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Speeches & Transcripts October 19, 2021

Remarks by World Bank Group President David Malpass at the Human Capital Project Ministerial Conclave

Thank you Mamta.

Ministers and honored guests, I’m very pleased to welcome you to the Human Capital Project’s Ministerial Conclave at the 2021 Annual Meetings.  We are delighted that as of today, over 80 countries have joined the Human Capital Project.

The theme of this Conclave is focused on “Reimagining Service Delivery in a Digital Age”. This task is urgent. In opening this Human Capital Project Conclave, I would like to highlight each of the two elements central to the Conclave theme:

First, responding quickly to reverse the unprecedented losses in human capital due to the COVID-19 crisis. On a global scale, the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest blow to human capital in living memory. There are reversals in many other development areas, but the reversal in human capital is likely to be one of the most costly and long-lasting.

Among its many dramatic disruptions, the pandemic has led to the worst crisis in education of the last century: it forced 1.6 billion children out of school worldwide; Still, today around 700 million are in distance education and 100 million are not receiving education.

Unless countries quickly put in place policies to prevent a further erosion of human capital, and to recover losses, there will be substantial, negative long-term consequences for labor productivity and growth.

This is why we are making central to our crisis response, the need to put investments in people front and center. We know we need to address these human capital losses while going through a period of fiscal consolidation: countries will need to create and protect fiscal space and channel it towards productive uses such as human capital accumulation. As governments think through options, including the elimination of wasteful spending, strategic prioritization, and subsidy reforms, we will need to make sure investments bring in the best value for money.

This leads me to the second theme of the Conclave: “Reimagining Service Delivery in a Digital Age.” We are in a time of upheaval in many areas – in economics, medicine, political alignments, mobility and the workplace, development processes, and elsewhere. Many parts of this have been negative. But some of the upheavals may open avenues to a better future.

On connectivity and service delivery, we need strong, new approaches suited to these challenging times, that can counter the immense scale of destruction in human capital. Advances in data, technology, communication, innovation and cooperation allow us to reach far beyond pre-crisis approaches to delivering services that are scalable, efficient and equitable.

The digital revolution provides us with the opportunity to transform service delivery in health, education, safety nets, agriculture, finance, and other areas central to human capital accumulation. The COVID-19 crisis has propelled an unprecedented transformation in the use of technology, driving forward advances in scalable safety nets using mobile money payments, in telehealth and digital health, and in distance and technology-based learning. These innovations have opened pathways for universal access to essential services at a much bigger scale to achieve impact.

Technological innovations can also help ensure value for money and maximize the impact of public finance and significantly lower costs of services while improving quality. They can support a coordinated delivery of services, that also helps to minimize duplication of efforts that are both wasteful in terms of financial and human resources. In Nigeria, for example, the Government – in collaboration with the World Bank – developed an innovative satellite technology-based targeting approach to build a Rapid Response Registry to scale-up safety nets in urban areas in a matter of few months. This innovative approach saved both time and money by avoiding house to house data collection as was previously done. We are working on a proposed investment of $800 million to support scaling up of safety nets using these innovative approaches to cover about 80 million people.

As you will hear today, there are many examples of such innovations that aim to address impact through scale, efficiency and equity. We need to adopt a whole-of-society approach to foster learning and initiatives, to assess what works and what doesn’t, and to scale-up successful models by partnering with one another.

I look forward to the discussion and will turn back now to Mamta.