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CGD in the News

The World Bank: the impossible job? (Euromoney)

September 13, 2019

From the article:

“The first annual World Bank/IMF meeting attended by Euromoney, which took place in Copenhagen in 1970, was an unusually rambunctious affair. There had been plenty of animated disputes behind closed doors at previous annual meetings. But Copenhagen was the first occasion on which angry mobs had taken to the streets to protest against individuals as well as institutions they pilloried as agents of neo-colonialism…

At first, the formula for addressing these challenges looked straightforward enough. Between 1979 and 2000, Masood Ahmed held various positions at the Bank, latterly leading its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative during James Wolfensohn’s presidency. He says that the history of the Bank mirrors the broader evolution of global views on development.  ‘In its first 25 or 30 years, the view was that if you could channel more capital into poor countries and build their basic infrastructure – roads, bridges, power stations – they would become rich too,’ says Ahmed, who is now president of the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD)…

The question of whether the World Bank has succeeded or failed over the last 75 years depends almost entirely on who you ask. Put the question to an NGO and it will probably brand the Bank as a failure at best and as a self-interested, capitalist tool of neo-imperialism at worst.  Put it to almost anybody who has dedicated most of his or her professional life to addressing the goal of poverty reduction, and he or she is equally likely to mark it as a rip-roaring success.  The truth almost certainly lies somewhere between these two extremes. 

‘The answer depends on the standards and criteria by which you judge the Bank’s performance,’ says Nancy Lee, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington. ‘You can judge it on how closely it has focused on poverty reduction and inclusive growth, by the efficiency of its financial models, by the scope of its presence on the ground and by the quality of the data it has collected. By all those measures, the Bank has done pretty well, as have all the multilateral development banks…’”

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Senior Policy Fellow