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Speeches & Transcripts October 25, 2017

Remarks by World Bank Group Senior VP Mohieldin at KPMG: The Importance of Data to Achieve the SDGs in an Uncertain World


World Bank Group Senior Vice-President Mahmoud Mohieldin 

As Prepared for Delivery

Wednesday, October 25 Washington DC

In 2017, there is no lack of challenges. One of the biggest is extreme poverty.  Today well over 700 million people live on less than one dollar and ninety cents per day.   This is happening at a time when we are face an uncertain environment, with shifts in global economic dynamics and increasingly complex global challenges – slow and uneven economic growth, rising inequality within countries, aging populations, conflict, fragility, forced displacement, climate change, and pandemics.

We’re already seeing impacts from climate change. Conflict and fragility has led to major disruptions, including the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

A group of optimistic leaders responded to these challenges. In 2015, the world came together and agreed on a transformational agenda -- the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) -- to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable. They also agreed to work toward creating a world in which people in all countries had greater security, higher living standards, and used the world’s resources sustainably, by the year 2030. 

It’s a very ambitious goal. Now, over two years since the launch of the SDGs, it is time to focus on evidence-driven implementation and actively employ tools, such as the KPMG readiness index, to help countries manage change and make the right policy decisions. 

The World Bank Group has made substantial financial and organizational pledges to help implement these goals -- and we’re collaborating with the other multilateral development banks, the private sector, NGOs, governments, the UN, and others to increase our joint impact.

President Kim outlined three priorities for the World Bank Group to reach our twin goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, which are fully aligned with the SDGs.

First, he said we need to accelerate inclusive and sustainable economic growth. This obviously requires adequate private sector finance, especially in infrastructure.

Second, President Kim said that we need to invest in human capital, which requires funding and private sector innovation and management to create efficiencies.

And third, he said he need to foster resilience to global shocks and threats -- from pandemics to climate change -- and of course this also requires a variety of financial responses.

In our previous efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals -- the predecessors to the SDGs -- we learned that there are three critical pillars for success: data, financing, and implementation.  For us to be successful on the SDGs we need to make adaptations in our work for each of these areas.

Today I’d like to talk about just one of those three key pillars: Data. The other two pillars – finance and implementation – each depend upon private sector finance and innovation as well, but let’s focus on data as a category of its own for now.

Let me be clear up front: Data and evidence are the foundation of development policy and effective program implementation. All countries need data to formulate policy and evaluate progress.

The supply and demand for data are increasing. New technologies are revolutionizing data production methods.  It’s also getting data into the hands of users faster and making data easier to consume through mobile-friendly graphics and displays. More data in more hands reinforces evidence-based decision-making, fosters greater transparency and accountability from policy makers, and stimulates civil participation in development decisions.

However, these tools and techniques are not available in much of the developing world.

So, at such a juncture, the development community must strengthen our support of data in development.

The Bank Group will play its part building on its strong leadership position.  We work to improve data in three ways: First, in global data partnerships; Second, by producing influential and highly used data and cross-country indicators; and third by fostering client country data production, dissemination, and use.

Let me outline what we are planning under each:

On strengthening partnerships:

The World Bank Group is working with other UN agencies on the development and implementation of the Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data. This Plan was launched at the first World Data Forum in Cape Town in January 2017. This plan builds on the successes of two past global strategies for statistics that the Bank helped author: the Marrakech and Busan Action Plans for Statistics.

We are working more closely with the UN, the Multilateral Development Banks, and the IMF on statistical activities through a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013. More recently, we have expanded this MOU concept to work directly with several OECD National Statistical Offices. 

We are delighted to be a founding Board member for the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data – a group of over 250 partners that have joined forces to galvanize political commitment, align strategic priorities, foster collaboration, spur innovation, and built trust in the data ecosystem of the 21st century.

We remain engaged with the OECD-based Partnership for Statistics in the 21st Century (PARIS21) – most recently by contributing to a new conceptual framework for statistical capacity development.

On producing data and indicators:

The World Bank has a long history of promoting the collection and use of data in development. The World Development Indicators (or WDI) database began as a statistical appendix to the 1978 World Development Report (added at President Robert S. McNamara’s urging, almost as an afterthought).  Today, according to a recent external evaluation, the WDI is “the most widely used knowledge product of the World Bank” with 14 million unique visitors per year and, thanks to the World Bank’s Open Data initiative, its data are freely accessible to all.

In combination with other global data sources, this will help policy makers understand global and national progress towards the SDGs, and where efforts need to be directed. (You can view the World Bank Group monitoring database for the SDGs at

The Ease of Doing Business Index is another example.  Begun in 2002, this index ranks each country’s regulatory environment for businesses, and the degree to which they support property rights.  Improving regulations can have a positive impact on economic growth, but it is not without risks, of course.

On Supporting client country data production, dissemination, and use:

Today, a simple Internet search gives people access to the relevant World Development Indicators in milliseconds. Among these indicators are more than 1,000 household surveys from 159 countries—more than 2 million randomly sampled households representing 87 percent of the developing world’s population—that form the basis of global poverty estimates.  This is truly a quantum leap in data availability from where we stood 25 years ago.

Improvements in data availability require efforts to improve national governments’ management of its data ecosystem in addition to targeted support for specific statistical products.

On the former, system-wide strategies have been the operational backbone of the World Bank’s statistical capacity building.  Fifty-eight of 77 poorest countries we serve, who borrow from our International Development Association (or IDA) fund for the poorest nations, have implemented such strategies, are now designing one, or are awaiting implementation. An additional 14 countries are in the process of planning a strategy.

On the latter, the World Bank Group is committed to helping all IDA countries conduct multi-topic household surveys every three years, to help assess whether people’s lives are improving. When the SDGs were adopted, 77 countries lacked enough data from surveys to be able to monitor trends for SDG number one -- eradicating extreme poverty everywhere. We have provided financing for technical assistance to 60 countries on their household survey program, including 46 IDA countries. In 2016, 7 IDA countries conducted a survey that measures poverty. Through our regular operational programs, we are also supporting eight countries to implement improved Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems – crucial if we are to ensure no one is left behind.

To deliver the data we need for development, the Bank will pay special attention to three specific areas:

Exploring innovative approaches:

In collaboration with the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the World Bank Group is supporting innovations for data production, analysis, and use. Our goal is to catalyze innovations in technologies and approaches, where needs are closely linked to the SDGs, and where techniques can be readily adapted to other regions and sectors.

Among the first round of 20 funded projects include things like “smart” water and rainfall monitoring using telecommunications networks in Cameroon and Morocco; wetlands monitoring in Uganda using earth observation data; and supporting civil registration and vital statistics for Syrian refugees.

This year, we opened a new round to source innovative projects to protect the environment, and to target those that are often left behind (which I will discuss in a moment).  This is an area where the private sector can play a very valuable role in suggesting ways to get reliable data in some of the toughest areas of the world.

Disaggregated Data matters:

For the SDGs, disaggregated data is not only needed to better track development, but to better design and deliver the policies and services which will improve people’s lives.

UN Member States have pledged to pursue the SDGs and “leave no one behind”. In our work, the World Bank recognizes that not only are certain groups excluded entirely from data, but many aggregate data and statistics now mask what’s happening at the individual level and among groups of the most vulnerable.

In general, we see that policies are becoming more targeted, governments around the world are aiming for more granular policy making, which means more disaggregated data is needed both for planning and monitoring.

For example, an estimated 1.1 billion people in the world are unable to prove their identity.  That is 1 in every 7 individuals. The majority live in Africa and Asia, and more than a third are under the age of 18.

The World Bank Group’s Identification for Development (or ID4D) initiative seeks to fill these gaps.

Without official identification, a person can struggle to access a number of things we take for granted, including:

Financial services, such as opening a bank account or obtaining capital and credit;

Social benefits, including food vouchers, pensions, or cash transfers;

Healthcare, such as health insurance, vaccinations, and maternal care;

Education, such as enrolling children in school or applying for scholarships;

Political and legal rights, such as voting, filing petitions in courts, owning property, or receiving an inheritance;

Prevention of early and child marriage; and

ID4D helps countries analyze problems, design solutions, and implement new systems to increase the number of people with official identification and the development impact of the overall identification system.

When more people have formal identification, and when identification systems function well, then individuals can access necessary services; while governments function better, use resources more efficiently, and improve statistics to better inform their future policies.

Probably the most notable example of ID4D – and one of the most remarkable and innovative manifestations of the data revolution -- is the Indian program called Aadhaar, which some of you I’m certain have heard of. Aadhaar is a Hindi word meaning “foundation” or “base”. With leadership from Infosys founder Nandan Nilikani, in just a few years it has registered nearly 88 percent of all Indians, and 99 percent of Indians 18 and above – connecting a random digit number to their demographic information, as well as their biometrics, including fingerprints, iris scans, and a facial photograph. India has its own space program, and it has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but many more hundreds of millions of its citizens are among the extreme poor. Aadhaar seeks to identify each citizen, to target services more precisely, reduce waste and fraud, and to track the things that work to help get people better services in areas like education, health, and jobs. This is a stunning achievement, showing that it is possible to collect massive amounts of data in difficult environments to support development objectives.

 Paying extra attention to ensure data are used:

The World Bank is trying to stimulate the use of data in its client countries.

Statistical capacity building objectives often included serving data users’ needs. Now we are finding that we could do more to promote enhanced data use strategically. For example, we could accomplish this by understanding the different kinds of data users and their needs and motivations, and including both government and non-government data users in the design of its projects.

Through our experiences, we understand how weak data literacy, limited internet and smartphone connectivity, and in some cases resistance by interest groups have impeded progress on data use.

Finding evidence of data use requires carefully tracing all its influences on decision making or resource allocation. This is challenging, though not impossible, and we must catalogue these experiences to assess the value of the data.

Summing up

There are three legs to the stool in achieving the SDGs: financing, effective implementation, and data. Each are critical, depending on the others to optimize outcomes and achieve our goals.

While often neglected, your work and that of your many colleagues on data, is essential to understanding the challenges, helping to define and target interventions, adapt mid-stream to real-time feedback, and measure overall success. If we can share this knowledge and these skills more widely, we can make a substantial contribution toward achieving the SDGs, helping to build a world that is more peaceful, prosperous, and secure.

Thank you very much.