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In this CGD Essay, Birdsall and Subramianian argue that the World Bank faces twin crises of relevance and legitimacy in a rapidly changing world. The solution, they argue, is for the bank to become a more active catalyst for generating global public goods and knowledge and a more reluctant lender to governments. The World Bank should move, in effect, from being a bank to being a global development cooperative. The essay suggests specific, practical steps for such reforms.
The World Bank is no longer the sole or even major supplier of funds to developing countries. Yet its global reach and technical depth puts it in a key position to expand and enhance its advisory services and help manage such pressing collective action challenges at the global level as global warming, the development of new health and agriculture technologies, and the need to make markets for new financial and other products. All of these are "development" opportunities that go beyond business as usual at the Bank. All require a change in the rules by which the Bank is governed to ensure greater engagement of the developing countries in the Bank's business. Without their engagement the World Bank will become simply another aid agency confined largely to the overcrowded business of making transfers to the poorest and most marginal countries. And the world will lose what it desperately needs: a global institution addressing the global challenges of the future through global collective action.