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The Role of Education on the Labor Market and Unequal Educational Opportunities: An Empirical Analysis for the CEE Countries

October 12, 2022
By 29630

Nemanja Vuksanovic, who received a Sylff Research Award grant in 2021, conducted an empirical analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European countries. While policy makers in these countries need to increase the availability of higher education, financial resources must be primarily directed to the poorer segments of society, notes Vuksanovic; over-subsidizing post-primary education could increase income inequality rather than reduce it.

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Subject, Aim, and Motivation

The subject of my research was the analysis of the economic role of education in the labor market, observed from the aspects of human capital theory and signaling theory, as well as the analysis of unequal opportunities in education in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The aim was to empirically determine the extent to which, in the CEE countries, education improves productivity or represents a characteristic that signals productive capabilities, as well as to empirically examine the degree to which selected countries are characterized by unequal educational opportunities.

There are several basic motivating factors for choosing the research topic.

Firstly, this research contributes to the development of scientific and professional literature related to the economics of education in the CEE region. It is pioneering research that addresses the economic role of education in the labor market and unequal educational opportunities among the CEE countries. No attempts have been made thus far to evaluate the premium on education, the effects of diplomas, and the influence of factors limiting the achievement of a certain educational level in this region by means of the proposed theoretical and methodological framework. I chose this topic because this research can contribute to a better understanding of the transition paths of Serbia and selected CEE countries in the segment related to the educational process.

Secondly, the research conducts a detailed and systematic overview of theoretical models developed to explain the economic role of education and unequal educational opportunities, by looking at the historical development of these models and the most significant results of previous research. Special emphasis is given to describing the problems that researchers encounter in empirical studies when assessing the rate of return on investment in education and the effects of diplomas. In a broader context, the significance of the research lies in general contribution to the development of scientific and professional literature in the field of economics of education. My intention was to present through the research an appropriate theoretical and methodological framework for future research on topics in the domain of this economic field.

Another scientific contribution of the research lies in the empirical results, which could help policy makers in the CEE region to create a more complete picture of the education system and, based on that, to develop guidelines for improving the education process. The findings of the research should make more visible the problem of inequality in income distribution, which arises from circumstances beyond the control of the individual. The study of unequal opportunities in education has gained in importance in recent years as a result of the increasing attention that researchers are paying to the problem of income inequality. The study of factors limiting equitable access to education is important because it can clarify the effects of education as a mechanism for reducing inequalities in income distribution. So my main motivating factor is that the research results can provide a better understanding of the segment of demand for education and distribution of education and be helpful to education policy makers among the CEE countries.

Figure 1. Relationship between ratio of share of high-educated and share of low-educated population (x axis) and GDP per capita (y axis) among CEE countries

Education boosts the living standard of a country.


Basic Findings and Public Policy Implications

Seen from the social aspect the significance of the research results is manifold, since it can provide several guidelines for policy makers.

The results of my empirical study assessing the rate of return on investment in education indicate that in all CEE countries the positive return on investment in tertiary education is higher than the negative return on investment in primary education. That is, the link between education and earnings is convex, suggesting that in the CEE countries the highest rate of return is tied to the highest level of education. This tendency of the rate of return on investment in education—whereby the premium on education does not decrease with educational levels, so that it is highest in primary and lowest in tertiary education—has already been noted in a number of other studies.

In all CEE countries apart from Hungary, the positive premium on higher education is six to nine percentage points higher than the negative premium on primary education. points out that the relatively high rate of return for tertiary education may be because rates of return on investment in tertiary education are higher in those countries where the supply of more educated individuals grows at a slower pace than the demand for such individuals. Acemoglu (2008) argues that the gap in supply and demand for highly educated individuals may reflect the specificity of the country’s institutional framework or differences in changes in the openness of the economy and changes in the field of technological progress. Consequently, the present gap may have negative implications for the country’s economic development, as it leads to underutilized human resources. This implies that a country like Serbia, where the rate of return on investment in tertiary education is among the highest in the CEE region, is characterized by a significant gap in supply of and demand for highly educated individuals. This situation indicates the need for policy makers in Serbia to take appropriate measures to increase the supply of highly educated people.

Figure 2. Returns to high education in CEE countries

An investment in high education pays the best interest.


For policy makers, the observed pattern of returns on investment in education in CEE countries may also mean that a significant rise in the percentage of the population with lower levels of education will not greatly increase the earnings of individuals with these levels of education. The convex link between education and earnings suggests the possibility that over-subsidizing post-primary education may increase rather than reduce income inequality. Many international agendas, such as the Millennium Development Goals, have focused on increasing the share of the population with primary education. But when the link between education and earnings is convex, public investment aimed at increasing the coverage of the population with lower levels of education will not significantly increase the earnings of low-educated individuals. Moreover, Schulz (2003) points out that in countries where public subsidies in tertiary education are high—as is the case in many African countries—the convex link between education and earnings means that large amounts of public transfers to individuals in higher education, if not targeted, benefit most those whose families are of better socioeconomic status. In this case, such a public policy will not be very effective in reducing inequalities in income distribution. Both facts indicate that a successful public policy in Serbia must be directed toward more efficient allocation of educational investments; in other words, that special attention must be paid to distributing these investments by levels of education and targeting appropriate socioeconomic groups.

The results of the second empirical study show that every additional year of schooling over the years necessary for obtaining a university degree has a negative effect on earnings. This finding has significant implications for education policy. If some individuals benefit more from gaining a certain level of education, then policy makers need to recognize such different influences. This is especially important in the case of less developed countries of the CEE region, such as Serbia, where children from families of lower socioeconomic status face greater financial constraints. Namely, when education plays the role of a signal, it is important that highly gifted individuals be able to reach the highest levels of education to prevent the quality of the signaling role of education in the labor market from collapsing. Caplan (2018) points out that excessive public investments in education that are not directed toward appropriate groups devalue the importance of the role of education as a signal. Generous and untargeted public investment in the education system may jeopardize the importance of education as a means of overcoming the problem of information asymmetry between workers and employers. A nonselective policy of over-subsidizing higher education could lead to inflation of diplomas, which would greatly weaken the role of education as a signal. This is especially true in Serbia and Romania, where the signaling role of education is relatively weak among the CEE countries. Public policy makers in Serbia and Romania must therefore take care that financial resources are primarily directed to children from poorer families, with a focus on the talented ones, so that those children can reach the highest levels of education.

Improving the availability of higher levels of education through increased and well-targeted public investment is particularly important given the results of the third empirical study, which indicate the existence of unequal opportunities in education among the CEE countries. Increasing the proportion of the population with higher education may represent an appropriate public policy aimed at reducing income inequality, in line with the demonstrated link between education distribution and wage distribution. Pikkety et al. (2020) point out that this is important because the significance of implementing appropriate predistribution measures has recently been emphasized in the international agenda. Predistribution, which can influence the distribution of income before redistributive measures—taxes and social transfers—take effect, is based on the view that a country’s institutional framework through the legal and social system can contribute to reducing income inequality. Appropriate public policy in the CEE countries should be aimed at increasing the availability of higher education, while care must be taken to ensure that this coverage primarily affects individuals of lower socioeconomic status. A well-targeted predistribution policy oriented toward creating a fairer education system and a society characterized by equal opportunities can contribute to the country’s economic development and to the reduction of poverty and income inequality.


Acemoglu, D. 2002. “Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market.” Journal of Economic Literature 40, no. 1 (March 2002): 7–72.

Caplan, B. 2018. The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Piketty, T., A. Bozio, B. Garbinti, J. Goupille-Lebret, and M. Guillot. 2020. “Predistribution vs. Redistribution: Evidence from France and the U.S.” WID.world Working Paper, 10.

Schultz, T. P. 2003. “Higher Education in Africa: Monitoring Efficiency and Improving Equity.” In African Higher Education: Implications for Development, 93. New Haven, CT: The Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

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Why Do We Need Vaccines Now?

August 4, 2021
By 29262

Drawing on the field of health economics, 2002 Sylff fellow Matheus Albergaria contemplates the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for collective health and possible solutions. Vaccines are one such solution, as well as social distancing and the wearing of masks in public places. But for these measures to be effective, it is key that individuals consider the impact that their actions may have on collective well-being.

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The first records of the so-called coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) occurred in late 2019. As the name suggests, COVID-19 is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), being generally associated with such symptoms as fever, dry cough, and tiredness, although other symptoms may also appear in more severe cases of the disease. Throughout the year 2020, the spread of the virus across numerous countries occurred at an astonishing speed; recent data from October 2020 suggest the confirmation of more than 190 million cases, as well as deaths in excess of 4 million worldwide.

An important aspect related to the COVID-19 pandemic concerns its consequences in terms of collective health. Few people outside the field of economics are aware of the existence of a field of study called “health economics,” in which scholars employ economic logic to evaluate health policy interventions, such as in the case of COVID-19. In this article, I will illustrate possible ways in which we can use the lessons from this field to understand some characteristics of the pandemic, as well as possible solutions related to it.

Since collective health can be seen as a special category of goods needed by a society—so-called public goods—it is important to take into account the potential implications derived from such a categorization. Specifically, public goods have two unique characteristics: they are (i) “non-excludable” and (ii) “non-rival.” That is, it is not possible to exclude anyone from their consumption (non-exclusionary property), while at the same time, the consumption of the goods by one person does not necessarily affect the consumption of other people in society (non-rivalry property). Examples of public goods—in addition to public health itself—are national security, maritime lighthouses, fireworks, public parks, and beaches. (It is worth noting that all these examples are non-excludable and non-rival goods.)

The main challenge related to public goods concerns the possible emergence of differences between individual interests and collective well-being. For example, in the case of public health issues, a person may wonder if it makes sense to comply with a period of quarantine at home, wear a mask in public places, or maintain social distance, as their actions may have seemingly insignificant impacts in social terms. In other words, in situations like this, a person may ask the following question: “Will my actions have any significant impact on the rest of society?” If the answer to this question is no, the person is likely to have little incentive to cooperate with collective well-being, since he views his individual actions as socially insignificant. One problem arising from thinking along these lines is that if many people think this way, it will be very difficult for society to achieve public health goals (as well as any goal involving collective action). Such situations are known as “social dilemmas”; actions that apparently make sense from an individual point of view do not necessarily lead to the best results from a social point of view. This fact has important implications for the current pandemic situation that we are experiencing in the world. Since collective health can be seen as a public good, a high degree of coordination between individual actions and society’s goals becomes necessary. The biggest challenge for a government in a context involving public goods is to coordinate individual actions so as to obtain results that are satisfactory for society as a whole.

Another important aspect related to the COVID-19 pandemic concerns the occurrence of a phenomenon known by economists as “externalities” (or “external effects”). Basically, externalities correspond to “market failures,” that is, situations in which the market system ceases to function properly, generating inefficient results from a societal point of view. In such situations, it would be possible to improve the situation of some people in society without necessarily harming others—that is, it would be possible to generate efficient solutions, economically speaking.

Externalities occur when the actions of an individual or firm have unplanned consequences on other parties (similar to the side effects of any action, which can be both positive and negative). For example, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is the possibility of negative externalities occurring, since some people may infect others without even knowing that they are infected with the coronavirus. (In fact, there are several reports of asymptomatic cases of the virus.) That is, even without having the intention of harming other people, an infected person can end up harming society as a whole.

An extreme example of the occurrence of negative externalities is the “Tragedy of the Commons,” a parable created in the nineteenth century to explain the potential adverse consequences of situations involving goods known as “common resources.” Although these goods are excluding as public goods, they are rivals—that is, the consumption of the good by an individual affects its availability to other individuals. Examples of common resources would be common property land, as well as fish in the sea and some animal species. (Not coincidentally, this parable has been used extensively in biology.) According to this “tragedy,” differences between individual interests and social interests could lead to a situation in which society ends up losing out as a whole. For example, a situation in which all people in a society have access to a common resource—such as the commons in England for a time—raises the possibility of the emergence of patterns of excessive consumption of that resource, which could lead to the society ending up in a worse situation in terms of social welfare. (The commons could become sterile, in this case.)

But what do these hypotheses say to us? First, the occurrence of market failures along the lines discussed here may suggest a more active role for governments around the globe. Since the market does not always result in efficient situations from a social point of view, there may be a role for government in the economy. For example, one way for governments to alleviate the pandemic’s adverse effects is by evaluating the occurrence of externalities between individuals in the current context. Additionally, the fact that the coronavirus displays patterns of complementarity with other sources of morbidity—such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart problems—makes the case for the government to implement public policies focused on disseminating information related to possible forms of contagion.

A potential solution to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been widely publicized by the media and debated by society in recent times is the creation of vaccines capable of protecting individuals from the adverse effects of the virus. From an economic point of view, an effective vaccine in combating the virus must at least have two basic properties. First, the vaccine must have the characteristics of what economists call a “public good”: non-exclusiveness (no person should be excluded from its reach) and non-rivalry (the fact that a person receives the vaccine should not prevent other people from receiving it). Taken together, these two characteristics could justify a vaccine supply to be provided by the government in a pandemic context.

Second, unlike the virus, a vaccine must be associated with the occurrence of positive externalities. In the case of the current pandemic, an effective vaccine must be able to generate a kind of “spillover effect” in terms of immunization. Specifically, the fact that a person is vaccinated could prevent other people from being infected by the virus over time (a result that depends on the effectiveness of the vaccine in question). Ultimately, vaccines generate positive externalities.

One way to have a vaccine with these characteristics would be through its provision and free distribution by the government. Although there are substantial costs associated with such an undertaking, we must take into account the potential costs—of greater magnitude, probably—associated with the possible occurrence of a new wave of contagions in the world if an insufficient number of people are vaccinated.

Another way for governments to combat the adverse effects of the pandemic is through the introduction of public policies based on so-called merit goods, goods that the government obliges people to consume, assuming that they are not always able to make favorable choices for their own well-being. In the case of the current pandemic, two examples of such goods are the policy of social distancing and the wearing of masks in places such as supermarkets or sports gyms.

The situations described in this article point to the importance of considering differences between individual interests and collective well-being. In other words, what is best for an individual or group of individuals may not be better for society as a whole. A potential way to alleviate the harmful effects of the pandemic is through the collaboration of everyone in society: if one person collaborates—taking vaccines, following the quarantine regime, wearing masks in public places, and maintaining social distance—everyone benefits from it. Ultimately, it is important to consider the interaction between individual interests and collective well-being in an increasingly complex and diverse society where market failures may occur. From an economist’s point of view, possible solutions to the pandemic are not easy, although they are possible as long as each person considers the possible impacts of their actions on society as a whole.

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Is Egypt’s Economy Surviving Corona’s Bumpy Ride?

April 6, 2021
By 28847

Christine Guirguis, a 2020 Sylff fellow from the American University in Cairo, addresses the outlook for Egypt’s economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Egypt was one of only three countries in the region to maintain positive growth in 2020, an impressive record given the difficulties it has experienced over the past decade, as Guirguis details.

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View of Cairo from the top of Cairo Tower, August 25, 2014.

Egypt’s economic condition in 2012–13 was dubbed the worst crisis since the 1930s. The severity of the economic troubles reached its peak in the first half of 2014 with a fall in the GDP growth rate to 1.2%—the lowest in about 50 years—as well as a rise of the inflation rate to 9%, a surge in the unemployment rate to 14%, a fall of eight places in tourism ranking, and a shortage in essential food products. As a result, Egypt’s economic status as of 2014, which was downgraded from emerging market to frontier market in Russell’s Annual Index, left the country scrambling to rescue its 86-million population at the time.

Before reluctantly resorting to the International Monetary Fund, Egypt—whose national security is a safety valve to the region—had received generous aid from the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia totaling as much as $30 billion. While such aid breathed life into Egypt’s economy, the bill was far from paid.

In 2015, three-quarters of Egypt’s budget vanished into subsidies, government wages, interest payments, and capital loan repayments; only 5% of the budget was left for other purposes. In the same year, the crash of a Russian airplane due to an act of terrorism marked the Egyptian tourism’s clinical death before it was gradually resuscitated in 2019 by stricter security measures in airports. This was when Egypt decided, on November 3, 2016, to brace up for a $12 billion IMF loan by devaluing its currency by 48% and fulfilling the IMF’s requirements by way of cutting subsidies, increasing VAT, and floating the currency.

Luxor temple, Luxor, January 2015.

In a recent television interview, Mr. Tarek Amer, governor of the Central Bank of Egypt, talked about the Herculean responsibility he had in his hands in 2015. Egypt’s foreign cash reserves were only $800 million, an amount Egypt normally spends in a week. Consequently, its economy would have faced the risk of a total shutdown unless an urgent “surgery” of painful economic reform was done. The political and social sensitivity of the November 2016 decision, at a time when Egypt was craving for stability, rendered the proposal impossible from the point of view of almost all the cabinet members. No one was able to digest the unimaginable scenarios that could have taken place if the economic reform process had failed to meet its purposes, especially because its probability of success was estimated to be between only 10% and 30% at the time. With no alternatives on the horizon, President Sisi gave the green light for the execution of the economic reform proposal, a decision that signified a new, independent approach that enabled Egypt to skip the limitations that had long impeded its economic restructuring.

In a country where a quarter of the people live below the poverty line, the government wanted to ensure that its measures would not cause a humanitarian crisis or a social backlash. The government kept intact the cash transmission programs and subsidized food systems launched earlier.

Given the painful austerity measures, some envisioned a doomsday scenario taking place in Egypt. Yehia Hamed, a former investment minister in Mohamed Morsi’s 2012–13 government, wrote an article in the Foreign Policy in 2019 where he conjectured that Egypt was heading toward bankruptcy and warned Europe against a mass flocking across the Mediterranean of Egyptians fleeing an inevitable bleak fate.

In response Ahmed Shams El Din, an Egyptian capital markets professional and adjunct professor at the American University in Cairo, published an article on the same news site where he expressed his wonder at the former minister’s criticism of securing an IMF loan even though the government in which he served had approached the IMF in 2012 for a loan. He noted that Egypt’s economy is growing rather than collapsing, with the account and budget deficits cut in half and a 5.5% growth in 2019 compared to 2.2% in 2013.  

The current pandemic is already suffocating some of the biggest economies, supporting the IMF’s description of it as “the worst economic crisis since the 1930s depression.” For Egypt, the challenge is tougher due to losses in the main revenue sources, such as tourism, the Suez Canal, and remittances, which together constitute 15% of Egypt’s GDP. Therefore, in its June report the IMF initially expected a decline in Egypt’s GDP growth rate from 5.6% in 2019 to as low as 2% in 2020—a percentage it later changed to 3.5% in its October report. Given the global economic challenges, this relatively low growth rate makes Egypt one of three countries in the Middle East and Central Asia to maintain a positive figure in 2020.

Antique Bazaars, Aswan, January 2015.

During the apex of the global pandemic uncertainty in 2020, Egypt managed to pay $35 billion of its liabilities without suffering a severe decline in its foreign currency stockpile or any shortage of essential goods. This explained Egypt’s ability to maintain its credit ratings by Standard & Poor’s at “BB” in April 2020, by Fitch at “B+” with a Stable Outlook in July, and by Moody’s at “B2” in August. Based on these ratings, J.P. Morgan praised Egypt’s economic performance, stating that, thus far, its economy had successfully withstood the test of the pandemic and kept the trust of the international community. Hence, Egypt’s economy has been given well-grounded positive appraisals.To contain corona’s economic repercussions, the Egyptian government allocated 100 billion Egyptian pounds (EGP) as a stimulus package, including half to support the severely affected tourism sector, EGP 8 billion for the health sector, a 14% increase in pensions, energy cost relief for factories, fewer taxes on businesses, more cash transmissions, and financial support for irregular workers until the end of 2020.

Egypt’s top priorities in the economic agenda include augmenting domestic savings, as well as adopting a more liberal approach toward the market, revisiting tax penalties and exemptions, and laying the basis for a fairer accountability system.

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Empirical Research on Financial Crowdfunding at a Leading Research Organization for Alternative Finance

March 31, 2020
By 26667

Wanxiang Cai, who received a Sylff fellowship at Chongqing University in 2016 is currently enrolled in a PhD course at the School of Economics, Utrecht University, Netherlands. His research area is entrepreneurship. Using an SRA award, he visited the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, a leading research center in the field of fintech.

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In recent years, crowdfunding has emerged as a source of online entrepreneurial finance. Although crowdfunding has attracted the attention of both researchers and policymakers, as an emerging form of entrepreneurial finance, we still have very limited information about its global pattern. My PhD research is about the governance of financial crowdfunding, and I suggest it is important to analyze the relationship among social capital, legal institutions, and financial crowdfunding at the macro (national), meso (platform), and micro (campaign) levels. It is essential for me to collect data about financial crowdfunding at the platform and national levels to finish my thesis.

Kings College of the University of Cambridge.

The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) is a leading research center in the field of fintech. It publishes several international industry reports every year. The center collects data from more than 1,000 fintech companies around the world and provides information about the development of the alternative finance market in different countries. These reports are the most comprehensive publications in this field and have been extensively cited in academic papers. Furthermore, the CCAF has established favorable relationships with policymakers around the world, including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in Britain, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank. Thus, visiting the CCAF can not only help me collect essential data for my research, but also offer me a chance to have a deeper understanding of the industry and get more great insights from policymakers.

The author, left, with several members of the benchmarking report project.

After communicating with Tania Ziegler, the lead in Global Benchmarking at the CCAF, we reached the agreement that I would visit the CCAF and help them write the global benchmarking report, and in return, they would provide me with their survey data for my research. Furthermore, they would also give me a chance to discuss my research with several senior researchers at the University of Cambridge, including Professor Raghavendra Rau, who has a very high reputation in finance. Thanks to Sylff Research Aboard, I had the chance to visit the University of Cambridge and had a great time at the CCAF.

The Mathematical Bridge at the University of Cambridge.

I started my visits on September 1, 2019. I was shocked by the beauty of the city and the sacredness of the university. It was always sunny during my first two weeks in Cambridge, which is unusual in Britain, as it rains all the time. Several colleges are scattered along the banks of the River Cam, including Trinity College, where Issac Newton studied hundreds of years ago. An enormous number of visitors walked along the river, while the students in Cambridge shared with them the glories of the university, such as its history, famous alumni, and recent academic outcomes. These students looked very confident and felt so proud of their university, making me eager to start my research at Cambridge.

I began my research immediately. The first thing that I had to do was to collect data from a vast number of alternative finance platforms. The annual alternative finance report is based on these survey data. Thus, I contacted the founders of the platforms to see whether they were willing to get involved in our research. We collected data from more than 1,600 platforms around the world. Then we summarized how the market volume had changed over the last few years in major countries, as well as platform owners’ opinions about potential risks and regulatory changes. Based on this data, we also provided some preliminary analyses of what affects the growth of the alternative finance market. For example, we found a significant relationship between proper legal protections and the development of the alternative finance market. The information obtained in this way helps me to gain a deeper understanding of the global alternative finance market and is beneficial to my future research.

Meanwhile, I enrolled in an online course called Fintech and Regulatory Innovation. Through this course, I have gained new knowledge about fintech, especially from a regulatory perspective. More importantly, other students in this course are policymakers from around the world. During their discussions, I learned enormously from them. All the students come from central banks or other financial institutions, and they have great insights about the governance of fintech. They not only showed their expertise and experiences in the fintech topics but also raised questions about the future development of the market and potential research on these topics.

In addition to the above, we have discussed my research with several researchers. I have discussed one of my current papers with Wanxin Wang, a PhD candidate at Imperial College London. She also studies the topic of crowdfunding, and in fact, my paper is built on her recent paper published in a top journal. Her paper shares many similarities with mine, and she provided me with several suggestions for my research. I have also talked extensively with Dr. Rui Hao. She is very interested in my research, and she also helped me get a chance to interview policymakers worldwide. We decided to work together on a research project about how the regulations on equity crowdfunding will change. Unlike traditional entrepreneurial finance (e.g., venture capital and business angels), crowdfunding mainly consists of small investors who have limited knowledge about finance and investments, making it difficult to make proper regulations on financial crowdfunding. On one hand, overly strict legal protections on investors may harm small firms and entrepreneurial initiatives. On the other hand, legal protections can resolve extensive information asymmetry between investors and entrepreneurs. Thus, we have decided to conduct interviews on dozens of policymakers around the world. Using qualitative research methods, we would like to study how the regulations on financial crowdfunding will develop in the future.

Lastly, I conducted a study about how equity crowdfunding affects traditional entrepreneur finance. As an emerging form of entrepreneurial finance, we know less about the influence of equity crowdfunding compared to traditional entrepreneurial finance. First, equity crowdfunding may substitute traditional forms of entrepreneurial finance, such as venture capital, business angels, and private equity. Alternative, it may compensate traditional entrepreneurial finance, as it mainly supports small companies. This study contributes to my PhD research, as it explores under which legal conditions equity crowdfunding can contribute to the development of traditional entrepreneurial finance. Using the data from the CCAF and other databases, I have done some preliminary analyses. I have also discussed the idea and methods with Professor Raghavendra Rau. He gave me several comments, and I am improving this paper based his useful input.

In a nutshell, I have benefited extensively from this visiting. I have made friends, shared my research, got feedback, and gained a deeper understanding of my research. I appreciate that the Sylff Association has provided me with the scholarship to support my research at the CCAF. I am confident that other scholarship winners will also benefit from the Sylff.

Christmas dinner at the CCAF.


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Copycats and Patent Wars: The Effects of Quality Investment

December 13, 2019
By 22425

Qinquan Cui, a 2017 Sylff fellow at Sun Yat-sen University in China, is currently conducting research as a visiting PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Recently, he published his thesis “Quality investment, and the contract manufacturer’s encroachment” in one of the flagship research journals. In this article, he shares his analysis and perspectives on global business issues.

*  *  *

Multinational cooperation has become increasingly popular in the manufacturing industry, including contract manufacturing and the setting up of joint ventures in emerging economies. In contrast to integrated business models in the past where the manufacturer had absolute control over material supply, manufacturing, assembling, and retailing, the core manufacturer in the new era has to face competition from business cooperators who can even be copycats. [1,2,3] This owes to the spillover and leakage of technology between different entities in a supply chain, which is a double-edged sword. [4] The positive side has been proven by Toyota’s knowledge-sharing network by learning product information. [5] However, product innovation can be imitated by local suppliers or contract manufacturers from the channel of foreign direct investment and product quality investment, leading to an emerging proliferation of supply chain encroachment. In such a situation, contract manufacturers (CMs) establish direct channels to compete with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).


An Apple store opposite a Samsung store.
Wang Xiaofei — Visual China Group via Getty Images

The Patent Fights

This type of supply chain encroachment has induced a few intense fights - costly juristic activities. To stop such a practice of market entry, Apple Inc. (an OEM) fought with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (a kind of CM), because the latter had been copying Apple’s product designs and patents for a long time. Recent years have witnessed a battle in which Apple took legal action against Samsung for product plagiarism, which has cost the former more than one billion dollars. [6] However, the United States Supreme Court appeared to be stuck in a dilemma over how to deal with the high-stakes battle between the two. [7] It indicated that it was uncertain how much money the South Korean electronics company owed for infringing patents on the iPhone’s design. Thus, it seems that filing a lawsuit has brought only a faint possibility of blocking Samsung’s encroachment and compensating for Apple’s losses caused by the former’s imitations. The complexity and uncertainty of the legal environment in different countries are mainly accountable for this dilemma.


Apple and Samsung’s legal fight over patents.
Peter Macdiarmid — Getty Images Europe

Strategic Quality Investment as a Weapon

To reduce the contract manufacturer’s incentive of encroachment by imitation, Apple has turned to a more attainable operational strategy—investing in product quality improvement. Accordingly, Apple’s investment in research and development (R&D) has increased significantly; for instance, the fiscal year 2016 saw a 25% increase from the previous year, which contrasted sharply with the 8% fall in revenue. [8]

One important point should be made clear: sometimes the upgrade of Apple’s products is not significant, and thus the differences between the two companies’ products are not distinct, while at other times the update is striking. In addition, the contract manufacturer does not always keep up with the pace of Apple’s product quality upgrade or compete with Apple by imitation. This makes people wonder under what conditions Apple would enhance investment for improvements in product quality and be highly cautious of the co-competitor’s imitations. A question then arises: is the CM’s threat of competition one of the motivations for the OEM to invest in product quality improvement?

The Multiple Effects of Quality Investment

When the collaborator is a copycat, there are two major concerns for the profit-maximizing OEM. First, enduring a CM’s imitation and encroachment without any costly deterrence is a conservative strategy, but the OEM has to share the retail revenue with the CM. Second, investing in quality improvement has multiple effects compared with the strategy of no investment: (1) it may stop the CM from encroaching and benefit the OEM; (2) if the CM’s encroachment cannot be prevented, the OEM’s profit may deteriorate, while the rival (CM) could obtain more retail revenue by imitation; and (3) a profit improvement might be induced by the OEM’s quality investment, regardless of whether the encroachment is prevented or not.

Besides, in order to enter the OEM’s final market, the CM would strategically adjust the wholesale price to affect the OEM’s sourcing quantity. The OEM may then benefit from the CM’s encroachment if the wholesale price becomes lower.

Research Questions

Motivated by the above discussions, my research “Quality investment, and the contract manufacturer’s encroachment,” published in the European Journal of Operational Research, aims to explore the following three questions by analyzing a game-theoretical model. (The main content of this article is based on the above published research.) First, under what economic conditions does the CM’s encroachment occur? Second, should the OEM invest in quality as a mechanism to deter—or encourage—the (potential copycat) CM’s encroachment? Third, under what conditions can the CM’s encroachment achieve a Pareto improvement instead of causing a loss to the OEM?

Main Findings

Without the OEM’s quality investment, the CM always has the incentive to encroach on the OEM’s market and will claim a higher wholesale price in contrast with the ideal scenario without encroachment, but the increase of the wholesale price will be mitigated by the CM’s higher imitating ability. Then the OEM’s profit will decline as the product demand decreases due to competition from the CM.

Furthermore, when there is an attainable quality investment opportunity for the OEM, once the investment is executed, the CM will prefer the irresponsible encroachment only if its imitating capability exceeds a certain threshold. Alternatively, the CM’s encroachment policy may depend on the characteristics of the OEM’s investment. In the latter scenario, the strategic interactions between the OEM and CM become more intricate, depending on the nature of the quality investment and the CM’s imitating capability.

Another key finding shows that the CM’s threat of encroachment can facilitate the OEM quality investment and that quality investment could be preferred if it can blockade the CM’s encroachment even though the quality investment per se is unprofitable. Overall, quality investment is partially effective in deterring the CM’s encroachment. Moreover, it is found that a win-win situation can be induced by the encroachment when quality investment is implemented by the OEM; in other words, if the CM’s imitating ability is not extremely strong, the OEM’s profit can be improved by the CM’s encroachment.

Managerial Insights

The motivations for the OEM’s quality improvement (investment) lie in two aspects. Firstly, it can stimulate market demand for the OEM’s original product, which can generate more retail revenue even as the CM acts as a free rider and copycat. Secondly, quality investment is also a powerful weapon to deter the competitive CM’s encroachment. Moreover, it is found that the CM’s encroachment is certain to happen when its imitating ability is strong, in which case the structure of quality investment no longer matters.    

Furthermore, research findings show that the CM’s imitation and encroachment can contribute to a win-win situation for both parties under certain conditions. In this scenario, the OEM’s profit increment is generated by an increased demand for the original product and a lower wholesale price, while the retail price of the original product falls compared with the situation without encroachment.


Quality investment at the crossing.
Lucas Jackson — REUTERS

However, quality investment is not always an effective solution to deterring the CM’s encroachment or helping encroachment improve the OEM’s profit. For instance, an encroachment by a CM with a strong imitating ability and an investment structure characterized by low investment cost and low quality improvement will certainly hurt the OEM’s profit.

This explains why, among those OEMs who established joint ventures (or other forms of cooperation) in developing countries, some would use quality improvement to deter their partners’ product imitation and encroachment, others prefer to invest in quality improvement and wink at the CM’s encroachment, and yet others complain about their CMs’ irresponsible imitation behavior.

As stated by the New York Times, the insights of this research are in line with the prediction that “Apple can find better ways of earning hundreds of millions of dollars than fighting a decade-long lawsuit.” [9] Then the courtroom is not always the place to try to get patent problems solved. Instead, the alternative operational strategy—quality (R&D) investment—would be a more efficient weapon that can deter copycats’ imitations and supply chain encroachments.  


[1] Chen, Y.J., S. Shum, and W. Xiao. 2012. Should an OEM retain component procurement when the CM produces competing products? Production and Operations Management, 21 (5), 907–922.

[2] Cui, Q. (2019). Quality investment, and the contract manufacturer’s encroachment. European Journal of Operational Research, 279, 407–418.

[3] Cui, Q., C.H. Chiu, X. Dai, and Z. Li. 2016. Store brand introduction in a two-echelon logistics system with a risk-averse retailer. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, 90, 69–89.

[4] Aldieri, L., V. Sena, and C.P. Vinci. 2018. Domestic R&D spillovers and absorptive capacity: Some evidence for US, Europe and Japan. International Journal of Production Economics, 198, 38–49.

[5] Dyer, J.H., and N.W. Hatch. 2004. Using supplier networks to learn faster. MIT Sloan Management Review, 45 (3), 57.

[6] Eichenwald, K. 2014. The great smartphone war. Vanity Fair, May 3, 2014.

[7] Kendall, B. 2016. Supreme court hears Apple-Samsung patent case. The Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2016.

[8] Gallagher, D. 2016. What does Apple get for $10 billion of R&D? The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2016.

[9] Nicas, J. 2018. Apple and Samsung end smartphone patent wars. The New York Times, June 27, 2018.


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Insights into the Economic and Legal Dimensions of Public Contractual Relationships in Europe

December 5, 2019
By 27004

The aim of my doctoral dissertation research—carried out with the support of a Sylff fellowship—is the examination of contracts concluded by the state and other public bodies in Europe. Particular attention is given to concessions and the interplay between various national legal traditions and the law of the European Union. My work focuses on the legal specificities of these contracts and seeks to understand important socioeconomic connections of this field of law, such as the different modes of the state’s involvement in the economy and the different ways public services are organized, and where the boundaries between the state and market are set. In the following, I would like to give a brief introduction to this topic.

*     *     *

In the evolution of the law of public contracts at the national and European level, the organization of public services has always played an important part.

Many services that are now considered public services first appeared as private initiatives. As capitalism developed, urbanization and population growth resulted in an ever-increasing number of tasks that public administrations needed to organize for the smooth functioning of society. The state’s involvement in the economy became more active in the first half of the twentieth century owing to two world wars, economic crises, the growing need for public services, and the bankruptcy of private-sector service providers. As welfare states flourished in Europe in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, the provision of public services came to be carried out mainly in the public sphere, either by state bodies, local authorities, or by organizations closely related to them.[1]

The Chain Bridge, one of the iconic monuments of Budapest, Hungary, is an example of a private initiative taking the lead in building public infrastructure in the nineteenth century. Its construction was funded and carried out by the Chain Bridge Joint Stock Company, owned by private shareholders. (Photo by Gyurika, CC-BY-SA-2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lanchid-budaipiller.jpg)

Challenges to the concept of the European welfare state emerged in the 1970s, as the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 triggered a new way of thinking about economic policy. The organization of public services according to market principles, outsourcing, and the involvement of the private sector became widespread, accompanied, in certain cases, by the privatization of assets serving as the basis of a public service. An important factor encouraging these processes was the law of the European Union. The most intensive period of regulation in the European Union to build up an internal market of undistorted competition started in the early the 1990s. An important part of this was the liberalization of network-based public services and the regulation of public procurement, which became more detailed and effective through the adoption of new directives.[2]

The reform of public services and the growing importance of contracting out became a general trend in Europe, but they unfolded differently in the individual member states of the EU, influenced by the respective traditional approaches to delivering public services.

In Germany, public services of an economic nature are traditionally provided by so-called Stadtwerke. These are companies of local authorities (earlier organized also by public law) that provide the population of a geographical area with different utilities. In the field of social services, cooperations of charitable organizations were a traditional form of service provision. The trend of privatization has affected these long-established structures, and private operators now play an important role in the delivery of public services. As a result of EU-led liberalization, these markets also had to be opened up to competition—or at least adjusted to a competition-driven legal system. However, certain sensitive areas, such as water supply and ambulance services, were protected by public policy from the encroachment of market forces by the EU.

Unlike Germany, France did not develop a strong utilities’ sector at the local level. The system of French local authorities was very fragmented, and their scarce resources encouraged the delegation of public services—mainly in the form of concessions—to private providers from as early as the middle of the nineteenth century.[3] The French state’s interference in the economy was particularly strong after World War II; extensive nationalization took place ,which largely affected the utilities, but state involvement was significant even in the competitive parts of industry and in the banking and insurance sectors.[4] Due to this composition of public property and the historic guiding theory of service public in public administration, the privatization of the 1980s and 1990s affected primarily the competitive sectors of the economy, not the utilities. The French constitution of 1946 expressly stated that monopolies and companies providing national public services and the assets necessary to run these services must remain state property.[5] A characteristic of the French model is that the utilities market is dominated by a few large companies, which are also important participants in the EU-wide market of service concessions.

The Channel Tunnel links Great Britain with continental Europe. The infrastructure project, negotiated in the middle of the 1980s, was a pioneer of large-scale, concession-type contracts using the project finance technique relying on the proceeds of the project. (Photo by Florian Févre from Mobilys, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TGV_TMST_3011-2_-_Sortie_Tunnel_sous_la_Manche_%C3%A0_Coquelles.jpg)

In Britain, the common law legal system (which follows a different concept than the legal systems of continental Europe) evolved in parallel with another type of economic development. From the outset, capitalism developed with much less state involvement than in Germany or France. Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister in 1979, was a pioneer of a neoliberal economic policy. She implemented reforms to achieve a more economic and effective public sector, encouraging contracting-out, private-sector involvement in public projects, privatization, and the liberalization of monopolies in utilities. The British administration also developed innovative legal concepts like unbundling and public-private partnerships (PPPs) that later spread to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Nowadays, EU law has a decisive impact on how member states can organize public services. Although there is undoubtedly a push toward more competition and privatization, there are also elements of EU law that try to seek a balance between the principle of undistorted competition and the will of member states to preserve their ability to decide on the most appropriate way to provide public services with different degrees of state involvement and to protect certain traditional elements of their systems.

The Law of Public Contracts

The law governing the contracts of public bodies is also shaped by changing economic circumstances, the increasing recourse to contracting-out, and the impact of EU law. There is a general trend towards unification, mainly deriving from EU public procurement law, whose focus is to sustain undistorted competition in public purchases through transparent procedural rules. But this process also accommodates different legal traditions in national laws.

PPP contracts were widely used from the 1990s to develop different types of public infrastructure, such as motorways. However, there were always concerns whether PPPs could deliver value for money for the public sector. (Photo by Kroock74, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toll_booths_in_the_UK.jpg)

The most developed legal tradition relating to public contracts can be found in the French legal system in the concept of administrative contracts. What sets this legal regime apart is that contract rules of public authorities must also reflect the public interest and guarantee the proper functioning of public services. Administrative contracts form a distinct category apart from private law contracts, and legal disputes relating to them fall within the jurisdiction of administrative courts. Special rules are applicable to these contracts besides the underlying law of the French Civil Code. The main feature of administrative contracts is that the parties to the contract are not in an equal position and that the law acknowledges certain prerogatives for public authorities (e.g., a unilateral power of modification in case it is so required in the light of the public interest). However, the rules of administrative contracts must also fairly protect the interests of the contracting party by sustaining the economic balance in case of unforeseen circumstances and by compensating the private party in case the administration exercises its special rights.

The German legal system has traditionally been based on a strict distinction between private and public law. Its main approach to the contracts of public authorities is that public administration is also subject to private law when it takes part in economic relationships. This way of thinking has not impeded the acknowledgement of certain specificities of public contracts in connection with the public interest. The emphasis in German law is on the requirement that public authorities give due consideration to human rights even if they are acting under contract. In order to apply public law requirements to private law contracts, German courts incorporated these public law principles into general private law clauses. This solution of taking into account public principles in the interpretation of private law is called Verwaltungsprivatrecht in legal literature.[6]

One difference we can observe in English law is that its evolution is much more based on the needs arising from private economic activity than in continental contract laws. In the system of common law, it follows from the principle of the rule of law that the same law applies to both the state and private parties when they take part in economic relationships. As a result, even the existence of administrative law was recognized much later in England than in Germany or France. The specificities of public contracts appear in the principles elaborated by the courts and in codified laws, but there is no general legal concept or theory on how the public interest is considered in relation to public contracts.  

In spite of the conceptual divergences, common features can also be observed in the main European legal systems.[7] These elements all relate to the public interest and represent two main aspects of public contracts. On the one hand, public bodies need more freedom to act in order to decide on public matters and keep their competence to act as the public interest requires. However, when public interest warrants a derogation from contractual obligations, the private party must be compensated fairly. On the other hand, the administration cannot circumvent its public law obligations—such as respect for human rights—even if it acts in accordance with contractual provisions.

EU law also affects significantly how the traditional principles of public contracts can be applied in the member states. It is possible to maintain different approaches to public contracts in individual legal systems, but their special points of view can only apply within the boundaries set by EU law.


[1] Hellmut Wollmann and Gérard Marcou, “Introduction,” in Wollmann and Marcou (eds), The Provision of Public Services in Europe: Between State, Local Government and Market, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 2010, p. 5.

[2] Council Directive 89/440/EEC of July 18, 1989, amending Directive 71/305/EEC concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 88/295/EEC of March 22, 1988, amending Directive 77/62/EEC relating to the coordination of procedures on the award of public supply contracts and repealing certain provisions of Directive 80/767/EEC; Council Directive 92/50/EEC of June 18, 1992, relating to the coordination of procedures for the award of public service contracts; Council Directive 93/36/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating procedures for the award of public supply contracts; Council Directive 93/37/EEC of June 14, 1993, concerning the coordination of procedures for the award of public works contracts; Council Directive 93/38/EEC of June 14, 1993, coordinating the procurement procedures of entities operating in the water, energy, transport, and telecommunications sectors.

[3] Attila Harmathy, Szerződés, közigazgatás, gazdaságirányítás, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1983, p. 29.

[4] For a detailed account of the different approaches to public ownership in the economy after 1945, see Leigh Hancher, “The Public Sector as Object and Instrument of Economic Policy,” in Terence Daintith (ed), Law as an Instrument of Economic Policy: Comparative and Critical Approaches, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1987, pp. 165–236. 

[5] Ninth paragraph in the preamble of the Constitution of 1946: “Tout bien, toute entreprise, dont l’exploitation a ou acquiert les caractères d’un service public national ou d’un monopole de fait, doit devenir la propriété de la collectivité.”

[6] For a comprehensive analysis of Verwaltungsprivatrecht, see Ulrich Stelkens, Verwaltungsprivatrecht—Zur Privatrechtsbindung der Verwaltung, deren Reichweite und Konsequenzen, Duncker & Humblot, 2005.

[7] See also Rozen Noguellou and Ulrich Stelkens (eds), Droit Comparé des Contrats Publics / Comparative Law on Public Contracts, Bruylant, 2010.

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Potters’ Locality: The Socioeconomics of Bankura’s Terracotta

August 26, 2019
By 21711

This report is based on the master’s research by Soumya Bhowmick, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University, India, in 201415. It originally appeared in FIRSTPOST. a web-based leading media in India. Bhowmick, currently research assistant at Observer Research Foundation’s Kolkata Chapter, continues  writing on the changing socioeconomics of the potters’ community known for the terracotta Bankura Horse, which  is historically valued in Indian society, especially West Bengal.

* * *

The norwesters in the potters’ village of Panchmura is magnificent in ways more than one. The extremely dry atmosphere during the summer months of April–May make one compare the place to a hot desert with red dust smeared all over your clothes. This period is marked by the holy time of Baisakh, when the potter’s wheel is stopped as it is believed that during this time Lord Shiva appears from the wheel. Many justify it with a scientific reason: that the terrible heat easily exhausts the artisans and causes cracks to develop in the pottery items. After a heavy rainfall, the sweet petrichor is one of the strongest in this part of the town owing to the large amounts of terracotta clay all over the place. The potters are relatively free during these months and are very eager to have a chat with you over tea in their workshops.

An artisan uses the potter’s wheel in Panchmura village.

Mahadeb Kumbhakar, 56, proudly proclaims, “The trademark Bankura Horse [uniquely styled terracotta horse made in Bankura] came into existence because people would offer them as a mark of devotion to different deities and even on the tombs of Muslim saints. It is used as the official crest motif of the All India Handicrafts Board.” He woefully adds that a large number of youngsters in the area, including his own son, have moved to Kolkata not only because of the money but also because of their inability to commit to the labor required for this kind of artistry. Mahadeb justifies that there is no harm in working in an office while at the same time being a marginal potter. That way, the skill is never wiped out from the family.

Unfinished Bankura Horses at Panchmura village.

Panchmura village near Bishnupur, Bankura District, is one of the main hubs of terracotta in West Bengal. Historically, the politically stable Malla Kingdom indulged in a lot of cultural activity and invited high caste Brahmins, expert craftsmen, and masons to Bishnupur, and through the amalgamation of religion and culture, these people contributed largely to the trade and commerce of the region. The Bankura artisans gradually scattered to different parts of the country, but today only the few remaining in Panchmura are still striving to keep this art form alive.

A usual day in Bishnupur.

The origin of terracotta in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta came into existence in Bengal due to the unavailability of stones and large endowments of alluvial soil left by the main rivers in the Bankura District: Damodar, Dwarakeshwar, and the Kangsabati. The soil thus gets a perfect blend and density for it to be crafted intricately and fired in order to produce the required terracotta products. A Panchmura artisan says that a Durga idol made in Bankura is at least three times as heavy as an idol of the same size made in Kolkata because the soil found in Bankura is much more dense and mineral rich, making the crafting process extremely laborious.

The cultural transformation in the community is well captured through the terracotta craft embossed on the walls of various temples, towers, and smaller objects in the region. Many scholars have interpreted this as a translation of the primitive Sanskrit literature into mainstream Bengali narratives that allowed the emergence of such popular cults in Hinduism as Durga, Krishna, and Kali. The terracotta temples in Bankura are mostly Radha-Krishna temples, which drew inspiration from Vaishnavism.

The Munshiganj District in Bangladesh, which is close to the confluence of the Padma and Brahmaputra rivers, is a storehouse of terracotta work on the other side of Bengal. Almost all the temples are dedicated to Shiva, and the temple roofs are distinctly different from the ones found in Bankura, as the ones in Munshiganj are more longitudinally conical.

A terracotta temple in Munshiganj District in Bangladesh.

Narratives on terracotta were sources of both information and entertainment for the people, depicting stories from the mythological texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hitopodesha, Jataka, and Panchatantra. There has been emphasis on scenes indicating rural life, farming techniques, male and female dancers, musicians, and village gardens. Bengal architecture is uniquely different from the architecture that coincided with the Muslim rule in India, and by the end of the sixteenth century a new Bengali style of temple art became prominent and established itself as an artistic Hindu expression.

The exquisite Rash Mancha in Bishnupur.

Unlike most of the other art forms that emerged with the purpose of aesthetic value in creativity, terracotta was made to serve practical purposes, such as food and water storage, weapons, and utensils. From being necessary commodities of daily use, these artifacts evolved into something more creative imbued with a high level of craft, making terracotta a cultural commodity with great marketing potential.

A shop in Bankura.

The Bankura District is known for its popular handicrafts in the form of terracotta, the Dokra handicrafts of Bigna, the stone craft of Susunia, and the Baluchari silk of Bishnupur. The global interest in Indian terracotta can also be found in a letter by Swami Vivekananda regarding the time when Okakura Kakuzo, the famous Japanese scholar, visited India in 1901–1902. Okakura was extremely impressed by the craftsmanship of a common terracotta vessel used by the servants and, owing to the fragility of these handicrafts, he requested Swami Vivekananda to replicate the piece in brass for him to carry it back to Japan.

Terracotta is still of high interest in the global market, and Panchmura, Surul, Chaltaberia, and Shetpur-Palpara are the major villages in West Bengal that export terracotta to international markets. However, the artisans face a number of key problems that are crippling the market for this kind of artwork, including the issues of equipment, transportation, and other logistical problems; the lack of interaction between the artisans and the urban consumers in Kolkata; and the high dependence of terracotta artisans on local patronage. Moreover, the inadequate capital, sluggish marketing, and falling demand are causing these marginalized artisans to become extinct, and the lack of interest from the new generation along with insufficient government schemes further add to the woes.

Terracotta craftwork in progress at Bishnupur.

Toton Kumbhakar, 30, says, “We get some idea of consumer preferences in the handicrafts fair in Kolkata every year, where people mostly demand the Bankura Horse, since it has a certain traditional value as a regular showpiece in the Kolkata households.” The potters admit that they charge much more for the handicrafts in Kolkata and are also financially dependent on the various regional festivals, for which they make large idols for relatively hefty prices.

The terracotta temples in Bishnupur show a much better quality and precision than the artifacts being produced today. For example, the details on the terracotta tiles used in the temples are much more intricate and portray a more complex network of lines, curves, and dots. How is this possible despite improvements in technology and intruments? The extinction of skill-specific labor is the answer to this. According to the locals, the process of terracotta production in Bankura previously included three major classes of workers: the clay collectors and sievers, who would give a fine texture to the clay; the artisans, who would add the intricate details; and finally the market traders. There is no specific class of labor anymore for each of these three roles.

Ancient temple architecture in Bishnupur.

“Bankura is my native place, and so terracotta has a special place in the lives of my family members,” says an urban consumer in Kolkata. “Apart from items to decorate the house, we use terracotta items for daily use. For example, in summer we do not drink cold water from the refrigerator but instead use an earthen terracotta vessel. My mother makes it a point to do a certain fish preparation in spite of it being time consuming, so that she can use the particular terracotta utensil.”

In the urban milieu, the demand for terracotta goods in Kolkata households has reached a saturation point. As the central government actively pushes for the promotion of various handicrafts from different states, art forms of other regions, particularly Madhubani paintings and Rajasthani handicrafts, are certainly very popular. Bankura’s terracotta seems to be lagging behind in this regard.

Bankura’s terracotta is a classic case of a dying cultural heritage. Sustaining the art is a social responsibility. Unlike the rest of West Bengal, the parliamentary constituency of Bankura has voted against incumbent leaders and political parties twice in the last decade, which is a major indication of people’s awareness and urgency of development in the region.

Culture is a matter of recognition, and aesthetics is more about perception than materiality. Very recently, the West Bengal state government has reportedly nominated Bishnupur’s terracotta temples for the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This should be considered as a massive step toward drawing attention to this part of Bengal’s history and culture. However, only time will tell how efficiently such measures could facilitate the socioeconomic advancement of the potters’ community in Bankura.

(Note: All the pictures used in this article were taken by the author in Bankura District, India, and Munshiganj District in Bangladesh during the surveys.)

 Reprinted, with editing, from FIRSTPOST, https://www.firstpost.com/living/bankuras-terracotta-can-timely-measures-facilitate-socio-economic-revival-of-potters-community-7001001.html.


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Rural Restructuring in the Visegrad Group after the Political and Economic Transition

March 30, 2018
By 24143

Specializing in rural geography and socioeconomic modeling, József Lennert, a 2017 Sylff fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, shares highlights of his doctoral dissertation concerning the process and trends of counterurbanization after the fall of socialism in the Visegrad countries: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Lennert made a comparison with the experiences of Western countries as well as among those of the four Visegrad countries, which pose both similar and distinctive aspects.



Thanks to the long-lasting influence of the romanticized Anglo-Saxon narrative of rural idyll, rural areas are still often perceived as stagnant, untouched by modernity, and resistant to any change. However, this is far from the truth: change never avoided rural areas, its rate simply varied during the course of history. From the 1970s a fast-paced rural transformation process started in the first world, bringing about fundamental changes in many aspects of rurality. These intertwining change processes are often summarized with the umbrella term “rural restructuring.”

Some of these changes included shifts in migration processes. Before rural restructuring, rural areas had been suffering for a long time from rural out-migration (with the exception of some settlements in the vicinity of an urban center, which were affected by suburbanization). Around the 1970s, a new migration trend called counterurbanization appeared in many first-world countries. Counterurbanization meant the (partial) reverse of previous trends, and migration surpluses appeared even in some previously depopulating remote rural areas. One of the driving forces of these new migratory movements was the increasing appreciation of natural and cultural amenities of rural areas—amenity migration. Rural restructuring also had an impact on land use. Instead of a landscape dominated by monocultural, productivist agriculture, a more diverse, multifunctional countryside is now preferred. These changes also opened up new future prospects and development possibilities for many previously neglected rural areas.

While the first world underwent rural restructuring, political and economic transition brought different changes and challenges to rural areas of the former socialist bloc. Realizing this, I set the main goals of my research as follows:

  • to analyze the transformation of rural areas of the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • to distinguish those processes similar to Western rural restructuring from those processes derived from the political and economic transition;
  • to identify the similarities and differences between the four countries and explore the role of historical backgrounds;
  • to map the spatial structure of rural areas in the light of the aforementioned processes; and
  • to determine whether the development policies in place are capable of addressing the ongoing transformation processes and territorial differences.

To achieve these aims, I conducted my research in the following manner:

  • I analyzed trends in migration processes and changes in land cover in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • I created a typology of the rural areas of the Visegrad Group; and
  • through a case study, I examined how the allocation of European Union funds varied between different types of settlements.

In the following sections, I would like to share some of the most important findings of this research.

Material and Methods

Figure 1. Urban areas, commutable rural areas, and remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Own elaboration.

To examine the processes at the lowest possible level, I conducted my analysis in the spatial level of local administrative units (LAU 2). While my units of analysis are not completely analogous with the municipalities and settlements of the four countries, I will refer to them as such for the sake of a more straightforward discussion.

To achieve the goals stated above, I used a two-step delimitation method. I considered all units of analysis with less than 5,000 inhabitants, as well as those municipalities that have higher populations but do not possess city rights, to be rural (regardless of administrative status). Based on the Western experiences of rural restructuring, I made a further distinction between commutable rural and remote rural areas. I defined remote rural areas as rural areas that require 45 minutes or more of driving to reach the nearest city with at least 50,000 inhabitants; the remaining rural settlements are considered commutable rural (Figure 1).

According to this definition, even though most units of analysis can be considered rural, only 28.9%  of the population of the Visegrad Group lives in commutable rural areas and another 11.5% in remote rural areas. Among the Visegrad countries, Slovakia was characterized with the highest and Hungary with the lowest share of rural residents.

For the purposes of analyzing migration trends, I used data from the statistical offices of the four countries: Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (KSH) in Hungary, Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) in Poland, Český Statistický Úřad (ČSÚ) in the Czech Republic, and Štatistický úrad (ŠÚ) in Slovakia.

Figure 2. The typology of the selected rural settlements. Own elaboration.

The Corine Land Cover database was used to analyze land cover changes of the Visegrad Group. From the original 44 land cover categories, I created 8 aggregated categories: artificial surfaces, arable land, vineyards and fruit cultivations, grasslands, heterogeneous agricultural areas, forests, wetlands and other natural areas, and water bodies.

To analyze the allocation of funds from the European Union, I used Hungary as a case study. I randomly selected 50 commutable rural and 50 remote rural municipalities. Based on the results of the previous analysis, I classified them into groups with distinguishable migration and land use characteristics. I also took into account the state of the built environment, which is a good indicator of ongoing social changes (Figure 2). Finally, I analyzed EU-supported projects from the 2007–2013 programming period for the selected 100 municipalities.


Figure 3. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.


The results indicate that the transition brought about drastic changes in the rural migration trends of the Visegrad Group. While rural out-migration dominated in the decades of state socialism, after 1990 the rural areas can be characterized with an increasingly positive balance (Figure 3). However, this surplus was mostly limited to the commutable rural areas. These results indicate the widespread emergence of suburbanization: the concentration of the population in suburban settlements around the central city of an urban agglomeration (Figure 4). Whereas in Western Europe and North America this process had already begun to take wings in the early twentieth century, it was restrained to a great extent in the centrally planned economies until the transition. After the fall of socialism, however, the former constraints lifted, and a rapid urban sprawl took place. This partially controlled process also had an impact on land cover change.

Figure 4. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group at the municipality level. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.


Counterurbanization had a central role in the rural turnaround of the first world, but the appearance of this process in the research region is limited to a few destinations. Rural depopulation still persists in a large part of the remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Also, some remote rural locations became migration destinations for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. This unfavorable process is driven by economic necessities: those who are excluded from the work market are sometimes left with only one solution—to sell their former residence for a less valuable location and use up the difference for day-to-day expenses. Ultimately, this movement reduces their chances of reintegration into the labor market and leads to their further deprivation.

Figure 5. Land cover change trends in the Visegrad Group between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.


The increase of artificial surfaces and forests and the decrease of arable land were already present during the decades of state socialism, and the results of the analysis show that the political and economic transition did not alter these long-term trends in land cover change (Figure 5). After the political and economic transition, however, the loosely controlled urban sprawl led to more chaotic expansion of artificial surfaces than in previous decades.

While some general trends are common for each country, we can still observe significant differences in the rate of change and in the spatial patterns. For example, despite the general shrinkage in the acreage of arable land, we can still identify areas of increase in the eastern regions of Poland (Figure 6). In these areas small-scale family farming persisted during the socialist era. The relatively low unemployment of these regions indicates that many former industrial workers returned to subsistence farming. This safety net function explains why market-controlled land abandonment did not reach the region.

Figure 6. Changes in the area of arable land between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.


The significant transformation from arable land to grassland in the Czech peripheries stands in stark contrast to the trends in Eastern Poland. Behind this, we can once again find region-specific reasons. This area was inhabited by Sudeten Germans since the Middle Ages, but after World War II the Czechoslovak government expelled the vast majority of them. This event was shortly followed by the reorganization of agricultural land into state farms and cooperatives, thus preventing the new residents from forming emotional ties with their land before the socialist transformation of agriculture. After the restitution, this lack of attachment led to land abandonment in the changing market environment, where farming was no longer profitable.

These two examples reveal that in regions with divergent socioeconomic and historical backgrounds, even similar challenges can induce radically different changes, leading to further differences in the socioeconomic circumstances of the localities.

The results discussed above pose the question of whether the allocation of EU funds takes into account the differences between rural communities. In order to close the development gap, disadvantaged settlements should be favored, and the implemented projects should reflect the unique needs of these settlements. Fund allocation in the 100 municipalities selected for the case study shows us a mixed picture. Generally, the per capita fund allocation favors the disadvantaged (e.g., remote rural) municipalities. However, the combination of several socioeconomic challenges (e.g., small population coupled with rural out-migration) can lead to insufficient human capital and completely prevent the absorption of the EU funds.

Moreover, disadvantaged settlements that receive a sufficient amount of resources may nonetheless not use them in the most efficient way. In socially and economically balanced settlements, a significant percentage of the resources are spent on increasing the competitiveness of local business. But this is not true for the disadvantaged settlements; there the emphasis is shifted to investments in settlement infrastructure and local services. While these are important aims, without a more dynamic local economy, there is little to stop the decline and decay of these settlements.

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Chinese Investment in Central and Eastern Europe

February 25, 2016
By 19675

Ágnes Szunomár, a 2015 Sylff fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, summarizes her research on the recent trend of Chinese investment in Central and Eastern Europe. In her article, she describes how it differs from investments by other Asian and European countries.

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Chinese outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) is one of the most spectacular developments in recent international economics in terms of its rapid growth, geographical range, and takeovers of established Western brands. Chinese firms mainly invest in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where they search for markets and natural resources. They have also been active in the developed economies of Western Europe and the United States, however, that offer markets for Chinese products and assets that Chinese firms lack, such as advanced technologies, managerial knowledge, and distribution networks. Chinese firms are also increasingly investing in Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs). These investments are quite a new phenomenon and still constitute a small share of China’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Europe (10%), but since 2006 we have seen a growing influx of Chinese investments into the region, which is expected to increase further in the future (see the figure below).

The aim of my research was to analyse the motivations and location determinants of Chinese FDI in the largest recipient countries within the CEECs, with a special focus on the role and impact of host country macroeconomic and institutional factors.


China’s rise is often compared to the postwar “Asian Miracle” of its neighbors. An analysis of the internationalization experiences of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies reveals several common features as well as some differences. One of the main common characteristics shared by all three is the creation and support of the so-called national champions, that is, domestically based companies that have become leading competitors in the global market. In fact, during their developmental period, both the Japanese and Korean governments gave strong state financial support to their companies in order to protect and promote them as well as to strengthen them for international competition. China has followed this example in subsidizing domestic industries and supporting their overseas activities, for example in the form of government funding for OFDI.

Although the CEECs differ in many respects, they do have some features in common as possible locations for East Asian investors. Their economies have been in the process of catching up over the last decades, defined mainly by European powers. FDI has played a key role in their restructuring. Investment from East Asian countries in the CEECs began as early as the 1990s (with a Japanese Suzuki factory in Hungary).

In the past decade most of these countries became increasingly interested in boosting trade and attracting investments from East Asian economies. The global economic and financial crisis of 2008 intensified these ambitions. The largest recipient countries of East Asian investments within the CEECs are Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Around 90% of foreign investments in the four countries are from Europe, with an average of only 7.4% of FDI from other countries, mainly from the USA, South Korea, Japan, and China.

Utility of the Research

Typically, the international literature examines the motivations of Chinese OFDI on a global basis, and most previous studies have focused on China's growing investments in the developing world. Studies dealing with the characteristics and motivations of Chinese FDI in Europe rarely deal with the Central and Eastern European region. Although significant research has been done on FDI flows to the CEEC region, most of these studies do not include Chinese investments. The literature is thus incomplete, and detailed description and analysis of this issue is lacking. The primary aim of this research was therefore to complement the literature.

Besides complementing the literature, my results also have an inherent message for CEEC corporate decision makers and policy makers. For the CEECs, the Chinese relationship is increasingly a priority, especially since the economic and financial crisis of 2008. Most countries in the region see a closer relationship with emerging economies such as China as a promising way of recovering from the recession. The further development of corporate or government strategies in this regard may be supported by the results of this research.


Given the broad concept and geographical scope of Central and Eastern Europe, instead of focusing on the relations of all the region’s countries with the main East Asian investors, the research concentrates on a fair sample of CEEC countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. These countries were selected in consideration of their size, reflecting their proximity, growing business ties, and geographic location, as well as their political and economic relations with China. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia are the most developed and most important players in the CEEC region and are members of the Visegrad Group as well as the EU and the Schengen Area.

At the beginning of the research I reviewed theories and literature on FDI location determinants with a special focus on FDI determinants in the CEECs. The next step was to analyze the changing patterns and motivations of Chinese and other East Asian OFDI as I tried to find similarities and differences between the characteristics and motivations of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean FDI in the CEECs. In addition, I provided a detailed description of the impact of both macroeconomic and institutional factors based on case studies and interviews with East Asian firms established in the CEECs.

To continue this research in the near future I also prepared an online opinion survey on East Asian companies' investment patterns, which will be sent out to several Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean companies operating in the CEECs to collect more information on their activities, motivations, and strategies.

Research Results

My investigation into the motivations of Chinese OFDI in the CEECs shows that Chinese investors mostly search for markets (market-seeking investment). Investors are attracted by the relatively low labor costs, skilled workforce, and market potential. EU membership allows Chinese investors to avoid trade barriers, and the countries serve as an assembly base due to the relatively low labor costs (efficiency-seeking investment). However, in parallel with the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions in the region, strategic asset-seeking motives have become more important for Chinese companies in recent years. Chinese investments are also motivated by the search for brands, new technologies, or market niches that they can fill in European markets. For example, in early 2012 Liugong Machinerys acquired Huta Stalowa Wola’s construction equipment division and its distribution subsidiary, Dressta. Secondly, in 2013 China’s Tri Ring Group Corporation acquired Polish Fabryka Łożysk Tocznych (the biggest Chinese investment in Poland so far), a producer of bearings for the automotive sector.

Chinese investment has flowed mostly into manufacturing (assembly), but over time services has attracted more and more investment as well. For example Hungary and Poland are home to branches of the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, as well as offices of some of the largest law offices in China (Yingke Law Firm and Dacheng Law Offices). Regarding the Chinese entry mode, there are examples of greenfield or quasi-greenfield investments (Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo), as well as mergers and acquisitions (Wanhua) and joint ventures (Orient Solar, BBCA).

Having examined the CEEC-East Asian economic ties, my conclusion is that while Japan and South Korea previously had larger roles, China has increasingly come to the fore in recent years. Analyzing the difference in motivations before and after the global economic and financial crisis suggests that although the crisis did not have a direct impact on East Asian investments in the CEECs, there was an indirect impact since it was in the aftermath of the crisis that the CEECs started to search for new opportunities to help them recover from the recession. For example, Hungary's “Opening to the East” policy was initiated after (and partly as a result of) the crisis, but the crisis also made Poland look eastward. China took these opportunities and has increased sectoral representation of Chinese firms in the CEECs in recent years.

The results of my research suggest that the characteristics, motivations, and location determinants of Chinese investments in the CEECs differ somewhat from Western as well as other East Asian investors’ motivations. While macroeconomic factors, such as labour costs, market size, and corporate taxes, had and continue to have a decisive role in selecting FDI locations for investors from other countries, Chinese firms seem to attach greater importance to institutional factors. Country-level institutional factors that impact Chinese companies’ location choice within the CEECs seem to be the size of the ethnic Chinese population, as well as investment, privatization and public procurement opportunities, but also good political relations between the host country and China. One example is Hisense’s explanation of the decision to invest in Hungary. Besides traditional economic factors, this decision was apparently motivated by the “good diplomatic, economic, trade, and educational relations with China, the sizable local Chinese population, Chinese trade and commercial networks, and associations already formed.” Another example is the Nuctech company, which established its subsidiary in Poland in 2004 and participated in public procurement.

My research also suggests that the CEEC region is not homogeneous and that there are differences in the economic relations between the CEEC countries and China. Moreover, the CEECs often view each other as competitors rather than working together to achieve shared goals (that is, to attract more Chinese investment). This is unfortunate, since according to the literature on the perceptions of the CEEC region among Chinese, many Chinese business investors consider the region to be a unified bloc.


To conclude, I found that:
(1) The role of Chinese investments within the CEE region increased significantly after the crisis, and investment from China will be increasingly important for the countries of the region in the future, as the Chinese share of total inward FDI in the CEECs increases.
(2) Chinese investments in the CEECs differ somewhat from other countries’ investments in the region in terms of motives, which in the Chinese case are driven by both political and economic factors.
(3) The level and warmth of political relations with the host country have an increasingly important influence on Chinese companies’ investments in the region. And (4) the CEE region tends to be seen more as a unified block than as a group of countries by the Chinese. Greater cooperation among the CEECs might therefore help to increase the chances for successful economic relations with China.

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The Socioeconomic Dimension of Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation

November 9, 2015
By 19660

Sierra Deutsch, a Sylff fellow at the University of Oregon, went to Myanmar and Cambodia to assess the two countries’ different approaches to natural resource management. In this article, she describes the preliminary findings of her research and argues that the experiences of local people affected by natural resource policies are important and may have implications for the success of those policies.

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The Mekong

The Mekong

As concern has grown over the alarming acceleration of environmental problems since the emergence of the industrial era, the science of natural resource management has evolved in an effort to confront such issues. In recent years, conservation efforts have shifted from a focus on individual species to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach. With this change, the concept of the “human dimensions” of resource management—which emphasizes the diverse forms of knowledge and beliefs of stakeholders and their incorporation in conservation policy1—has come to the fore2,3. It is now widely recognized that natural resource management is really about the management of natural resource users 1,3,4. Taking it a step further, recent research has pointed to the importance of socioeconomic analyses in conservation research strategies 5,6.

Historically, the question “Is this conservation project working?” has often been answered without considering the perceptions and experiences of the people whose livelihoods are most directly affected by conservation policies 7,8. While biological indicators are obviously an important part of conservation work, understanding how conservation programs are perceived and experienced by the local communities most affected by them is also vital—both for the sake of the communities themselves and because support from those communities may have important implications for the long-term success of conservation efforts.

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

The Status of the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) inhabits rivers throughout Southeast Asia and coastal waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans from the Bay of Bengal to the Philippines 9. The species is listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with five sub-populations listed as “critically endangered.” Since the dolphins are not hunted directly for consumption, they are considered a “nonconsumptive” resource.

The main threats to their survival are upstream industrial pollution, accidental catches by gillnet fishing, and mortalities resulting from electro-fishing 9,10,11,12.

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Conservation measures that seek to aid in the recovery of Irrawaddy dolphin populations must therefore address the socioeconomic factors that indirectly affect their survival, making Irrawaddy dolphin conservation projects an ideal focus for a study on the socioeconomic dimension of conservation initiatives.

Conservation measures for the Irrawaddy dolphin vary by country. They include attempts to mitigate habitat degradation, restrictions on the fishing practices and gear that endanger the dolphins, educational outreach, poverty alleviation through development, encouragement of tourism, and formation of fisher cooperatives 9,10,12. Each country has had varying success in conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin and, because of its widespread distribution in multiple countries, the Irrawaddy dolphin is also an ideal subject for a cross-country comparison of conservation projects.

Diversification vs. Preservation: Two Contrasting Approaches

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Cambodia’s approach seeks to preserve the status quo of privatized resources and focuses more on the diversification of livelihoods and the economic development of rural communities 13. Meanwhile, Myanmar has focused more on the preservation of livelihoods in rural communities 14. Cambodia’s approach seems to be failing and the imminent extinction of its dolphin population has been predicted 15, while Myanmar’s approach seems relatively successful 14. Yet the perceptions and experiences of these policies by the people that are most directly affected, while taken into consideration during planning and implementation 4,14, seem to have been largely ignored once the policies have been implemented.

Bringing Local People into the Discussion

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

I used questionnaires to gather data for the hypotheses I have about different perceptions of conservation among the participants. But I also wanted to make sure that participants were given an opportunity to highlight what was important to them. Too many well-intentioned Western researchers go to “developing”countries and make assumptions about the needs and desires of their participants without bothering to ask the local people in those countries what they think. Of course, I had to set out with at least a few questions and expectations in mind—if only because it is virtually impossible to get funding without them! But I purposely chose to carry out personal interviews and focus-group discussions—in addition to questionnaires and participant observation—to allow participants to tell me what was important to them and what they wanted foreign researchers to help with in the future.

Preliminary Findings

At the conclusion of my fieldwork, I had a total of 128 individual interviews, 275 completed questionnaires, and 25 focus-group discussions. These came from 8 riverside villages in Myanmar and another 8 in Cambodia (16 villages in total). The data are still in the preliminary stages of analysis: All of the audio recordings still need to be transcribed in Burmese and Khmer and then translated. (I felt this was a more accurate way of assessing the data, since the interpreters I used on-site may have left out some of what was said, assuming it wasn’t important enough to repeat). However, I have already seen several themes emerge and hope to confirm them once I have the full translations.

One of the research villages Myanmar

One of the research villages Myanmar

First, virtually all participants seem to think fondly of the Irrawaddy dolphin and expressed a desire to continue to protect it. Second, many participants in both countries seemed to express frustration with ongoing corruption—law enforcement often takes monetary bribes in exchange for “looking the other way” when illegal fishing gear (which unintentionally harms dolphins as well) is used in the river. Many of those participants seemed concerned for the future of the river and its ability to supply the fish that is their primary source of protein. Third, while participants in both countries seem to feel that conditions in their communities have improved over the last 10 years, I was surprised by the differences in how participants expressed that improvement.

Many of the people in Cambodia—where they have experienced a shift toward capitalism since the early 1980s—tended to emphasize the presence and role of money in their lives, often discussing improvements in terms of people having bigger houses, owning motorbikes or cars, and having more money in general (basically, the standard symbols of Western “wealth”). In contrast, participants in Myanmar—where they have just recently begun to experience a shift toward capitalism since 2010—seemed to place more emphasis on community enrichment, frequently discussing improvements in terms of things like better schools, improved medical treatment, and the construction of flood walls. While these are only preliminary findings that need to be confirmed, they are also just a few of the themes immediately obvious from the data. I am confident that many exciting and important findings remain to be made.

Encouraging the Involvement of Underrepresented Groups

Traveling has always been one of my great loves. As I spent more time traveling, particularly in developing countries, I gradually became aware of a desire to address the social and environmental problems that seemed to be everywhere. I had the opportunity to meet many people along the way from diverse geopolitical regions, cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders, and ages who were contributing to solutions for these social and environmental problems.

Around the same time, I began to become aware of my undeserved privilege as a middle-class, white North American to access resources—such as education and the ability to travel abroad—that are not available to the vast majority of the world’s population. Because of this awareness and because of these interactions with the people who inspired me, I decided that even though I enjoyed studying whales and dolphins immensely, I felt a deep responsibility to use the resources available to me to contribute to the peace and well-being of humankind and the planet.

It is my hope that the results of this study will encourage more involvement of underrepresented groups in assessing the effectiveness of environmental and other policies on a local, regional, national, and global scale. I believe that acknowledging the diverse ways in which people experience and perceive conservation initiatives is especially important where conservation policy appears to be failing. The addition of alternative worldviews to a collective analysis may ultimately lead to more effective approaches to, and better solutions for, the environmental problems that affect us all.

Literature Cited

1 Decker, Daniel J, Riley, Shawn J and Siemer, William F (2012) Human dimensions of wildlife management, JHU Press.

2 Berkes, Fikret (2012) ‘Implementing ecosystem-based management: evolution or revolution?’ Fish and Fisheries, 13(4), pp. 465–476.

3 McLeod, Karen and Leslie, Heather (2009) ‘Why ecosystem-based management’, in McLeod, K. L. and Leslie, H. M. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Washington, D.C., Island Press.

4 Beasley, Isabel (2007) ‘Conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostiris (Owen in Gray, 1866) in the Mekong River: biological and social considerations influencing management.’

5 Clausen, Rebecca and York, Richard (2008) ‘Global biodiversity decline of marine and freshwater fish: a cross-national analysis of economic, demographic, and ecological influences.’ Social Science Research, 37(4), pp. 1310–1320.

6 Clausen, Rebecca and Clark, Brett (2005) ‘The metabolic rift and marine ecology: an analysis of the ocean crisis within capitalist production.’ Organization & Environment, 18(4), pp. 422–444.

7 Kellert, Stephen R, Mehta, Jai N, Ebbin, Syma A and Lichtenfeld, Laly L (2000) ‘Community natural resource management: promise, rhetoric, and reality.’ Society & Natural Resources, 13(8), pp. 705–715.

8 Moore, Kathleen Dean and Russell, Roly (2009) ‘Toward a new ethic for the oceans’, in McLeod, K. and Leslie, H. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Island Press, pp. 325–340.

9 Baird, Ian G and Beasley, Isabel L (2005) ‘Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris in the Cambodian Mekong River: an initial survey.’ Oryx, 39(3), pp. 301–310.

10 Smith, Brian D and Hobbs, Larry (2002) ‘Status of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 50, pp. 67–74.

11 Stacey, Pam J and Leatherwood, Stephen (1997) ‘The Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris: a summary of current knowledge and recommendations for conservation action.’ Asian Marine Biology, 14, pp. 195–214.

12 Smith, Brian D, Tun, Mya Than, Chit, Aung Myo, Win, Han and Moe, Thida (2009) ‘Catch composition and conservation management of a human–dolphin cooperative cast-net fishery in the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Biological Conservation, 142(5), pp. 1042–1049.

13 Beasley, Isabel, Marsh, Helene, Jefferson, Thomas A and Arnold, Peter (2009) ‘Conserving dolphins in the Mekong River: the complex challenge of competing interests’, in The Mekong: Biophysical environment of an international river basin, Sydney, Australia, Elsevier Press, pp. 363–387.

14 Smith, Brian D and Tun, Mya Than (2007) ‘Status and conservation of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the Ayeyarwady River of Myanmar’, in Smith, B. D., Shore, R. G., and Lopez, A. (eds.), Status and Conservation of Freshwater Populations of Irrawaddy Dolphins, WCS Working Paper Series No. 31., New York, Wildlife Conservation Society, pp. 21–40.

15 Beasley, Isabel, Pollock, K, Jefferson, T A, Arnold, P, et al. (2012) ‘Likely future extirpation of another Asian river dolphin: The critically endangered population of the Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong River is small and declining.’ Marine Mammal Science.