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Highlight: From factory floor to the middle class: Does labour-intensive manufacturing promote economic mobility?


The 48th Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting was held in Azerbaijan, May 2-5, 2015. IDRC sponsored a seminar on incentivizing employment-intensive manufacturing policies as a strategy for growth and job creation in South Asia. 

The seminar engaged top experts from government, business, and civil society. Anindya Chatterjee, IDRC’s Regional Director for Asia, offered opening remarks and Andrew North, the former BBC South Asia correspondent, moderated the discussion. Panellists included Selima Ahmad, founder of Bangladesh's Women Chamber of Commerce; Rafaelita Aldaba, Assistant Secretary, Industry Development, Philippines Department of Trade; Zaw Oo, Presidential Advisor to Myanmar President Thein Sein; and Martin Rama, the World Bank's Chief Economist for South Asia.

Discussions examined some critical questions raising from the efforts of Asian countries to boost economic growth and create jobs by pursuing labour-intensive manufacturing strategies.

Panellists highlighted:

  • The Philippine experience, where in spite of early gains in the automotive and business-process outsourcing sectors, the jobless growth rate remains a concern. The government is now looking to invest in skills training.  
  • In Burma, to avoid the “resource curse” in frontier markets, investments in human capital must be promoted alongside investments in natural resource industries. 
  • India’s experience emphasized the importance of skills development and diversification of manufacturing sectors to ensure greater productivity and higher wages.
  • In Bangladesh, there is incentive to involve more women as entrepreneurs and decision-makers. Granting women ownership over their employment and engaging them in the workforce would improve economic outcomes.  

Martin Rama noted that from the World Bank perspective, well-managed urbanization and infrastructure development were the twin solutions to reduce poverty in Asia. Countries should cash in on this “moment of opportunity” and hasten to follow richer nations in a “flying geese” pattern.

For more information on the session, visit the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting webpage

Read some highlights from the 2015 ADB Annual Meeting 

Watch the video series with the panellists on The Future of Factory Asia (short clips or watch the full length video)