Enabling people to achieve their potential
Putting people at the center of development, and protecting lives and livelihoods, lies at the core to the mission of the World Bank Group.
When people have access to quality education and training, health services and social protection and when women and girls benefit from better opportunities, they are better equipped to escape poverty and lead productive lives. They are also more resilient for when things go wrong and are better equipped to weather a pandemic or a climate shock.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic caused mayhem around the world, human development had recorded consistent progress, as evidenced by the Human Capital Index, which showed that several low-income countries made the biggest strides. But the impact of the pandemic has been devasting on so many, especially the poor and most vulnerable. In 2020, global extreme poverty rose for the first time in more than two decades, with nearly additional 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty – already high levels of inequality exacerbated even further.
Countries already faced huge challenges in creating better opportunities for people before the pandemic. Now, COVID-19 threatens further setbacks, unravelling hard won human capital gains of the past decade. The reality is that access to quality health, education, and social protection systems – and the opportunities that are enabled through these investments in people – remains deeply unequal across and within countries.
In response, the World Bank Group deployed over $157 billion to fight the pandemic’s health, economic, and social impacts since the pandemic began – the largest crisis response of any such period in the Bank Group’s history. This includes support to manage the health emergency response, strengthen health systems, protect and recover learning, protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, create jobs and jump start a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery.
Countries are taking action to deliver better outcome for people across these areas, with the support of the World Bank.
Investing in people’s health by strengthening health systems
The COVID-19 crisis has placed further strain on already stretched health systems. In some places, disruptions to crucial maternal health services and routine childhood immunizations have led to increased levels of maternal and child mortality – resulting from indirect COVID-19 deaths. Interventions in a child’s early years like the Bank-funded project to address stunting in Rwanda are critical to ensure that infants get the nutrition they need to prevent lasting damage to their physical development and their ability to learn. “(Community health workers) help us to keep track of our children’s growth, regularly calling on us, and encouraging us to weigh our children. They have taught us what a balanced diet is and how to prepare it,” says a Rwandan mother who benefits from early childhood development services. Maintaining the continuity of such services during an emergency is crucial to prevent the life-long impact of malnutrition on young children.
A new mother and child delivered by a healthcare worker in Liberia. Photo credit: Dasan Bobo
To help low- and middle-income countries sustain essential health services while boosting their response to the pandemic, the World Bank mobilized an emergency health response reaching over 100 countries over the first months of the pandemic.
Helping countries with COVID-19 vaccinations
Vaccines are essential to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, yet many developing countries still lack fair and equitable access. That is why the World Bank is making $20 billion available to help countries purchase and deploy vaccines to get shots into people’s arms. This includes training health workers, setting up data and monitoring systems and developing outreach campaigns to address vaccine hesitancy. Partnerships are also key to unlocking the supply and delivery of vaccines, and to tackle delivery, manufacturing, and trade issues. This is why the Bank has prioritized partnerships, including with COVAX , with the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVATT) and through the establishment of the Multilateral Task Force for COVID-19, which is helping to track, coordinate, and advance delivery of COVID-19 health tools and remove critical roadblocks.
Unleashing people’s potential through access to quality education
A devastating impact of the pandemic has been on education. Nine-year-old Ami and her 7-year-old sister Awa, from Mali, were forced to stay at home due to the pandemic. In their country, the health crisis was followed by a teachers’ strike, which increased the risk that the girls might not return to school.
Around the world, school closures affected up to 1.6 billion children and millions of children around the world have been out of education for over a year. Girls are less likely to return to school after leaving – being more vulnerable to violence, becoming a victim of child marriage, or becoming pregnant.
Young girls at the safe space being supported through the SWEDD project in Am Timan, Chad. Photo: Vincent Tremeau / World Bank
Even before COVID-19, over half of children in developing countries were affected by learning poverty —the inability to read and understand a short text by age 10. This figure could further rise by 10 percentage points unless countries stem and recover learning losses and invest in expanding access to learning and improving the quality of education. This includes training teachers, like the Brazilian city of Recife, which was able to improve teachers’ classroom practices through training and increase Early Childhood Education through a World Bank-backed project that benefited 80,000 children from poor households.
Each year, more than 80,000 children, most living in Recife’s poorest household, have benefited from activities supported by the project. Photo by Andrea Rego Barros/City of Recife/Handout
Boosting digital infrastructure is also a key investment to support innovative teaching methods that will limit the impact of future crises. Unless resources are mobilized to improve access to quality education, an entire generation risks falling short of its learning and lifetime earning potential due to the pandemic.
Investing in safety nets to protect the most vulnerable and support their economic inclusion
Effective safety nets are crucial to protect the poorest and most vulnerable but, before the COVID-19 crisis, less than half of the world’s population—and only one in five people in the poorest countries— benefited from some form of social protection. The absence of robust safety nets in many countries was highlighted by the pandemic, which increased the vulnerability of the elderly, people with disabilities, informal workers and the self-employed.
In Ethiopia, Suleiman, a daily laborer from Addis Ababa whose income was severely reduced due to the pandemic, benefits from cash transfers under the IDA-supported Urban Productive Safety Net Project while helping to transform a rubbish dump into an urban vegetable garden. In India, social protection support reached 320 million bank account holders identified under national social protection programs, and food aid was provided for 800 million individuals impacted by the pandemic.
Suleiman has used social protection support to help create an urban vegetable garden
In conflict-affected Yemen, too, grants for cash transfers have been a lifeline for millions of people exhausted by years of conflict, Altogether, in fiscal year 2021, the World Bank allocated over $10 billion to social protection projects that benefited 1 billion people around the world and helped countries increase the capacity of safety net schemes, making them more sustainable and adaptive to mitigate the impact of future shocks.
Cash-transfers in Yemen to Improve Food and Nutrition Security: A Lifeline to Hana’a’.
In Zambia and other countries, the World Bank and partners are supporting economic inclusion and income programs through projects such as the Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment & Livelihoods (GEWEL) Program. It supports women and girls at two critical points in life. First, by providing secondary school tuition, the program is helping adolescent girls transition successfully from primary to secondary school. These interventions have helped to increase education outcomes and delay early marriage and pregnancy. Second, GEWEL provides subsistence to sustainable livelihoods through skills training, grants, savings support, and mentorship to help women turn piecemeal work into viable microenterprises.
Empowering Rural Women in Zambia to Move out of Poverty
Creating jobs with a focus on women and youth
Millions of jobs have been lost worldwide due to the pandemic. Recovery will rest on creating new opportunities for job creation, entrepreneurship, and self-employment – particularly for women and young people.
The pandemic has affected men and women differently, accentuating gender inequality. Women’s jobs were particularly hard hit, as they are more likely to work in the informal economy and service sectors more heavily employed in the sectors most affected by lockdowns. Women also had to take the burden of additional care at home when education and childcare services were disrupted. In addition, gender-based violence increased significantly.
Helping women to return to skills development and economic activities will support faster recovery and transform individual lives. Programs like the community-based childcare facilities for garment sector workers in Cambodia aim to address obstacles that prevent women from working outside the home. “This will help me a lot: my kids can learn and stay healthy, while I’ll be able to continue to work,” says Srun Saren, a Cambodian worker employed in the garment sector. In Burkina Faso, mobile childcare units respond to women’s work patterns and follow them from one worksite to the next. In Azerbaijan, where women are restricted from 674 types of jobs, the World Bank conducted a study for the government to remove these barriers and broaden women’s access to the labor market.
Creating income-generating opportunities for the next generation help people support themselves and their families and helps set countries on a sustainable development path. Liberia’s Youth Opportunities program, for example provides grants and business skills training to help young people develop a livelihood and support rural youth efforts to engage in communal farming. In Bhutan, Sonam Tobgay plans to open a homestay in his small village of rural Bhutan, initially catering to local guests before international tourists return to the country. He is among young men and women participating in a training program under the Youth Employment and Rural Entrepreneurship (YERE) project.
A new project aims to generate productive employment for the poor and vulnerable youth in Bhutan. Photo credit: Sonam Wangmo
Investing in a better present and future – one that is green, resilient, and inclusive
Human Capital, the knowledge, skills, and health that people need to achieve their potential – is a powerful force propelling economies and societies around the world. To make the most of their fiscal resources and the power of their people, governments need to invest better and prioritize expenditures that deliver measurable improvements in human development outcomes and help enable every person to achieve their potential – and fully contribute to their communities and countries.
A durable recovery from COVID-19 hinges on restoring human capital by building inclusive education systems where all children can learn and thrive; strengthening health systems to ensure they can withstand crises and continue to serve population needs; and building social protection system that reach those in need and adapt to changing circumstances. It also requires applying a gender lens to all policies to ensure they consider the different challenges that women and girls face.
As countries confront the growing impacts of climate change, a people-centered approach can also drive a green agenda. Support for maternal health and family planning enables people to make choices that help to protect natural resources and the environment. School curriculums can foster innovation and generate the skills needed for the green economy jobs while promoting behavior change to curb the effects of climate change and reduce air pollution. Effective social protection will ease the transition to a lower carbon economy.
With the right policies, financing, and systems in place to deliver effective services and support human development, individuals can enjoy good quality of life, and countries and the entire planet can flourish.
Let’s invest in people today, for a better future.