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The World Bank is supposed to work with poor countries in distress. When it all goes well, the Bank supports reformers with advice and money. Sometimes, however, the Bank prolongs a country’s pain by throwing a lifeline to recalcitrant regimes. The difference between a helping hand and a counterproductive crutch requires the Bank to understand the trends inside a country and how its own actions might affect those dynamics. Often, it’s difficult to discern these subtleties.
At its founding, a primary function of World Bank was to help developing countries develop the energy, transport and water infrastructure essential for economic development. Half a century later, as the World Bank Country Director for Brazil I saw the products of this – the World Bank funded one major hydropower plant in each of the first ten years that the Bank operated in Brazil, thus helping Brazil build a low-cost energy platform for economic growth in Brazil for the next 50 years.
This week, Liberians celebrated in the streets – faces painted, drums blaring, and dancing with abandon. They’re not rejoicing over some recent triumph by the Liberian soccer team or a local festival. The streets of Monrovia were overflowing because of debt relief. That’s right, debt relief. On Tuesday, Liberia secured nearly $5 billion in irrevocable debt relief from the World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank, and bilateral creditors. It’s a massive sum
In a huge step forward, this week Liberia slashed its foreign debt by buying back $1.2 billion in commercial debt -- about one-quarter of its foreign debt -- from its private foreign creditors, including banks, hedge funds, and other “distressed debt” investment funds.
Good news! The IMF has finally moved forward on Liberian debt relief. Yesterday's IMF announcement that it has agreed on the necessary financing was a strong endorsement by the international community of Liberia's progress under its new government. It took more than a year of pushing and prodding, but Liberia now can formally begin the debt relief process.
Today the Volcker Commission released a report with a set of recommendations about how the World Bank can strengthen its anti-corruption procedures by reforming its Department of Institutional Integrity. This is an important and timely conversation and the report will no doubt receive a high level of attention. But it is equally important that the Bank does not put corruption ahead of its central task—the alleviation of poverty.
The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation have just launched an ambitious new program to bring electricity to millions of people in Africa who live without it. The Lighting Africa Initiative seeks to bring clean and safe lighting via solar lamps and other clean-fuel methods to thousands of villages and small towns that are not connected to the public grid and rely on kerosene lamps which are both polluting and unsafe.