 a day. Innovative solutions for tackling global poverty are needed as much as ever. Here are five development innovations to watch in 2013: Read more »

Missing Pieces: The Year in Indexes

by Isobel Coleman Monday, December 17, 2012
A NASA handout photo shows Earth's airglow seen with an oblique view of the Mediterranean Sea area, including the Nile River with its delta, and the Sinai Peninsula, taken from the International Space Station, October 15, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters). A NASA handout photo shows Earth's airglow seen with an oblique view of the Mediterranean Sea area, including the Nile River with its delta, and the Sinai Peninsula, taken from the International Space Station, October 15, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

As he did last year, Charles Landow draws highlights from a range of democracy and development indexes for this year-end edition of Missing Pieces. The UN Human Development Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy are not included this time because they were not published in 2012. Enjoy the reading and the holiday season.

  • Freedom in the World: In Freedom House’s 2012 report, 26 countries showed “declines” in their level of political freedom while only 12 made “gains.” As the report says, “this marks the sixth consecutive year in which countries with declines outnumbered those with improvements.” The Middle East saw the biggest strides but also serious regression. Eurasia declined, and the report sees “danger signs for new democracies,” including South Africa and Turkey. Asia, though, experienced a moderate rise in freedom. Overall, there are 87 “free” countries and 60 “partly free” countries, both equal to last year. Forty-eight countries are “not free,” an increase of 1 because of South Sudan’s independence. Niger, Thailand, and Tunisia joined the ranks of electoral democracies. Nicaragua dropped off. Read more »

Democratic Transition in North Africa

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 13, 2012
A man waves a Libyan national flag during a protest demanding federal governance and a branch of the National Oil Corporation to be set up in the country's second-largest city, in Benghazi on November 26, 2012 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters) A man waves a Libyan national flag during a protest demanding federal governance and a branch of the National Oil Corporation to be set up in the country's second-largest city, in Benghazi on November 26, 2012 (Esam Al-Fetori/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt’s transition is turbulent, to say the least. The upcoming constitutional referendum is becoming more fraught by the day. Because most of the country’s judges are refusing to supervise the referendum, it is now scheduled to take place on two different dates: December 15 and December 22. Egypt’s main opposition coalition, after considerable indecision, has decided to participate in the referendum—trying to vote it down rather than boycotting it—but says it will not participate without sufficient oversight, monitoring, and security. All of this is taking place against a backdrop of increasing economic instability and uncertainty: this week, President Morsi announced tax increases stipulated by the IMF, only to rescind them hours later. Egypt also delayed its loan from the IMF in order to better explain required austerity measures to the population. Read more »

Turning Education Into Employment

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Saudi students attend a class at the Technology College in Riyadh in this October 30, 2010 file photo (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi students attend a class at the Technology College in Riyadh in this October 30, 2010 file photo (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

The harsh reality of youth unemployment is that in many places where it is high, employers cannot find enough skilled workers to hire. In a report launched yesterday, Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works, the McKinsey Center for Government addresses what it describes as “two crises, one paradox”—widespread youth unemployment and jobs left vacant due to a lack of qualified people. The report looks at 100 skills training programs in 25 countries, and includes interview results from more than 8,000 youth, employers, and educational institutions across nine different countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Microfinance and Profits, Colonialism’s Effects, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, December 10, 2012
Hemalatha (C) and other loan borrowers show pass books given to them by a micro finance company at Ibrahimpatnam, on outskirts of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, May 19, 2011 (Krishnendu Halder/Courtesy Reuters). Hemalatha (C) and other loan borrowers show pass books given to them by a micro finance company at Ibrahimpatnam, on outskirts of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, May 19, 2011 (Krishnendu Halder/Courtesy Reuters).
In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow reviews two scholarly papers, an op-ed, and an index. Enjoy!
  • Microfinance and Profits: Are for-profit microfinance institutions (MFIs) good for the poor? The question has sparked intense debate in recent years. An article in World Development weighs in by examining the relationship between MFIs’ “profit orientation” and the interest rates they charge. It finds that MFIs with strong for-profit characteristics (such as formal for-profit status and board members with banking expertise) charge higher rates. Moreover, these MFIs have “significantly higher” costs, including operating expenses and losses from bad loans. There is thus “absolutely no evidence” that a for-profit stance brings greater efficiency. Why, then, do MFIs operate as for-profit entities? The author posits that their owners are not greedy, but instead that “MFIs that project a more business-like orientation” can better attract capital to grow. Read more »

Diversifying Global Supply Chains

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, December 6, 2012
People walk past a Walmart store with a banner reading "Low prices, every day, in everything" in Mexico City on April 21, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). People walk past a Walmart store with a banner reading "Low prices, every day, in everything" in Mexico City on April 21, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Women-owned businesses represent 32 to 39 percent of all private businesses worldwide, but reportedly receive less than one percent of procurement from both corporations and governments. (I say reportedly, because these numbers are very hard to verify. Still, even if the statistic is off by a factor of ten, women-owned businesses are still hugely underrepresented.) Read more »

The Ongoing Battle Over Egypt’s Constitution

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Egyptian protesters demonstrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, December 4, 2012 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian protesters demonstrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, December 4, 2012 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Today, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsi’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsi’s “dictatorship.” Read more »

Missing Pieces: Mexico’s Prospects, Measuring the MDGs, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, December 3, 2012
Planes fly in formation over the Mexican national flag during a military parade in celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on Zocalo Square in Mexico City, November 20, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). Planes fly in formation over the Mexican national flag during a military parade in celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on Zocalo Square in Mexico City, November 20, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow features stories on Mexico, India, Africa, and the Millennium Development Goals. I hope you enjoy the selection.

Mexico’s Prospects: The Economist features a largely sanguine report on Mexico. “Many of the things the world thinks it knows about Mexico are no longer true,” it says. Economic growth is strong as higher global shipping costs and rising Chinese wages boost Mexico’s manufacturing competitiveness. Social services are expanding; as the report says, “free universal health care became more or less a reality this year.” Education spending is also up, though opaque teachers unions seem to swallow much of the money. Perhaps the darkest cloud is governance. The report says Mexico’s ban on reelection makes politicians more accountable to “party bosses” than to voters, and some of the country’s states remain hotbeds of corruption. On her blog, CFR’s Shannon O’Neil weighs the record of President Felipe Calderon, who left office on Saturday; she also wrote on Mexico last week in USA Today. Read more »