In a speech before students, faculty, policymakers and journalists at Georgetown University yesterday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged a sweeping new approach to development economics research. He said the Bank will change its research model to better access developing country experience through “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions,” and make research more easily accessible to policymakers.
These Spring Meetings will probably be remembered for the capital increase – the first in 20 years – and the historic changes to the voice and representation of developing countries within the Bank. They are important milestones, and deserve to be recognized. But something much more profound is happening within the Bank, something that historians will look back on and regard as a pivotal moment in the organization’s evolution.
The key to understanding what is underway is Mr. Zoellick’s speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 14. This was probably the most important speech by a Bank president since McNamara’s Nairobi speech of 1973 – even more important, I would argue, than Mr. Wolfensohn’s 1996 speech on corruption. For the first time in many years, the Bank is at the leading edge of thinking about global trends. Mr. Zoellick’s blunt declaration that the era of the Third World is over and a new, more complex arrangement is emerging, challenges everyone at the Bank and everyone working in development to think and act differently. It sets in context why the reforms underway across many areas of the Bank are really necessary, why we need a new approach to investment lending, to knowledge, to our location and operation as a global bank.
The end of the Third World does not mean that there are no poor countries, or that all countries are equally advantaged. It means the landscape has changed so much that our thinking and behavior must shift. To think of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Malaysia as developing countries seems anachronistic. Yes they have poverty and challenges, but… “developing”? They play a regional and global role of real significance. They have civil servants, academics and businesspeople as skilled as (and many more skilled than) World Bank staff. Developing just doesn’t capture it.
At a press conference earlier today, World Bank President announced that the Development Committee approved a capital increase, as well as proposed voting reform for the Bank. In his remarks, Mr. Zoellick talked about how these changes will affect the institution, as well as international development on the whole:
"This extra capital can be deployed to create jobs and protect the most vulnerable through investments in infrastructure, small and medium sized enterprises, and safety nets. The change in voting-power helps us better reflect the realities of a new multi-polar global economy where developing countries are now key global players. In a period when multilateral agreements between developed and developing countries have proved elusive, this accord is all the more significant."
A summary of the changes approved by the Development Committee:
- An increase of $86.2 billion in capital for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
- A $200 million increase in the capital of the IFC.
- A 3.13 percentage point increase in the voting power of Developing and Transition countries (DTCs) at IBRD, bringing them to 47.19 percent.
- An increase in the voting power of Developing and Transition Countries at IFC to 39.48 percent.
- An agreement to review IBRD and IFC shareholdings every five years with a commitment to equitable voting power between developed countries and DTCs over time.
The consensus at today’s high-level meeting on “Scaling Up Nutrition” was this: the world can do better for its hungry children. Many of the Ministers and donor agency leaders who spoke at the event acknowledged the global commitment to fighting malnutrition had fallen short. As many as 3 million mothers and young children die each year due to lack of nutritious food.
OECD figures show that development aid for nutrition has been modest, with commitments of less than $300 million a year – one reason why nutrition has been labeled the “forgotten” Millennium Development Goal.
Setting the scene for next week’s Spring Meetings, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said today the world has changed since the financial crisis, the third world is gone and we now live in a multipolar economy.
At Washington, D.C.’s Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Zoellick told an audience of diplomats, economists and international development specialists, “We are now in a new, fast-evolving, multipolar world economy, in which some developing countries are emerging as economic powers; others are moving towards becoming additional poles of growth, and some are struggling to attain their potential within this new system.”
“It is time we put old concepts of First and Third Worlds, leader and led, donor and supplicant behind us,” he said.
The speech drew several questions on the Bank’s response to the financial crisis and how it is helping developing countries adapt to the new global economy Zoellick described.
The joint World Bank-IMF advisory body, known as the Development Committee, committed to the G20’s call for more resources for the Bank to help developing countries respond to the global economic crisis.
Concluding its first day of talks on the Bank’s work and impact at the 2009 annual meetings, the committee expressed support for a general capital increase, a multibillion multilateral food trust fund, and a new crisis facility for the world’s 79 poorest countries.
The Development Committee also agreed to “voice” reform to ensure developing countries get a bigger say in how the institution is run—an increase of at least 3 percentage points in voting power, in addition to the 1.46 percent already agreed. This would give them a share next year of at least 47 percent.
In a statement issued Monday, the Development Committee set a definite decision point for shareholders for Spring 2010 on IBRD and IFC capital needs and “committed to ensure that the World Bank Group has sufficient resources to meet future development challenges.”
The committee noted the Bank’s “vigorous response” to the crisis, including a tripling of IBRD commitments to $33 billion this year and IDA reaching a historic level of $14 billion. They also said that IFC, which has invested $10.5 billion and mobilized an additional $4 billion through new initiatives, “combined strong innovation with effective resource mobilization.”