Despite major progress across many human capital dimensions, South Asia faces large and persistent human capital deficits that limit current and future economic development. On average, South Asian children born today can expect to attain only 48% of their full productive potential. The COVID-19 crisis has also hit hard the people of the region, deepening poverty, exacerbating inequality, and wiping out some major gains in human capital development, while slowing progress in other areas.
The World Bank has identified new ways to boost human capital in South Asia outlined in the regional action plan Unleashing the South Asian Century Through Human Capital for All. The framework lays out a 4-pronged strategic approach focused on the four I’s:
- Invest smarter and with quality;
- Include and empower, especially adolescent girls and women;
- Insure and prepare for potential shocks and risks; and
- Innovate through data, technology, and multi-sector action
There is vast untapped economic potential in the excluded, poor and vulnerable groups that could be used to power South Asia’s growth. GDP per worker could be 2.1 times higher in South Asia if the quantity and quality of human capital is improved.
The analysis highlights the many challenges that limit human capital outcomes in South Asia, such as, poor quality and effectiveness of services, multiple inequalities leading to populations left behind, and the increasing vulnerability to a spectrum of shocks and risks.
The World Bank is committed to this agenda and helping the countries of South Asia develop Human Capital Acceleration Plans that factor in COVID-19 response and recovery.
South Asia has the window of opportunity to make major progress across many human capital dimensions and addressing these deficits will play a critical role in propelling the region’s sustainable growth.
Building Human Capital is a long-term venture and requires focus, political will, and a whole-of-government approach across successive administrations, which will be critical to enable South Asia to lead the 21st century for its citizens and for the people of the world.