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Biometrics, foreign aid, Africa, economics of resource-rich countries, growth and development, transition economies
Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. His recent research includes aid and development outcomes, the transition from planned to market economies, the development applications of biometric ID technology, and the special development challenges of resource-rich countries.
He was previously director of development policy at the World Bank and chief economist for the bank’s Africa region and staff director for the 1996 World Development Report “From Plan to Market.”
Imagine the panic and frustration you’d feel if you lost your passport or driver’s license. They are basic proofs of identity that we – in the developed world – readily use to access a huge range of services from getting on a plane, to opening a bank account, to proving our eligibility for education, to exercising our right to vote. Yet around 2 billion people – mainly in the developing world – have no legal form of identity. That includes some 650m children who have never been registered at birth.
To better understand the large variation in price levels between countries beyond income levels and their contribution to economies’ competitiveness in the global market, we report on a cross-country analysis of national price levels, using data on 168 economies from the most recent 2011 International Comparison Program (ICP).
Meeting the staggering but achievable needs of the SDG agenda requires everyone to make the best use of each dollar from every source. This means tracking with precision where, when and to whom has the money been disbursed and for what development end. It requires knowing precisely who the beneficiary was and being able to uniquely establish his/her identity.
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The role of identification and its importance to development outcomes places it within the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda — specifically as one of the proposed SDG targets (#16.9), but also as a key enabler of the efficacy of many other SDG targets. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.
These recent developments in identification, combined with rising mobile phone ownership, broadening Internet access, and innovative payment delivery mechanisms, can be harnessed to transform the way states implement poverty-reduction programs and improve the lives of their citizens. Digital payments promise faster, more transparent, and lower-cost delivery for existing cash-based government transfers, and can also transform the way governments deliver subsidies. In a new background paper, Dan Radcliffe reviews the evidence on the gains from digital payments and pinpoints four ways in which they can improve development outcomes.
Clay Lowery, our group’s chair, is Vice President at Rock Creek Global Advisors, an international economic policy advisory firm, where he focuses on international financial regulation, sovereign debt, exchange rates, and investment policy. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and serves on the Policy Advisory Board at the European Institute. He was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in international finance and a lecturer at the National War College.