Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Financial Inclusion and the World’s “Unbanked” Population

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 30, 2013
A man leaves an M-PESA booth after a money transaction in Nairobi on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters). A man leaves an M-Pesa booth after a money transaction in Nairobi on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

Imagine life without a bank account. Completing a simple financial transaction can require traveling a distance, incurring expenses, and losing precious income. Savings are more difficult to track and certainly don’t earn interest. Theft or loss of the proverbial “cookie jar” is a constant worry. Indeed, studies show that informal savers lose as much as 25 percent of their hard-earned cash each year due to theft and loss. Yet for over 2.5 billion people globally, this inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive reality is the case. Read more »

Challenges for Pakistan’s Prime Minister

by Isobel Coleman Friday, May 24, 2013
Nawaz Sharif, incoming prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) political party, speaks to his party members, who were voted to political posts in the general election, during a function in Lahore on May 20, 2013 (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters). Nawaz Sharif, incoming prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) political party, speaks to his party members, who were voted to political posts in the general election, during a function in Lahore on May 20, 2013 (Mohsin Raza/Courtesy Reuters).

A few years ago on a flight from London to Karachi I sat next to one of Pakistan’s leading textile manufacturers who spent several hours discussing the sorry state of his business. The fact that his European clients will no longer visit the country because they view it as too dangerous was not even his biggest problem. His real issue is the constant blackouts his factories face due to a lack of reliable energy. “We can’t compete with the likes of Bangladesh and Vietnam,” he bemoaned. This is the tough economic reality that Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister, inherits. Read more »

Combating Obstetric Fistula

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, May 23, 2013
An Ethiopian woman sits on her bed inside a clinic for obstetric fistula in Bahir Dar on March 10, 2007 (Eliana Aponte/Courtesy Reuters). An Ethiopian woman sits on her bed inside a clinic for obstetric fistula in Bahir Dar on March 10, 2007 (Eliana Aponte/Courtesy Reuters).

Today is the first International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. To be honest, I was not very familiar with the tragedy of fistula until about a decade ago, when I met the remarkable Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who has devoted her life to treating the problems of fistula in Ethiopia. More on her work below, but for those of you who don’t know what this terrible condition entails, I refer you to the UNFPA explanation: Read more »

Putting an End to Child Marriage

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India on July 30, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters). Child bride Krishna, 12, stands at a doorway into her compound in a village near Baran, located in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, India on July 30, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters).

Today, CFR published a new report, Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives. The report looks at the scope and causes of this practice, what it means for U.S. foreign policy, and ways the U.S. might tackle child marriage through policy. Read more »

Debating Hillary Clinton’s Legacy as Secretary of State

by Isobel Coleman Monday, May 13, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a Civil Society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a civil society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters).

In light of the ongoing controversy over Benghazi, the New York Times’ Room for Debate asked contributors to weigh in on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state. Read more »

Women and Sports in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar (R) starts her women's 800m round 1 heat during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Lucy Nicholson/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Sarah Attar (R) starts her women's 800m round 1 heat during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Lucy Nicholson/Courtesy Reuters).

Last summer, I wrote about two young women from Saudi Arabia, Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar, who were the first Saudi women ever to compete in the Olympics. They had to endure criticism from conservatives at home and lots of discussion about what they would wear to compete, but they served as a powerful symbol of a better future for Saudi women’s athletic participation. Read more »

Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

by Isobel Coleman Monday, May 6, 2013
Graph by author. Data source: World Bank. 2010 data for Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. 2009 data for Morocco. 2008 data for Tunisia and Iran. 2007 data for Lebanon. Graph by author. Data source: World Bank. 2010 data for Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. 2009 data for Morocco. 2008 data for Tunisia. 2007 data for Lebanon.

While the Arab revolutions were underpinned by a demand for greater political freedom, economic frustrations–particularly among the region’s large youth population–were also a factor. Millions of young people with university degrees languish for years unemployed, with no hope of getting a job that meets their expectations. Millions more are not completing sufficient years of school to master basic literacy and numeracy skills. As the 2002 Arab Human Development Report noted, adult literacy in the Arab world is shamefully low–and lower than the average in developing countries. Read more »