With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Development economics, globalism and inequality, the aid system, international financial institutions, education, Latin America, climate financing
Nancy Birdsall is president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a policy-oriented research institution that opened its doors in Washington, DC in October 2001. Prior to launching the Center, Birdsall served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work at Carnegie focused on issues of globalization and inequality, as well as on the reform of the international financial institutions.
From 1993 to 1998, Birdsall was executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest of the regional development banks, where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio. Before joining the Inter-American Development Bank, she spent 14 years in research, policy, and management positions at the World Bank, including as director of the Policy Research Department.
Her most recent work focuses on global governance and the international financial institutions, women’s empowerment and its relationship to reproductive choices, and the financing of global public goods for development.
Birdsall serves on the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), the African Population and Health Research Center, and Mathematica. She is a member of the Williams College Center for Development Economics Visiting Committee. She has chaired the board of the International Center for Research on Women and has served on the boards of the Social Science Research Council, Overseas Development Council, and Accion. She has also served on committees and working groups of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birdsall holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Putting Education to Work in Egypt, by Nancy Birdsall and Lesley O'Connell. Prepared for Conference, Growth Beyond Stabilization: Prospects for Egypt, sponsored by The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in collaboration with the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector, University of Maryland; the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the US Agency for International Development, February 3-4, 1999, Cairo, Egypt. March 1999.
"Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America: Deeper Markets and Better Schools Make a Difference," with Jere R. Behrman and Miguel Szekely, in New Markets, New Opportunities? Economic and Social Mobility in a Changing World (1999)
"The U.S. and the Social Challenge in Latin America: The New Agenda Needs New Instruments," with Nora Lustig and Lesley O'Connell, in The Search for Common Ground: U.S. National Interests and the Western Hemisphere in a New Century (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999)
"Deep Integration and Trade Agreements: Good for Developing Countries?" with Robert Z. Lawrence in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 1999)
"No Tradeoff: Efficient Growth Via More Equal Human Capital Accumulation in Latin America," in Beyond Trade-Offs: Market Reforms and Equitable Growth in Latin America (1998)
"That Silly Inequality Debate," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2002
"Education in Latin America: Demand and Distribution are Factors that Matter," with Juan Luis Londoño and Lesley O'Connell in CEPAL Review 66, December 1998
"Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World," in Foreign Policy, Summer 1998
"Public Spending on Higher Education in Developing Countries: Too Much or Too Little?" in Economics of Education Review, 1996
The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet. This phenomenon—the result of more than two decades of nearly continuous fast-paced global economic growth—has been good not only for economies but also for governance. After all, history suggests that a large and secure middle class is a solid foundation on which to build and sustain an effective, democratic state. Middle classes not only have the wherewithal to finance vital services such as roads and public education through taxes; they also demand regulations, the fair enforcement of contracts, and the rule of law more generally—public goods that create a level social and economic playing field on which all can prosper.
PovcalNet, the World Bank’s global poverty database, provides all kinds of country statistics, including mean income, the share (and number) of the population living in absolute poverty ($1.90), the poverty gap and several measures of income inequality, such as the Gini coefficient. But one thing it doesn’t provide is median income or consumption. The median is a better measure of “typical” well-being than the mean, which is always skewed to the right.
We’ve been waiting for the World Bank to add these medians to its PovcalNet database, but we got impatient and did it ourselves. By manually running a few hundred queries in PovcalNet, we now have (and can share with you) the latest median income/consumption data for 144 countries (using 2011 PPPs — more on our methods below).
Sometimes it feels like Groundhog Day. Every twelve months or so, I sit down to write about my main wishes for the forthcoming year in development, and every list for the last few years has included my desire to see the US make good on its commitment to IMF quota reform (which would be of little extra cost to the US taxpayer as the US share of IMF funds could be augmented from existing monies already set aside for global financial crises). Dear reader, you can share my past frustration here, here and here.
When President Takehiko Nakao of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) visited CGD earlier last year, he described management’s groundbreaking proposal for a major restructuring of the bank’s financial model that we view as both sensible and creative.
CGD hosted a public talk last week by Nigerian Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. During the speech, the acting president discussed key issues facing his country before a standing-room-only crowd dominated by exuberant Nigerians. Before the speech, the acting president spoke at a private breakfast with development experts, diplomats, and senior U.S. and World Bank officials.
During the speech, Acting President Jonathan called upon the United States to support Nigeria’s efforts to strengthen its democratic institutions, to increase private investment in Nigeria, to diversify U.S. imports from Nigeria beyond oil, and share technology to help meet Nigeria’s electricity needs. “Without fixing [electrical] power, you cannot create jobs – you cannot create wealth,” he said.
The power sector is among Africa’s biggest hurdles to development according to a CGD book Africa's Private Sector: What's Wrong with the Business Environment and What to Do About It.
CGD president Nancy Birdsall expressed concern that despite Nigeria’s $300 billion in oil revenue since 1970, incomes have remained low and poverty is widespread. Nigeria demonstrated improvement between 2003-2007, but preoccupation with domestic political infighting since 2007 has hurt Nigeria’s progress, she said.
Acting President Jonathan said he was working to improve the electoral process by strengthening the accountability of electoral agents at polling stations. National elections are due in 12 months.
“At the polling units, election (results) should be declared by their polling agent,” he said. “What has happened in the past is that at the end of the vote, the results are not declared at the polling station.” The acting president also thanked CGD for its role in debt relief. “I would like to applaud the supportive role by the Center in facilitating Nigeria’s debt buy-back in 2005,” he said.
CGD vice president and senior fellow Todd Moss, who chaired the breakfast discussion and the audience Q&A following the public speech, led CGD's analytical work in support of Nigeria's efforts to persuade its creditors to agree to an appropriate debt relief package. As a result, Nigeria’s debt stock was reduced by some $30 billion dollars.
Birdsall expressed her interest in continuing to offer analytical support to Nigeria’s development efforts.
“We’re very interested in working with the Nigerians to deal with the management of their oil – perhaps in new ways – over the next few years,” she said.
Moss has proposed that Ghana consider direct distribution of at least part of the revenue from new oil discoveries directly to citizens on a flat per capita basis. In forthcoming work, he explores the possibility of applying the approach to other African countries with oil.
Nigeria is currently classified by the World Bank as a ‘blend’ country, making it the poorest country in the world that does not have ‘IDA-only’ status. This paper uses the World Bank’s own IDA eligibility criteria to assess whether Nigeria has a case for reclassification.
At the end of the 1990s the future of Latin America seemed grim in the face of four devastating problems—slow and unsteady economic growth, persistent poverty, social injustice, and personal insecurity. For 10 years Latin America had pursued—with considerable vigor—the 10 economic policies that make up the Washington Consensus, the growth formula promoted by the U.S. Treasury and the international financial institutions. But performance fell far short of expectations, and a new approach was needed.
In this speech delivered at the 2012 Annual Conference of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Nancy Birdsall shares her observations
about the changing development space and offers three proposals to help the development community tap the potential for informed and empowered citizens
push for better local and global politics. Her remarks were prepared after delivering a 2012 speech to the 2012 UN General Assembly, "Global Citizens and the
Global Economy," and foreshadowed her 2013 working paper , "Global Markets, Global Citizens, and Global Governance in the 21st Century."