Three Cross-Cutting Themes

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

  • Gender
  • Fragile and conflict affected states
  • Unlocking data for understanding markets and firms

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.


  1. 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

  1. 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. 

Unlocking Data

  1. A key to drawing new researchers into topics of private sector development in LICs is making relevant data more widely available. Of course, the data generated by any project must be made available to other researchers to the extent allowed by confidentiality or purchase agreements. But data generated by projects are not all equal in this regard. Where researchers can make a case that the data generated by their project is likely to be of particular interest to other researchers, we will consider providing additional funding to allow the researchers to make the data more accessible to the research community. 
  2. The past few decades have seen a much steeper fall in the cost of collecting data than the cost of analysing data. Those circumstances provide an opportunity for researchers. Governments and private firms may be willing to share data in return for providing analysis which is useful to the government agency or firm. A key is making these data more widely available. This may be accomplished by anonymising in a straightforward way or through creation of secure data centres where the capability exists and the circumstances merit. Examples include administrative data from government agencies, industry associations, or private firms. Making these data available leverages the effort or connections of the initial research team to generate additional research by scholars who would otherwise be unable to access the data. We view this as having potential to increase the size of the research community engaged in work on private sector development.