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, most recently as director of the Policy Research Department.
Birdsall has been researching and writing on economic development issues for more than 25 years. Her most recent work focuses on the relationship between income distribution and economic growth and the role of regional public goods in development.
Birdsall is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), of the African Population and Health Research Center, and of Mathematica. 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 multilateral development banking (MDB) system is regarded as having been remarkably successful—but is the model still fit for purpose? CGD president Nancy Birdsall and senior fellow Scott Morris delve into a new CGD report's recommendations on how to make MDBs more effective.
Finance and development ministers gathered in Washington this weekend at the World Bank’s annual meetings have an ambitious agenda of topics to discuss. But the truth is, it is not nearly ambitious enough. A new CGD report by a high level commission of development and finance experts explains why and what should happen.
The Birdsall House Conference Series on Women seeks to identify and bring attention to leading research and scholarly findings on women’s empowerment in the fields of development economics, behavioral economics, and political economy.
Last week the World Bank Board closed the three-week window, announced in late August, for member countries to nominate candidates for the presidency of the World Bank. Jim Kim, the US nominee and incumbent since his election in 2012, was formally nominated by the United States at 12:01 a.m. at the opening bell, so to speak. He is the sole candidate in what appears to have been a kind of insider coup by the United States (called a “charade” in a World Bank Staff Association letter to its members) of the procedures agreed by World Bank members in 2011.
Join us for a discussion of the new report by CGD’s High Level Panel on the Future of Multilateral Development Banking, which offers a frank assessment of current MDB policies and practices, situating them in the context of new development challenges. For over five decades the multilateral development banks have combined financial heft and technical knowledge to support investments in post-conflict reconstruction, growth, and poverty reduction. However, the geo-economic landscape has changed dramatically in this century. There are new banks, and also new challenges that call for global collective action and financing of the sort the MDBs are well-suited to provide but have been handicapped in doing so effectively. How should the MDBs respond?
Nancy Birdsall argues that the concept of inclusive growth should go beyond the traditional emphasis on the poor (and the rest) and take into account changes in the size and economic command of the group conventionally defined as neither poor nor rich, that is, the middle class.
J. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), analyzes the process and achievements of the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Busan, South Korea, in 2011.
In 2016 on the CGD Podcast, we have discussed some of development's biggest questions: How do we pay for development? How do we measure the sustainable development goals (SDGs)? What should we do about refugees and migrants? And is there life yet in the notion of globalism? The links to all the full podcasts featured and the work they reference are below, but in this edition, we bring you highlights of some of those conversations.
In this paper we identify a group of people in Latin America and other developing countries that are not poor but not middle class either. We define them as the vulnerable “strugglers”, people living in households with daily income per capita between $4 and $10 (at constant 2005 PPP dollar). They are well above the international poverty line, but still vulnerable to falling back into poverty and hence not part of the secure middle class. In a first step, we use long-term growth projections to show that in Latin America about 200 million people will likely be in the struggler group in 2030, accounting for about a third of the total population.
Are the Sustainable Development Goals achievable? That’s a question I hear a lot from colleagues, journalists and friends. And, with the UN Summit to adopt the Goals looming, how will history look back on the drawn-out, consultative and fractious process that has brought us to this set of 17 Goals and 169 Targets?
Jubilee essays by David Roodman and Ben Leo
Working group report: Preventing Odious Obligations
This year marks the 10th anniversary of 2000 Jubilee debt relief movement, in which religious organizations, development NGOs, and policymakers pressed successfully for deeper, faster debt relief for the world's poorest countries. What did the movement achieve? What pitfalls and policy opportunities lie ahead?
CGD fellow David Roodman discusses the beginning of the Jubilee movement. On Wednesday, September 29, 2010, CGD experts were joined by key actors in the movement to assess the legacy of the Jubilee. The event featured presentations by CGD Senior Fellow David Roodman and Todd Moss. The chair of CGD'd board, Ed Scott, and Minister Counselor Lars Petter Henie of Norway provided opening remarks. The morning and afternoon panels were moderated by CGD's Lawrence MacDonald, vice president of communications and policy outreach, and Nancy Birdsall, CGD's president.
The morning panel focused primarily on the evolution of the Jubilee movement and its growing impact in the last decade. CGD fellow David Roodman explains in his essay The Arc of Jubilee that the Jubilee 2000 movement, which called for the cancellation of the foreign debts of the poorest nations, reached its zenith in the late 1990s and 2000—and then, by design, shut down. In the space of a few years, it became one of the most successful international, non-governmental movements in history.
For complete videos, visit the CGD youtube channel.Jamie Drummond on why the Jubilee movement gained support from both secular and religious institutions.Roodman concludes that nongovernmental groups have shown that they can exercise power by educating members of the public and engaging them in the policymaking process. The success of Jubilee 2000 led directly to creation of new, high-profile NGOs in the 2000’s such as DATA and the ONE Campaign (now merged). It advanced an advocacy style that exploits the power of stars such as Bono; uses media old and new with savvy; strikes a strongly centrist stance (in the U.S. context, bipartisan); and subtly melds secular and religious appeals. In particular, Jubilee progeny unlocked more than $50 billion in U.S. government funding for global health in the 2000s, mainly for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. This aid flow dwarfs the new funds generated for debt relief. See David's full speech here, view the handout, or read his full paper here.
Masood Ahmed explains the importance of the process of engaging heavily indebted poor countries in the Jubilee movement.In transition between the morning and afternoon panels Masood Ahmed, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, offered a first-hand perspective of how international financial institutions are approaching the issue of odious debt and what obstacles remain for the process of debt cancellation. Ahmed explained that in the World Bank there was always the sense that debt relief was a "crazy idea". In fact there was never any concern about where the money for debt relief would come from, but rather people within the World Bank were concerned that these efforts had short-term benefits and long-term consequences.
Speaking to these concerns, Todd Moss followed by arguing that the International Monetary Fund is partially at fault due to its proven systematic overestimates of growth for heavily indebted poor countries. Additionally, even as past debt was relieved, the sustainability of low-income countries' debt was eroded by new, even greater official lending—primarily by IFIs. Between 1989 and 2003, new nominal lending to HIPCs was twice as large as the amount of nominal debt relief provided. In the early 2000s, several donor governments, think tanks, and civil society organizations began to realize that the HIPC Initiative did not provide a lasting solution to the problem of unsustainable debt in poor countries.
Todd Moss outlines some of the crucial elements of the evolution of the Jubilee movement.However, despite sound academic support for debt relief, the reality of instituting any kind of debt cancellation policy for the heavily indebted poor countries still remains grounded in a quagmire of bureaucracy both on the scale of governments and international finance institutions. Some members of the afternoon panel raised doubts about whether there was any statistically significant evidence that debt relief was an effective tool for aid of the heavily indebted poor countries.
Clay Lowery discusses the difficulties of instituting policy changes in the face of governmental bureaucratic gridlock.The panel ultimately offered conflicting assessments of how to proceed with the future of the Jubilee movement. Panelist Seema Jayachandran posited that the status quo had to be changed in order to give poor countries better opportunities to avoid the burden of illegitimate lending. The idea of debt relief in itself can be a powerful tool in spurring economic growth for the HIPCs, but it is by no means a sweeping solution regarding the issue of odious debt.
Another approach, set forth in a recent CGD working group report, is to prevent odious debt from forming in the first place. The report, Preventing Odious Obligations: A New Tool for Protecting Citizens from Illegitimate Regimes, proposes an agreement that could declare that successor governments to a (named) illegitimate regime would not be bound by contracts that the illegitimate regime signs after the declaration. Some rogue investors might operate in defiance of the system, but this new approach would still help free successor governments from concerns about repudiating illegitimate contracts.
Many obstacles to development transcend national borders and therefore cannot be adequately addressed within a single country. These include issues such as drug resistance and other cross-border health risks, financial crises contagion, money laundering, water scarcity, fisheries collapse and, of course, climate change. Economists call efforts to address these problems Global Public Goods (GPGs). Like other public goods, funding for GPGs is chronically in short supply: of $125 billion in annual official development assistance (ODA ) only about $3 billion goes to GPGs.