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Why Didn’t the World Bank Make Reducing Inequality One of Its Goals?

Jaime Saavedra-Chanduvi's picture

The World Bank Group (WBG) has established that its mission, endorsed by the governors of its client countries, is centered around the goals of sustainably ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.  Extreme poverty is monitored by the percent of people living below the $1.25-a-day threshold.  The Bank’s mission thus gives a clear message:  Extreme poverty, hunger, destitution must come to an end.

To monitor progress in shared prosperity, the WBG will track the income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in each country.  The clear signal the WBG wants to give is that the institutional mission is about reducing poverty, fostering growth and increasing equity, so we need to monitor what happens to welfare of the less well off in every country.  Improving averages is not enough; a laser focus on those who are at the bottom of the distribution at all times, everywhere, is needed.

Top Incomes and the Measurement of Inequality in Egypt

Paolo Verme's picture

The January 2011 revolution in Egypt that overthrew 30 years of autocratic rule was in part due to a sense of deteriorating economic situation, injustice and growing inequality in the society. This was voiced by protesters during the revolution but also by intellectuals and the press after the fall of the old regime in an effort to explain the revolution. The World Values Surveys administered in Egypt in 2000 and 2008 confirm that the subjective aversion to inequality has intensified between the two years and for all social groups.  

It is thus surprising that economic inequality in Egypt as measured by household surveys is low and has been declining during the past decade. In 2009, the most recent year when a large household income and expenditure survey was administered, the Gini coefficients for inequality in incomes and expenditures were 32.9 and 30.5 respectively , far lower than in surrounding countries, southern Europe or the United States. This finding led observers to dismiss these figures as “unreliable” and incapable of capturing the true economic inequality in Egypt.

Understanding the Sources of Spatial Disparity and Convergence: Evidence from Bangladesh

Forhad Shilpi's picture

The economic liberalization during the last couple of decades led to impressive economic growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. This period has also witnessed worsening of income inequality and widening of spatial disparity (World Development Report (2009); Kanbur and Venables (2005); Kim (2008)). There is considerable worry among policy makers about the extent to which this rise in spatial inequality is due to increasing disparity in opportunities in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and services. The recent growth and poverty reduction experience places Bangladesh as an exception to this trend of increasing spatial inequality.  Bangladesh made significant strides in poverty reduction between 2000 and 2010 with incidence of poverty falling from 48.9 percent to 31.5 percent. During the same period, the incidence of poverty declined more than proportionately in traditionally poorer regions, reducing welfare gaps across regions. There is also no evidence of significant change in overall inequality over the same period. What made spatial disparity in Bangladesh to decline while its economic growth accelerated substantially? What were the sources of decline in spatial disparity in welfare?

Campaigning on Hot v Cold Issues – What’s the Difference?

Duncan Green's picture

I recently began an interesting conversation with our new campaigns and policy czar, Ben Phillips, who then asked me to pick the FP2P collective brain-hive for further ideas. Here goes.

The issue is ‘cold’ v ‘hot’ campaigning. Over the next couple of years, we will be doing a lot of campaigning on climate change and inequality. Inequality is flavour of the month, with an avalanche of policy papers, shifting institutional positions at the IMF etc highlighting its negative impacts on growth, wellbeing, poverty reduction, and just about everything else. That makes for a ‘hot campaign’, pushing on (slightly more) open doors on tax, social protection etc.

In contrast, climate change is (paradoxically) a pretty cold campaign. Emissions continue to rise, as do global temperatures and the unpredictability of the weather, but you wouldn’t think so in terms of political agendas or press coverage (see graph). The UN process, focus of huge attention over the last 15 years, is becalmed. Politicians make occasional reference to ‘green growth’, but that is becoming as vacuous as its predecessor ‘sustainable development.’

The distinction is not so clear cut, of course. Hot campaigns can suddenly go cold and vice versa (politicians and officials are able to go from saying ‘no, don’t be ridiculous’ to ‘we’ve always supported this’ with bewildering ease, when the moment is right). You could argue that the Arms Trade Treaty campaign was one of those. But a campaign needs to get seriously hot if it involves a major redistribution of power and influence (like taxation/inequality or climate change, but not, I would argue, the Arms Trade Treaty).

So the essay question is: do you campaign differently on hot v cold campaigns, and if so, how? Here are some initial thoughts:

Poverty in Nigeria: Some New Facts

Mark Roland Thomas's picture
The World Bank and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have recently completed an in-depth analysis of Nigeria’s last set of household survey statistics, which were compiled in 2010 but until recently not fully understood.

The results suggest strangely mixed conclusions. In certain ways, poverty trends in Nigeria over the past decade were better than has been widely reported, where a story of increasing poverty has been the consensus. And yet poverty is stubbornly high, disappointingly so given growth rates.

Three facts stand out.

Ending Extreme Poverty In Our Generation

Kate Dooley's picture

It sounds impossible.  Unthinkable.  A world free from extreme poverty.  A world in which no child is born to die, no child goes to bed hungry, every child lives a life free from violence and abuse and has quality health care, nutrition and learns in school. This has long been Save the Children’s vision but could now be a shared global vision, and by 2030 perhaps, a reality.

On  May 30, 2013, a special panel of world leaders handed in their recommendations to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General on the future of global sustainable development and they, too, believe this can be our reality.

Were Gordon Brown and I right? Were poor children actually left behind by the Millennium Development Goals for education?

Adam Wagstaff's picture

It’s quite fun being picked up by a prime minister. Not literally of course. Unless you happen to be a baby seized from your mother’s arms during an election campaign, in which case it must be rather exciting, and quite possibly the highlight of the day. No, I mean being picked up in print. 

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and current United Nations’ Special Envoy for Global Education, cited a Let’s Talk Development blog post of mine asking whether inequality should be reflected in the new international development goals. Toward the end of the post I presented some rather shocking numbers showing how – in a large number of developing countries – the poorest 40% have made slower progress toward key MDG health targets than the richest 60%. Although I didn’t actually offer any evidence on education, I argued: “If inequalities in education and health outcomes across the income distribution matter, and if we want to see “prosperity” in its broadest sense shared, it looks like we really do need an explicit goal that captures inequality.

De-coding Gender-based Violence

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The brutal assault on a young woman in Delhi on December 16 last year, and the protests that followed in its wake spotlighted global attention on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV), a malady that manifests itself in myriad forms across the world – sexual violence, war crimes against women, domestic abuse, domestic violence, just to name a few. The World Bank has recognized the relevance of, and worked on addressing, gender-based violence as an intrinsic element of empowering women as equal partners in development. In the wake of the horrific December 16 incident, the Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy for India, highlighted attention to GBV as a key element of its strategy.

Over the past few months, a number of discussions at the Bank have attempted to investigate and understand the key underlying drivers - sociological, economic, and cultural - that spawn gender-based violence, its impact on welfare and development, and possible approaches to finding solutions. Among them was a panel discussion organized by the Bank-Fund India Club in March that brought together experts from different disciplinary backgrounds: eminent sociologist Alaka Basu, Georgetown University Professor Shareen Joshi, ICF International Fellow Kisrsten Johnson, and World Bank Senior Economist and human rights expert Varun Gauri. Another event, co-sponsored by the Social Development Department in May discussed the experience of prominent NGOs in addressing GBV – in settings as diverse as the South Asian community in New Jersey, and the rural and urban communities of Brazil. The panel included Maneesha Kelkar, former Executive Director of New Jersey-based Manavi, Candyce Rocha, Gender Coordinator at the Brazilian House of Representatives, and Matt Morton, a Social Scientist and gender expert at the Bank. Common themes – on the causes, consequences, and solutions – emerged from the two panels.

A Crucial Step in Fighting Inequality and Discrimination: The Law to Make India’s Private Schools Admit 25% Marginalised Kids

Duncan Green's picture

This guest post comes from Exfam colleague and education activist Swati Narayan 

This summer, India missed the historic deadline to implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This landmark law, the fruit of more than a decade of civil society activism, has many path-breaking clauses. For the first time, it bans schoolteachers from offering private tuition on the side – a rampant conflict of interest. It also legally prohibits corporal punishment.

Most powerfully, it insists that every private school must reserve 25 percent of classroom seats for children from poorer or disadvantaged families in the neighbourhood. This quota is by no means a silver bullet. After all, eighty percent of schools in India are government-run and in dire need of teachers, infrastructure and more.

Nevertheless, this masterstroke, which aims to piggyback on the rest of the mushrooming for-profit private schools, single-handedly opens the door for at least 1 million eligible children each year across the country to receive 8 years of free education.

Is It Time for a New Paradigm for "Citizen Engagement"? The Role of Context and What the Evidence Tells Us

Simon O'Meally's picture

The meteoric rise of "citizen engagement"

Almost all development agencies promote some form of citizen engagement and accountability, often framed as 'voice', 'demand-side governance', 'demand for good governance' or 'social accountability'.   The current World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, recently put it that, "citizen voice can be pivotal in providing the demand-side pressure on government, service providers, and organizations such as the World Bank that is needed to encourage full and swift response to citizen needs".  There has, in turn, been a mushrooming of useful operational guidance on different "tools" for social accountability - i.e. steps, inputs and methodologies - that guide discrete interventions, ranging from citizen score cards to participatory expenditure tracking.

One might, however, be forgiven for thinking that some of the debates on citizen engagement need an injection of realism; especially as contextual factors can make or break a "tool's" implementation.  A review of experience to date would be one good place to start.