Published on Let's Talk Development

Doing Development Economics Differently -- Check out ABCDE 2011

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It's important to have an international forum where leading thinkers can exchange ideas about how to reduce poverty and how to promote growth in low income countries. I'm delighted that, since its inauguration 22 years ago, the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) has served this purpose by connecting leading thinkers, practitioners, and students. Now more than ever, we need active and constructive debate about job creation, reducing inequality, empowering women, and improving our approaches to human capital formation and training youth. TheDevelopment Economics Vice Presidency that I lead is enthusiastic in its continued support for this forum.

For people to benefit from development and escape poverty, they need to broaden their opportunities. That's why we chose 'Broadening Opportunities for Development' as our overall theme for this year's conference happening from May 30-June 1 in Paris.

We are excited to co-host this year's conference with the OECD, as 2011 is their 50th anniversary and the organization has put development issues – particularly jobs and social cohesion -- high on their agenda. Also co-hosting is the French government through the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the French Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Industry. This is timely since the issues being addressed at the conference are also a priority of the French G8 and G20 presidency.

One aspect of broadening opportunities for development entails working with governments and enterprises in developing countries to help them transform from one stage of development to another – for example, figuring out how to move from agriculture, to the production of primary commodities, to developing competitive industries that are aligned with their comparative advantage. Such transformation can generate higher value-added job opportunities for people. However, people will only be equipped for such jobs if they have a decent education and access to basic services. Social protection also matters, since sometimes in undergoing transformation, certain people may be hit by shocks, ill health or other problems. In other words, we need social safety nets to protect vulnerable people -- whether urban dwellers devastated by a natural disaster or subsistence farmers who can't afford seeds or who are hit by drought. 

This year we'll be debating a new concept -- Democratizing Development Economics. An exciting June 1 round table on that subject will be moderated by a dynamic journalist, Stéphanie Antoine of France24 television, and I am pleased indeed that Esther Duflo, Mthuli Ncube, Mustapha Nabli, Martine Durand, Martin Ravallion and others will debate this issue, asking, among other questions, how the tools for analysis and impact evaluation can be put into the hands of local researchers and project beneficiaries.

What's behind this democratizing development economics idea? Well, we are entering into a multi-polar growth world. Knowledge can be generated in the north and also in the south. We need to promote north-south learning, south-south learning, and also south-north learning. At the same time we know that top down types of approaches in general don’t work well. We need to allow people to have ownership so that they can apply the knowledge to cope with their local challenges and explore their opportunities.  Thus we are rolling out a more democratic approach to the way we undertake development economics. World Bank President Bob Zoellick is an enthusiastic advocate of this new approach. It is already being realized in part through the Bank's Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions initiative. In addition, we are challenging young software developers to create Apps for Development.

It's an exciting era for development practitioners and I know ABCDE will be a landmark event where ground breaking new research is shared and debated. I hope you will follow us on Twitter (@ABCDEwb) and watch our webcast events while the conference is under way from May 30-June 1.

This post originally appeared on the World Bank's Meetings Center blog.


Justin Yifu Lin

Former World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice President

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