Addressing Industrial Pollution Along the Kelani River

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

The lush banks and rushing waters of the Kelani River served as the indelible backdrop for the 1957 Academy Award-winning movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and today, the river remains a vital resource for about 25 percent of the Sri Lankan population who reside in its catchment area. The river is the fourth-longest and second-largest watershed in the country, and is the main source of drinking water to over 4 million people living in the greater Colombo area alone. Sadly, the Kelani River is also the most polluted river in Sri Lanka. According to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), most of the pollution comes from liquid waste discharged by the rapidly expanding industries that operate alongside the river, as well as agricultural runoff and domestic and municipal waste. An estimated 3,000 businesses that are required to have an environmental pollution license are located on the banks of the river. According to water tests conducted by the CEA near industrial locations, basic safe water quality limits are constantly exceeded, including chemical oxygen demand (36-37% over acceptable standards), dissolved oxygen (27-43% over acceptable standards), biological oxygen demand (7-13% over), and heavy metals (7% over). In August 2015, a significant diesel leak into the river from a multinational carbonated drinks manufacturer brought to the fore the hazardous impact that industrial pollution is having on the river, and potentially on communities who rely on the river for their livelihoods. Despite this growing threat, local industries need to do more to comply with regulations to ensure waste water discharged into the river is safe. While existing policy and legislation for curtailing industrial pollution exists in Sri Lanka, more effective enforcement is needed, as well as highly stringent monitoring mechanisms to verify that all standards are met. In late 2015, The Asia Foundation and local nonprofit Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) started a project to help restore the water quality of the Kelani River. After identifying the 40-kilometer stretch between the town of Avisawella and the river outfall north of Colombo as the most polluted area, we began a comprehensive mapping of pollution sources, conducting surveys… Read more

Career Introductory Videos for Youth: Shaping Visions for Professional Development

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Despite being a pillar of Cambodia’s national economy, youth lack the information to make informed decisions and plan for success in higher value-added areas of the job market. Cambodia’s rapid economic development has opened new career pathways in Cambodia, but many young people start on their career paths dependent on family or friends for guidance, and career counseling support is available in less than 1% of secondary schools. A recent Asia Foundation study showed that many students find it hard to choose a career because they simply don’t know the necessary information to set career goals. On the flip side, many employers complain that they cannot get the qualified applicants they need for available jobs.   Responding to this challenge, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS) and FinnChurchAid have completed a successful pilot project for career counseling in Battambang province that is set to scale up with support from the ADB. Based on feedback from secondary school teachers, however, it is clear that getting access to accurate local and up-to-date information on careers is still a missing step in the journey from education to employment.   Addressing this gap, The Asia Foundation has a novel initiative creating Career Introductory Videos (CIVs). Working in partnership with MOEYS, we engaged 30 university students in volunteering their time to create these career videos using their own smartphones. In collaboration with Lens Pro Media, the Foundation organized a training workshop for the volunteers on how to produce short videos. Following the workshop, students competed in a two-month long video contest to portray Cambodians at work for a young audience. The winning videos will best explain what each career involves and what educational preparation is required for entry-level positions. STEM careers are a special focus of this initiative. With the path paved, The Asia Foundation hopes that others will join in CIV production. As Lim Siv Hong, a senior program officer for the Foundation in Cambodia, puts it, “They are open source. Anyone can use them. Anyone can make a CIV. In this sense, CIVs are really a call to private sector partners… Read more

Creating an Ecosystem of Support for Trafficking Survivors in India

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

South Asia has the dubious distinction of being the fastest-growing and second-largest region for human trafficking in the world, with India at its epicentre as a source, destination, and transit country. Despite recent government data that indicates that reporting of cases of human trafficking in India has increased by almost 25 percent, the conviction rate remains abysmally low. Victims of trafficking rely heavily on a diverse set of service providers to help them recover and rehabilitate, if they are able to seek and receive services at all. This includes the police, legal aid bodies, shelter homes, vocational training centers, and NGOs. Unfortunately, many of these service providers work in silos at the district or state level with very little inter-agency collaboration, or they focus on only one aspect of response to trafficking rather than offering an integrated or holistic approach. NGOs that work on supporting trafficking survivors often find it difficult to identify and reach other key stakeholders. This, combined with a lack of credible data on the various support services that are available, hampers an effective response to trafficking survivors and impedes the prosecution process, resulting in relatively low conviction rates. To address this gap, an ecosystem of support for trafficking victims is needed to address their critical needs and enable them to be reintegrated into mainstream society. Last year, The Asia Foundation began supporting a new research project, conducted by local partner Women Power Connect (WPC), to map the support structures and services that exist for trafficking survivors, and better understand how they collaborate, if at all. WPC conducted focus group discussions and field-level research in three Indian states, Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, with the goal of strengthening the capacity of support structures to provide services to survivors, create awareness of the services and structures available, and strengthen the referral capabilities of NGOs and justice sector actors working on trafficking. On March 31, WPC released the research findings in a new resource directory, available on The Asia Foundation’s website. The directory maps all the shelter homes in these three states, and includes updated contact and location information. It… Read more

Licensing Reform in Indonesia: What’s Next after the One-Stop Shop?

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

According to the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business report, Indonesia has improved the ease of doing business over the last year, rising in rank from 106th in 2016 to 91st in 2017. The report, which ranks economies on 10 business regulatory areas, cited significant improvement in the area of “starting a business,” with the time it takes reduced from 48 to 25 days. The impressive jump in ranking is an outcome of the strong commitment from the Joko Widodo (Jokowi) administration since taking office in 2014 to improve Indonesia’s investment climate. More recently, the government announced that it would remove expiration dates of trading licenses (SIUP) and business registration (TDP) (previously they had to be renewed every five years). Although the tangible impacts of this effort to reduce costs and burdensome licensing timeframes are still marginal, the move clearly shows the government’s strong commitment in this area. Indonesia’s push toward decentralization that began in 2001 brought with it enormous power to the local governments, including the increased ability to generate revenue from the people in the form of taxes and levies, and particularly so from local businesses. To obtain the necessary licenses to operate, local businesses had to apply at various local government offices in a painstaking process that was not transparent, allowing for back-room dealing in a burdensome process that hampered economic growth. During this time, The Asia Foundation and local civil society organization partners developed the first one-stop shop (OSS) model to licensing reform, which integrated business licensing in one office at the district level, established standard operating procedures for licensing, provided transparent information for license applicants, and offered channels for raising complaints. In 2006, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) nationalized the OSS model, making it a model for a good business climate, corruption prevention, and bureaucratic reforms. Since then, according to the MoHA, more than 90 percent of 497 districts in Indonesia had established the OSS model by 2013. While this marked an improvement, our research at the time indicated that the majority of these OSS had limited authority to process numerous types of licenses required… Read more

Building a Society Ideal for Working Women and Families

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

This interview with Abigail Friedman, former senior advisor and current consultant for The Asia Foundation, originally appeared in the Spring quarterly journal of I-House. Read the full interview here. As developments promoting the social advancement of women gather momentum, we have begun to hear the voices of women active in many fields of enterprise. Yet the workplace environment in Japan is still not easy for women and families. Abigail Friedman worked for over 25 years as a career diplomat, including experience in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, while raising three children. She continues to contribute to women’s empowerment today, serving as CEO of an international consulting firm and participating as an expert in a variety of symposia, including the World Assembly for Women. We spoke with her on a recent visit to Tokyo. How did you first come to Japan? My first visit to Japan was in 1986. I’d never been here before, knew almost nothing about the country, but my husband grew up watching samurai movies and was fascinated with Japanese culture. He happened to find a job in Hiroshima teaching English, so we both decided to move to Japan. At the time I was running a small immigration law firm, but I thought, “Let’s go! That will be interesting.” When we started living in Hiroshima I was 30 years old and one month pregnant. There were very few foreigners there, and I didn’t speak any Japanese, but local women really helped me out during my pregnancy and childbirth. I love new challenges and learning new things, so it was a great experience. Then for a while I was a full-time housewife, because as an American who couldn’t speak Japanese, it was very difficult to find work. Also, my American law degree was useless in Japan, and I was pregnant. When I was growing up I was always sure I was going to work. I had no thought of getting married and having kids. But it’s not like you plan these things—I fell in love, I got married, I had children. And it was in Hiroshima that I had… Read more

Hiring Patterns in Cambodia’s Garment Industry

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Despite the fact that Cambodia’s apparel industry accounts for nearly 80 percent of the country’s export revenue and employs an estimated 700,000 people, finding workers with the right skills remains a major challenge, according to The Asia Foundation’s new survey on recruitment practices in the garment industry in Cambodia. Based on online and phone interviews with human resource managers from 52 garment factories in and around Phnom Penh, the survey found that, in addition to technical skills like sewing or quality control, leadership skills such as supervising and team leading were the most difficult to fill. For example, when asked what positions take the longest time to fill, 45 percent of respondents said sewing, 43 percent said supervisor, and 36 percent cited team leader. The most commonly cited method for finding workers is selecting workers from in front of the factory, with 98 percent of respondents using this method. Taking referrals from existing workers is the second most common way recruiters find workers (81 percent). These findings suggest that the current recruitment practices in the garment industry remain highly informal and somewhat inefficient. While the preferred recruitment methods allow factories to find workers in large quantities, the heavy dependence on free, informal methods of selection limits their ability to find more skilled workers. One contributing factor to the lack of skills may be the high turnover rate in the industry. Of the respondents who shared information about turnover at their factories, the average turnover rate was 44 percent of workers per year. This finding indicates that many workers are not spending enough time in a job to gain more advanced skills. The survey also reveals a greater need for information sharing. When asked what would be most helpful to their recruiting work, 19 percent of HR managers cited a need for better distribution of information, including distributing job announcements among existing workers in a factory and line-managers or in the area where workers live for better outreach results. Others (13%) said that providing additional training to workers should be a priority, perhaps by establishing a training center. Potential underage hires The study… Read more

How Will Online Platforms Shape Asia’s Growth Story?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Sahib Anandsongvit had a problem: his family, who ran a boutique hotel business in Bangkok, constantly needed to find skilled workers to repair rooms, clean facilities, or perform other services on short notice. Traditionally, Thai small business owners looking for service providers have relied on word of mouth, or flyers pinned to trees and telephone poles around the city. But how can one be sure that the provider is trustworthy, and how can they be found quickly for emergency repairs? To address this problem, Sahib co-founded a new company called Seekster. Unlike a traditional business in this space, which might hire a fleet of service providers and pay them an hourly rate, Seekster took a “platform” approach. Without hiring a single provider directly, Sahib built an online marketplace where micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)—like his own family—can find, hire, and rate the services of independent cleaners, plumbers, pest exterminators, and air conditioner technicians who sign up on the platform. Businesses on Seekster get fast and high-quality services, while individual providers get immediate access to a customer base and can parlay good ratings into much higher and more reliable incomes. In fact, Seekster providers earn more than triple the minimum daily wage of 310 Baht (about $9). Across Asia, online platforms like Seekster—which leverage rapidly expanding mobile broadband and cloud computing services to facilitate transactions—have emerged as valuable tools for navigating the connected world. By 2020, over a billion people in the Asia-Pacific alone will be served by online platforms, and platform businesses are already active in sectors as diverse as finance, logistics, cross-border trade, talent acquisition, household services, and the traditional buying and selling of goods. Farmers in Indonesia are using platforms to access crop information from top universities, weather data from the Indonesian meteorological agency, and daily commodity prices from nearby markets. An unbanked bookseller in Gaya can conduct customer transactions, make purchases, and protect savings from financial shocks—all by using a local online payment platform. Through a local education platform, a gifted student living in a remote or rural area can access accredited university courses. And Asia’s… Read more

What Factors Drive Child Marriage in Afghanistan?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. Contributing factors include different forms of gender-based violence, poor education, limited access to healthcare, and not being allowed outside the home. Sadly, many Afghan women also face forced child marriage—despite it being illegal. A significant amount of research confirms that child marriages undermine girls’ participation in decision-making, educational attainment, and labor force participation, and leave them vulnerable to violence and health risks throughout their life. Furthermore, these risks can be transferred to their children, leading to an intergenerational effect—impacting their children’s education, nutrition, and health. One of the key challenges to addressing this problem is a lack of data that policymakers can use to design better interventions and target relevant populations. The data that is available suggests that one in eight Afghan girls is married before the age of 16—the minimum legal age according to the Afghan law—and that one in three Afghan girls is married by the time she turns 18. A 2015 research report from the Norwegian Refugee Council suggests that the situation is even more grave for internally displaced women and girls living in informal settlements in urban areas, who, compared with other Afghans, are more likely to be non-literate, to have lower rates of school enrollment, to live in larger households (but with lower household incomes), and to be unemployed. Since 2006, The Asia Foundation has been conducting an annual Survey of the Afghan People, the most comprehensive public opinion survey in the country, which includes perception data on a wide range of topics, including women’s issues. In 2014, we added a question to the survey regarding Afghans’ perception of the ideal marriage age for women and men. On average over the last three years, respondents said that the best age for women to marry is 19.2 and for men is 22.5, a difference of more than three years. Furthermore, 4.6 percent of respondents said that the best age for women to get married is before the age of 16 years, which is currently prohibited under Afghan law. Here are… Read more

New Study Examines Labor Migration Impact on Social, Political Dynamics in Nepal

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Over the past decade, Nepal has seen a ten-fold increase in the number of migrant laborers leaving the country to work abroad, and the majority are youth. This phenomenon has led to the exodus of a significant proportion of the country’s working-age population, with the remittances that they send back home making up nearly a third of the country’s GDP and credited for the significant reduction in poverty rates. Despite the continual rise in the number of people migrating for foreign employment and the growing body of research on Nepal’s remittance economy, there is a dearth of knowledge of the impact foreign labor migration has on the social and political dynamics at the local level. To fill this gap, The Asia Foundation just released a new study, “Labour Migration and the Remittance Economy,” that examines the implications of migration and remittance on social structures, including local institutions and democratic governance, and on political participation and political contestation. Fieldwork for the study was carried out in 10 locations in five districts—Panchthar, Dhanusha, Nawalparasi, Kaski, and Kailali—between April and June 2016, and surveyed 401 migrant and non-migrant households (HHs) during the first stage of the study, followed by 179 qualitative interviews and 19 focus group discussions in the second stage. The report is divided into six sections, with the introductory section describing the methodological approach and the research framework adopted for the study. Section two presents findings on the socioeconomic effects of migration and remittances, primarily at the household level. Section three focuses on how the changes observed at the household level may affect established societal relations, and lead to shifts in the political autonomy of migrants and their households. Section four examines the impact of migration on the political aspirations of young people and the emerging patterns of political participation among various migrant and non-migrant populations. Section five analyses the implications of migration on gender roles and women’s political participation. Section six concludes with the possible implications of the ongoing trajectories of migration on the broader socio-political transformations underway in Nepal. Looking ahead, the study points to areas that could be… Read more

How is Domestic Violence Impacting the Workplace in China?

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Four years ago, Ms. Huang, a clerk at a local township government in China, was at work when her newly wedded husband showed up in rage. “He stormed into my workplace, kicked open one door and another searching for me. He even followed my co-worker’s car.” Her supervisor sent the office car to escort her from work, and arranged for her to stay at a co-worker’s home. While Ms. Huang had been suffering from abuse since their honeymoon, this harassment at work had become more frequent after she told him she wanted a divorce. Thankfully, she said, her supervisor and co-workers were supportive, and allowed her to have flexible working hours so that she could go to the court to attend divorce proceedings. An engineer and victim of domestic violence for over 30 years, Ms. Gao was less fortunate. Despite her husband’s constant physical assaults and public humiliation against her, her supervisors and co-workers still believed that she should keep her marriage together. China’s first Anti-Domestic Violence Law that passed last year includes provisions that require employers to act against domestic violence through measures such as disciplining abusers among their employees and providing assistance to victims. Around 68 percent of China’s working-age population are employed, 44 percent of whom are women, according to the latest International Labour Organization figures. However, as the mobility rate of working people increases, their connection to community, where they would traditionally access anti-domestic violence information and services, is weakening. In contrast, the workplace is becoming the place where a working individual spends most of the day, and co-workers comprise a critical part of one’s social circle. Therefore, these new requirements have enormous potential to benefit the large working population in China. The Asia Foundation and SynTao Co., Ltd. (a leading consulting firm on corporate social responsibility) conducted a research project last year to understand how domestic violence spreads beyond the household and into the workforce in China. The findings, which come from online and in-person questionnaire surveys with 709 working individuals—nearly 80 percent of whom were women—and 93 human resource managers from across sectors and… Read more