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Masood Ahmed is president of the Center for Global Development. He joined the Center in January 2017, capping a 35-year career driving economic development policy initiatives relating to debt, aid effectiveness, trade, and global economic prospects at major international institutions including the IMF, World Bank, and DFID.
Ahmed joined CGD from the IMF, where he served for eight years as director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, earning praise from Managing Director Christine Lagarde as a "visionary leader." In that role, he oversaw the Fund's operations in 32 countries, and managed relationships with key national and regional policy makers and stakeholders. In previous years, he also served as the IMF's director of External Relations, and deputy director of the Policy Development and Review Department.
From 2003-2006, Ahmed served as director general, Policy and International at the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID). In that role, he was responsible for advising UK ministers on development issues and overseeing the UK's relationship with international development institutions such as the World Bank.
Ahmed also worked at the World Bank from 1979-2000 in various managerial and economist positions, rising to become Vice President, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management. In that role he led the HIPC (heavily indebted poor countries) debt relief initiative, which has to-date brought relief from debt burdens to 36 of the world's poorest nations.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Ahmed moved to London in 1971 to study at the LSE where he obtained a BSc Honors as well as an MSc Econ with distinction. He is a UK national.
Ahmed is a leading expert on Middle East economics, having served on the Advisory Board of the LSE Middle East Center, as well as on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East and North Africa. He has also participated in CGD's Advisory Board.
He took over as CGD president from Nancy Birdsall, who served as the Center's founding president for its first 15 years from 2001 and will stay at the Center as a senior fellow.
As part of the G7 meetings, Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will host a meeting of G7 Development Ministers – the first of its kind since 2010. In preparation for that meeting, Minister Bibeau will join the Center for Global Development to discuss the priorities for this global development summit. In particular, she will discuss the importance of advancing the empowerment of adolescent girls including their central role in eradicating poverty and the need to move towards gender-responsive approaches to humanitarian assistance.
Economic recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is gaining momentum, but more work is needed to ensure growth is both sustainable and inclusive. Looking ahead, activity is expected to gather further momentum—reflecting stronger demand at home and a supportive external environment. But there are still challenges ahead. Risks to the region’s outlook reflect internal factors as well as heightened external risks—notably, a shift towards more protectionist policies and a sudden tightening of global financial conditions. Additionally, longer-term growth prospects for Latin America and the Caribbean remain subdued.
CGD and Brookings recently co-hosted Former Finance Minister of Nigeria and Distinguished Fellow Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to discuss her new book, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines. The book is part memoir, part how-to, as she draws on her years of experience as Nigeria’s Finance Minister to describe the dangers of fighting corruption and how best to do it. I drew four main takeaways from our conversation: you cannot fight alone; institutional systems are critical for transparency and accountability; international institutions should step up; and don’t underestimate the personal dimension.
You cannot fight alone; you need to build consensus
In order to effectively fight corruption, you need a coalition of support at all levels of government. From the top, it is important that your country’s leader supports anti-corruption efforts. Okonjo-Iweala emphasizes that the backing of both presidents with whom she worked was important in lending her efforts the necessary legitimacy and support to effectively fight corruption. She also notes that she had a supportive team working with her who had the same values and principles—and therefore worked diligently to implement the policies to prevent corruption.
We need systems
In addition to needing the support of the leader and your team, government-wide support is necessary in fighting corruption. Strong institutional systems are important for increasing transparency, conducting objective analysis of evidence, setting the rules of the game, and punishing those who break the rules. Some important institutions include: a strong, transparent and non-corruptible judicial system; a technical system to manage money and thwart corruption; and a strong executive office/leader that supports anti-corruption work. As she said in response to a question, “people are people everywhere.” What determines their behavior is the strength of the systems and institutions under which they operate.
How international institutions can help
Okonjo-Iweala is clear that corruption must be fought by those inside the country, but she recognizes that country partners and donor agencies can play an important role. Because of her experience both at the World Bank and in the Nigerian government, Okonjo-Iweala is in the perfect position to offer advice on how international institutions can best support in-country anti-corruption efforts. She advises that international institutions cannot be lazy, they need to spend the time and effort learning about the societies in which they are working to best understand how the systems actually function. Only then will they be prepared to offer effective solutions. Additionally, multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and IMF are primed to help with institution-building but they need to better signal their long-term commitment to fighting corruption. The fight against corruption is a marathon and development partners need to signal that they will be there to support beyond the three-year program or five-year project.
Fighting corruption is dangerous
The title of Ngozi’s book is not a marketing gimmick. The most moving part of her session was when she described the ordeal of her mother who had been kidnapped in reaction to Ngozi’s efforts to fight corruption. Alongside, she and many other campaigners against corruption have faced physical threats, mental intimidation, and character assassination—now aided and abetted by fake news and the power of social media. Even when a battle is won, there are long lasting scars on the individual and on their family. And when whistle blowers or anti-corruption officials have to flee for their safety, the international community that was encouraging them to move faster is often the slowest to offer a safe refuge. The most sobering lesson from this book: don’t underestimate the personal dimension of fighting this global scourge.
When the world’s finance ministers and central bank governors assemble in Washington later this month for their semi-annual IMF meeting, they will no doubt set aside time for yet another discussion of the lingering debt problems in the Eurozone or how impaired bank debt could impact financial stability in China. They would do well to also focus on another looming debt crisis that could hit some of the poorest countries in the world, many of whom are also struggling with problems of conflict and fragility and none of which has the institutional capacity to cope with a major debt crisis without lasting damage to their already-challenged development prospects.
Nearly two decades ago, an unprecedented international effort—the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt initiative—resulted in writing off the unsustainable debt of poor countries to levels that they could manage without compromising their economic and social development. The hope was that a combination of responsible borrowing and lending practices and a more productive use of any new liabilities, all under the watchful eyes of the IMF and World Bank, would prevent a recurrence of excessive debt buildup.
Alas, as a just-released IMF paper points out, the situation has turned out to be much less favorable. Since the financial crisis and the more recent collapse in commodity prices, there has been a sharp buildup of debt by low-income countries, to the point that 40 percent of them (24 out of 60) are now either already in a debt crisis or highly vulnerable to one—twice as many as only five years ago. Moreover, the majority, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, have fallen into difficulties through relatively recent actions by themselves or their creditors. They include, predictably, commodity exporters like Chad, Congo, and Zambia who have run up debt as they adjusted (or not) to revenue loss from the collapse in oil and metals prices. But they also include a large number of diversified exporters (Ethiopia, Ghana, and the Gambia among others) where the run-up in debt is a reflection of larger-than-planned fiscal deficits, often financing overruns in current spending or, in a few cases, substantial fraud and corruption (the Gambia, Moldova, and Mozambique).
The increased appetite of sovereign borrowers has been facilitated by the willingness of commercial lenders looking for yield in a market awash with liquidity, and by credit from China and other bilateral lenders who are not part of the Paris Club. It is striking that between 2013-16, China’s share of the debt of poor countries increased by more than that held by the Paris Club, the World Bank and all the regional development banks put together.
Nor do traditional donors come out entirely blameless. Concessional funding for low-income countries from the (largely OECD) members of the DAC fell by 20 percent between 2013–16, precisely the period in which their other liabilities increased dramatically. As for the IMF and World Bank, while it may have been wishful thinking to hope they could prevent a recurrence of excessive debt, it was not unreasonable to expect that they would have been more aware as this buildup was taking place and sounded the alarm earlier for the international community. There is also a plausible argument that excessively rigid rules limiting the access of low-income countries to the non-concessional funding windows of the IMF and World Bank left no recourse but to go for more expensive commercial borrowing, with the consequences now visible.
How likely is it that these countries are heading for a debt crisis, and how difficult will it be to resolve one if it happens? The fact that there has been a near doubling in the past five years of the number of countries in debt distress or at high risk is itself not encouraging. And while debt ratios are still below the levels that led to HIPC, the risks are higher because much more of the debt is on commercial terms with higher interest rates, shorter maturities and more unpredictable lender behavior than the traditional multilaterals. More importantly, while the projections for all countries are based on improved policies for the future, the IMF itself acknowledges that this may turn out to be unrealistic. And finally, the debt numbers, worrying as they are, miss out some contingent liabilities that haven’t been recorded or disclosed as transparently as they should have been but which will need to be dealt with in any restructuring or write-off.
The changing composition of creditors also means that we can no longer rely on the traditional arrangements for dealing with low-income country debt problems. The Paris Club is now dwarfed by the six-times-larger holdings of debt by countries outside the Paris Club. Commodity traders have lent money that is collateralized by assets, making the overall resolution process more complicated. And a whole slew of new plurilateral lenders have claims that they believe need to be serviced before others, a position that has yet to be tested.
It is too late to prevent some low-income countries from falling into debt difficulties, but action now can prevent a crisis in many others. The principal responsibility lies with borrowing country governments, but their development partners and donors need to raise the profile of this issue in the conversations they will have in Washington. There is also an urgent need to work with China and other new lenders to create a fit-for-purpose framework for resolving low-income country debt problems when they occur. This is not about persuading these lenders to join the Paris Club but rather about evolution towards a new mechanism that recognizes the much larger role of the new lenders, and demonstrates why it is in their own interest to have such a mechanism for collective action.
Traditional donors also need to look at their allocation of ODA resources, which face the risk of further fragmentation under competing pressures, including for financing the costs in donor countries of hosting refugees. Finally, the assembled policymakers should urge the IMF to prioritize building a complete picture of debt and contingent liabilities as part of its country surveillance and lending programs, and to base its projections for future economic and debt outcomes on more realistic expectations. They should also commission a review to examine the scope for increased access to non-concessional IFI funding for (at least) the more creditworthy low-income borrowers.
It is the poor and vulnerable that pay the heaviest price in a national debt crisis. They have the right to demand action by global financial leaders to make such a crisis less likely.
The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) bold four-year Strategic Plan sets out to deliver solutions to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and build resilience to crises in order to help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda. But as the UN system grapples with funding challenges, as private finance is further mobilized for development, and as technological advances shape the development landscape, what is UNDP’s comparative advantage? We look forward to discussing these issues with UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and key stakeholders.
Technological advances in fields such as artificial intelligence and automation have the potential to fundamentally alter prevailing economic trends. While the effects of these changes are the subject of great debate in the developed world, less discussed has been how they will impact the developing world. Speakers will explore what emerging technologies mean for both the traditional models of development and the future of job creation in developing countries.
Corruption can siphon desperately needed resources away from development, but as some anti-corruption advocates have found, taking on vested interests can come at a great personal risk to their livelihoods—or even their lives. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s new book, Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines, draws on her years as Nigeria’s Finance Minister to provide practical lessons on the difficult, sometimes-dangerous, always-necessary work of fighting graft and corruption.
With more than 145 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, more than 65 million people forcibly displaced, growing risks of climate-driven natural hazards, food insecurity on the rise and four countries struggling to stave off famine, the global humanitarian system faces exceptional challenges. As needs outstrip funding, it is clear that traditional ways of doing business will not suffice. These global crises cannot be addressed without rethinking the link between humanitarian response and development assistance. CGD is delighted to welcome Mark Lowcock, less than two months into his new position as the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. As the UN system’s lead for global relief activities, he is charged with coordinating how humanitarian agencies respond and work together to address global emergencies. After delivering remarks, he will join CGD president Masood Ahmed to discuss successes, challenges, priorities, and reforms for the global humanitarian system in a time of urgent and growing need.
The IMF Fiscal Affairs Department is launching a new book entitled Digital Revolutions in Public Finance. The event’s panel discussion will center around fundamental questions raised in the book, which makes the case that by transforming how we collect, process, and act on information, it can expand and reshape the way we operate within the frontiers of policymaking, allowing us to do what we do now, but better—and perhaps before too long, even design fiscal policy in new ways. The book also explores the institutional challenges and capacity constraints faced by countries seeking to benefit from the digital revolution, as well as privacy and cybersecurity concerns, which call for greater international cooperation and regulation as information increasingly travels across borders.
What will you remember about 2017? The growing crisis of displacement? The US pulling out of the Paris agreement and reinstating the global gag rule on family planning? Or that other countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement, that Canada launched a feminist international assistance policy, that Saudi Arabia finally let women drive?
CGD experts have offered analysis and ideas all year, but now it's time to look forward.
What's going to happen in the world of development in 2018? Will we finally understand how to deal equitably with refugees and migrants? Or how technological progress can work for developing countries? Or what the impact of year two of the Trump Administration will be?
Today’s podcast, our final episode of 2017, raises these questions and many more as a multitude of CGD scholars share their insights and hopes for the year ahead. You can preview their responses in the video below.
Thanks for listening. Join us again next year for more episodes of the CGD Podcast.
China's Belt Road Initiative aims to connect countries that account for 60 percent of the world's people and 30 percent of global GDP. How can we make sure it produces real and lasting benefits for developing countries that are involved? At this special mini-summit, co-hosted by CGD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Reinventing Bretton Woods Committee, we will bring together global leaders, including governments, multilateral development finance institutions and private banks to identify and discuss practical considerations for BRI partners, as well as challenges and solutions.
We’re running a quick, two-minute survey to get your feedback on the podcast. What do you like? What could we do better? We look forward to hearing from you!
How should developing countries cope with new and emerging global challenges? How do we ensure they don't get left further behind?
These were some of the questions discussed at a recent CGD event, a conversation between World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim and CGD president Masood Ahmed.
On this week’s podcast, we hear from Jim Kim on robots, blockchain, multilateralism, and development finance—including the critical role of private actors.
“There should be a new ethics of global development that includes the private sector, because it's the only way to get to the kind of volume we need to end poverty,” Kim said. To get there, he continued, multilateral development banks need to work together.
Hear more in the clip below.
This is also a special episode of the podcast—it's my last as host, as I am leaving CGD for a new role. Thank you for listening these past three years, and please stay tuned for more episodes of the CGD Podcast.
How do you make the case for US foreign aid to an Administration that has proposed slashing it? That was the task for Mark Suzman, Chief Strategy Officer and president of Global Policy and Advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, when he recently accompanied Bill Gates to meetings at the White House. In this week's CGD podcast, Suzman gives us two very different versions of the fight against global poverty and disease—the perception and the reality. At an event called Financing the Future, he joined CGD experts Masood Ahmed, Amanda Glassman, and Antoinette Sayeh to discuss ways the development community can better convey their results.
The Birdsall House Conference Series on Women seeks to identify and bring attention to leading research and scholarly findings on women’s empowerment in the fields of development economics, behavioral economics, and political economy. On December 7th, academics, private sector representatives, and policymakers will turn to an issue that affects women in rich and poor countries alike: the ability to make informed, voluntary, and autonomous choices about childbearing, and the implications of reproductive choice as a lever to expand women’s economic and life prospects. Until recently, there has been a lack of rigorous empirical evidence on the links between contraceptive access and women’s economic empowerment in low- and middle-income countries. The 2017 Birdsall House Conference will feature new findings on this relationship alongside existing evidence from the United States.
World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim will join CGD President Masood Ahmed to discuss the future of multilateralism, the Bank’s efforts to maximize resources for development, and the critical importance of investing in people to meet tomorrow’s challenges.