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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
As the Obama Administration heads into its final months, USAID Administrator Gayle Smith offers a look at how President Obama and his team chose to address the question of US leadership in global development. She shares her perspective on how USAID and its community of partners are positioned to make progress in an increasingly sharp-edged world.
CGD is delighted to announce that Nancy Birdsall, our founding president, will deliver the 2016 Richard Sabot Memorial Lecture, entitled ‘New Development Realities in a changing Global Order’. Birdsall will step down at the end of the year and this will be her last public event as CGD president.
Behind the learning crisis in much of the developing world is a huge data gap. Only a few middle income developing countries have the political incentives and technical capacity to develop and sustain national systems that measure what children are learning in school; most school children in the developing world have never taken a test that can be compared year over year or globally benchmarked.
In uncertain political times, the world needs solutions that enjoy broad-based support. Drawing on more than 20 research papers commissioned over two years, Why Forests? Why Now? demonstrates the disproportionate impact tropical forests can have on climate change mitigation, how the livelihoods of millions of poor people around the world depend on the services they provide, and how consensus has been reached on a framework for international cooperation to conserve them.
As the Obama Administration heads into its final months, USAID Administrator Gayle Smith offers a look at how President Obama and his team chose to address the question of US leadership in global development. She will share her perspective on how USAID and its community of partners are positioned to make progress in an increasingly sharp-edged world.
CGD founding president Nancy Birdsall has seen a few US presidents come and go in her long career as a leading development economist, but her message to all occupants of the white house has remained fairly steady: Enact smart policies that help developing countries build stable, prosperous economies of their own—and that will help people at home too. This week she joins the CGD podcast to talk about some of those ideas, and why development should be a priority for the next us president.
CGD founding president Nancy Birdsall has seen a few US presidents come and go in her long career as a leading development economist, but her message to all occupants of the White House has remained fairly steady: Enact smart policies that help developing countries build stable, prosperous economies of their own—and that will help people at home too.
CGD has been thinking long and hard about the election and the new administration: our White House and the World briefing book offers practical policy ideas that will help raise global prosperity at low or no cost to the US. We’ve also recently published three memos for the presidential transition teams, detailing specific ideas in some of the areas we work on: development policy, gender, and global health.
This week Nancy Birdsall joins the CGD Podcast to talk about some of those ideas, and why development should be a priority for the next US president. “In this kind of world," she says, "where so many of the challenges we face at home are also faced by people abroad—whether it’s climate, whether it’s the refugee crisis at the moment, whether it’s instability and conflict that spills over into terrorism of one kind or another—it’s much more about getting the global system to work.”
Watch the clips below to hear three of CGD’s experts explain some simple, specific ideas for the next US president, and listen to the podcast at the top of this page.
We have long advocated for more widespread use of median income or median consumption to compare individuals’ material well-being between countries and its development over time. Unfortunately, finding up-to-date data had not been easy. While the data needed to calculate country medians has been available via the World Bank’s PovcalNet database for over five years, users had to enter a series of guesstimates for each country to find the income or consumption where the associated headcount was at 50% (aka the median). We have asked the Bank repeatedly to set its poverty data free and make the median more easily available. We even published our own, downloadable list of country medians to fill the data gap.
We are happy to report that the World Bank team that manages the (impressive) PovcalNet database has come through: as of October 1, the median monthly per capita income or consumption for each country is now part of the standard indicators displayed for any country query on PovcalNet (see screenshot below). We applaud the team for this update (and we thank Chico Ferreira in particular, our worthy colleague on the inside at the Bank).
Having relatively easy access to up-to date, official median income/consumption data is also exciting news for development professionals. The median offers researchers a more representative indicator for material well-being than GDP or GNI per capita. It is an easy-to-grasp measure that is also ‘distribution aware’: unlike GDP or GNI, the median will only rise if at least half of the country’s population is better off. Median income or consumption data can also be useful for development organizations, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to complement existing indicators when it comes to assessing county needs and investment priorities.
Now, if there was only a way to download the newly published median figures…
The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President shows how modest changes in U.S. policies could greatly improve the lives of poor people in developing countries, thus fostering greater stability, security, and prosperity globally and at home. Center for Global Development experts offer fresh perspectives and practical advice on trade policy, migration, foreign aid, climate change and more. In an introductory essay, CGD President Nancy Birdsall explains why and how the next U.S. president must lead in the creation of a better, safer world.
This report is the third edition of our effort to measure the quality of Official Development Assistance (ODA), now updated to use 2012 data—the most recent available—from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).
A new report by CGD’s High Level Panel on the Future of Multilateral Development Banking 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?
In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews a large body of work, primarily of economists, that shows that high levels of inequality in developing countries are likely to inhibit growth. She argues that high income inequality can discourage the evolution of the economic and political institutions associated with accountable government and can undermine the civic and social life that sustains effective collective decision-making, especially in multi-ethnic settings. Learn more
The Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA) measures donors’ performance on 31 indicators of aid quality to which donors have made commitments. The indicators are grouped into four dimensions associated with effective aid: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing the burden on partner countries, and transparency and learning. The 2014 edition finds that donors are overall becoming more transparent and better at fostering partner country institutions but that there has been little progress at maximizing efficiency or reducing the burden on partner countries.
Global governance is no substitute for a country’s own well-managed policies of politics and economics, but the interconnected nature of our world demands that our leaders recognize the necessity for global coordination to keep pace with the for a more farsighted global order.
This paper argues that regional public goods in developing countries are under-funded despite their potentially high rates of return compared to traditional country-focused investments. In Africa the under-funding of regional public goods is primarily a political and institutional challenge to be met by the countries in this region. But the donor community ought to consider the opportunity cost – for development progress itself, in Africa and elsewhere – of its relative neglect, and explore changes in the aid architecture that would encourage more attention to regional goods.
In the face of continuing development challenges in the world's poorest countries, there have been new calls throughout the donor community to increase the volume of development aid. Equal attention is needed to reform of the aid business itself, that is, the practices and processes and procedures and politics of aid. This paper sets out the shortcomings of that business on which new research has recently shed light, but which have not been adequately or explicitly incorporated into the donor community's reform agenda. It outlines seven of the worst "sins" or failings of donors, including impatience with institution building, collusion and coordination failures, failure to evaluate the results of their support, and financing that is volatile and unpredictable. It suggests possible short-term practical fixes and notes the need ultimately for more ambitious and structural changes in the overall aid architecture.