Three Cross-Cutting Themes

We will give particular encouragement to proposals which address issues of:

  • Gender
  • Fragile and conflict affected states
  • Scaling up Research into Policy

In the context of private sector development, these issues are most appropriately addressed by being woven into the research themes, rather than being specific themes themselves.


In Africa and south Asia, women are more likely to own businesses than to be wage workers, while the opposite is true for men. (See Figure 1 in Hallward-Driemeier, 2011.) At a global level, gender employment and wage gaps have closed somewhat over the past several decades. But reviewing evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa, Hallward-Driemeier (2011) notes that female entrepreneurs are “disproportionately found in smaller firms, in the informal sector, and in lower-value-added industries (page 67).” The explanations for this are both numerous and varied. Differences in human capital, disproportionate shares of household responsibilities, access to capital, land rights, and access to formal institutions such as courts all play a role in some settings, but some part of the gap appears to come from differences in policies related to access to formal institutions. While gender differences are sometimes the outcome of interest, they are almost always relevant even when they are not. Making gender a cross-cutting theme recognizes this fact. We seek to encourage researchers to take gender into account in every project. In this regard, the first phase of PEDL was successful in generating a large number of high-quality proposals in which gender was a serious consideration.

Fragile and Conflict-Affected States

An increasing share of the world’s poor are found in fragile or conflict-affected states. Many of the largest low-income but stable countries have experienced rapid growth in the past two decades, lifting them to lower-middle income status. But private sector development is particularly challenging where the state is fragile or conflict is common. Trust between potential trading partners is particularly difficult to maintain, as formal enforcement of agreements is undermined by the weak state, and the ability to honour agreements is compromised by unpredictable outbreaks of violence. Existing literature suggests that there is a complex relationship between growth and conflict in fragile states. (See, for example, Dube and Vargas (2010), which shows that increases in coffee (oil) prices led to decreases (increases) in the intensity of civil conflicts in Colombia.) Given the increasing relevance of conflict-affected areas as home to the world’s poorest, we seek to encourage work in fragile states. 

Scaling up Research into Policy

We encourage projects to consider how the results on the research affect policy discussions. This starts with designs that incorporate the views of relevant public- or private-sector policymakers and continues to the design of how information is gathered and presented. Scaling up also implies careful consideration of how local context affects the interpretation of the results. Adjusting results for context, for example through careful integration of theory and empirics, will allow those results to translate across countries.