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First Lao PDR Human Capital Summit

May 25, 2023
Logo for the first Lao Human Capital Summit, 2023. Features a human head silhouette with firing brain connections
The Lao Prime Minister and dignitaries at the First Lao PDR Human Capital Summit

Prime Minister of the Lao PDR, Dr Sonexay Siphandone (third from left) stands with Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative, Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for Laos, and ministers at the First Lao Human Capital Summit.  

A healthy, educated, and productive population is essential to the growth of all countries. The Lao PDR has one of the youngest populations in Asia, with almost half of the population below 25 years old, but to take advantage of this ‘demographic transition’ it needs to invest in its people.

Human capital is the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate throughout their lives, enabling them to reach their potential as productive members of society. Laos currently has a low human capital ranking, and this first Lao Human Capital Summit will seek agreement on how the country can boost its opportunities by investing in its people early, investing efficiently and investing for all.

The summit brings together central and provincial government leaders, under the guidance of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Planning and Investment, education experts, development partners, civil society and the private sector to reassess how Laos can accelerate learning and allocate enough resources to bring its schools and learning outcomes up to the standard needed to build a strong economy.

The Lao Human Capital Agenda champions human capital as a growth strategy for the country. A child born in the Lao PDR today will be only 46 percent as productive when she grows up, as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health. This is lower than the averages for the East Asia & Pacific region and for lower-middle-income countries.

Human capital ― the knowledge, skills and health needed for boosting productivity — is the most important form of capital for the economic growth and development of the country. World Bank reports show that about 62% of the total capital wealth of Laos comprises human capital, with natural capital accounting for 28%, and produced capital just 18%. These three sources of capital add to 108%, with 8% accounted for by the country’s net foreign assets.

To build this human capital to its full potential a society must build early, investing in the formative years of life for every citizen. By providing basic health care, adequate nutrition, clean water and sanitation, and access to quality education, a country can offer all its people the chance to develop to their highest capacity. This is the most efficient way to make sustained and equitable progress.

However, investment in developing this human capital, especially in education, is currently insufficient and dwindling. The first Human Capital Summit invites dedicated leaders to step forward and help drive a recovery in learning across Laos. The COVID-19 pandemic hit education hard, with a World Bank survey showing that almost 42% of children stopped attending classes during lockdowns. A critical challenge facing the country now is how to help children and students catch up with their learning at a time when the economy is struggling.