Five lessons for successfully investing in people

twitter sharefacebook share2020 Oct 21 - 2020-10-21

Singapore has built a world-class education system. How did it manage to balance creativity with the increasing need for analytical skills and teamwork?

Ghana has made substantial improvements in net enrollment rates – from 65 percent primary school enrollment in 2000 to 85 percent in 2017, and childhood stunting rates, which dropped from 35.4 percent in 2003 to 18.8 percent in 2014. How can Ghana’s experience inform the human capital investment plans of other countries?

Access to health services in Morocco has been significantly enhanced as a result of the expansion of health insurance coverage and the establishment of a system for providing subsidized care to disadvantaged groups. What more can be done to invest in its citizens?

The Philippines government has established, promoted, and funded a wide range of policies aimed at building its people’s skills, health and nutritional status. What has worked? What remains to be done?

These are only a few of the questions addressed in the recently published Human Capital Case Studies on Singapore, Ghana, Morocco and the Philippines.

While these four countries are different in their circumstances and economic statuses, there are common lessons that can be drawn – particularly as other countries consider potential implementation strategies for investing in their own people.

1. Sustain political commitment to human capital development

Continuity of commitment over successive governments to protect and invest is key to reaching any long-term goals. This is especially true for growing human capital, which can take decades and even generations.

In the Philippines, successive political administrations have sustained robust strategies to build the health, education, and skills of the population. Investing sufficiently in capacity and good governance can get these efforts more traction on the ground.

Singapore adopted clear long-term goals for human capital development that guided investment in the health and education sectors across decades. This has driven tremendous gains in human capital and economic growth and productivity in the country.

In Morocco, the commitment to education of successive government led to almost universal primary education enrollment. It should be noted, however, that this political commitment has not been consistent for other sectors.

2. Mobilize enough resources and use them efficiently

Singapore’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) has played a critical role in financing infrastructure, housing, and other vital investments. Each individual and his/her employer make monthly contributions to the CPF. The government supplements the contributions of low-income earners through a Workfare scheme and adds to the designated medical savings accounts of senior citizens.

In Ghana, the government also introduced an innovative funding mechanism – the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) – designed to expand primary health care coverage while reducing inequity in access by exempting the poor from premiums. It is funded by small taxes on goods and labor, as well as by premiums. These funds enable the NHIS to provide pre-natal and postnatal care, maternal care, vaccinations, and health and nutrition education, all of which help bring down the rate of childhood stunting in absolute and relative terms. In contrast, when funding levels are not sufficient, clinics and schools can end up understaffed, overcrowded, and providers can be left underpaid. The absence of adequate funding can also encourage corruption.

3. Collect evidence to inform policymaking and make course corrections

In Ghana, the government found their school feeding program was not reaching vulnerable populations. As a result, they re-targeted the program. These efforts were part of a wide-ranging review of safety net programs, where data from national poverty statistics and a food security and vulnerability analysis were combined to refine targeting and reduce leakages.

The Philippines implemented a data-driven system that was not only helpful for effective beneficiary targeting, but also provided data that supported other social programs in government. This also helped make the case for sustaining the program across governments.

Singapore systematically collects data on schools and training institutions and combines these with data from businesses on the skills in demand now and those forecasted to be in need in 5-10 years. This data-gathering is facilitated by Singapore’s public agencies and statutory boards, its state-of-the-art digital infrastructure, tech-savvy administrators, and experienced teachers.

4. Adopt coordinated, multisectoral strategies.

In the last 40 years, successive governments in the Philippines have adopted policies that involved more than one sector, promoted integrated approaches, and encouraged greater participation by stakeholders in service delivery. Many policies reflect the fact that factors beyond the social sectors affect human capital development, such as clean air, a safe water supply, and the provision of sanitation services. These efforts have helped drive poverty reduction efforts, though more work remains to be done.

Morocco has also developed a variety of social safety net programs that cover several sectors and support a range of human capital outcomes. Complementary programs aim to achieve universal education and reduce school drop-out, especially in rural areas and among girls, through the provision of school bags, and subsidized transport, food, school supplies for students enrolled in certain primary and secondary grades. In addition, there are programs for disabled individuals, social protection centers, and centers for training and education that support girls and women in difficult socio-economic conditions.

Singapore integrated health and education goals into many facets of government. Given that health is affected by almost every aspect of urban life –housing, water supply, air quality, waste disposal, road traffic and more – ensuring the health of all Singaporeans was an essential aspect of its comprehensive approach to urban planning. Similarly, coordination between government institutions allowed the country to track trends in labor demand and match the skills taught in the education system with market needs.

5. Engage locally when implementing policies

In the Philippines, effective implementation of the conditional cash transfer program required coordination with regional offices and local-level actors including more than 13,000 personnel on the ground, allowing the program to reach targeted households across a large, decentralized country with a population dispersed among hundreds of islands.

Ghana’s school feeding program brought together community leaders in decision-making with local caterers and farmers to supply food to children. The monitoring and evaluation system relied on local school head teachers and caterers.

Morocco built local coordination into its National Human Development Initiative, establishing 700 regional, provincial, and local committees to monitor the implementation of programs and help select development projects.

As national governments, the World Bank Group and other development partners continue to protect and #InvestInPeople, these case studies will contribute to an in-depth understanding of how countries are putting their best policy ideas into practice, the challenges that must be overcome, and what is next on their agendas.