With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Development economics, globalism and inequality, the aid system, international financial institutions, education, Latin America, climate financing
Nancy Birdsall is president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a policy-oriented research institution that opened its doors in Washington, DC in October 2001. Prior to launching the center, Birdsall served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work at Carnegie focused on issues of globalization and inequality, as well as on the reform of the international financial institutions.
From 1993 to 1998, Birdsall was executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest of the regional development banks, where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio. Before joining the Inter-American Development Bank, she spent 14 years in research, policy, and management positions at the World Bank, most recently as director of the Policy Research Department.
Birdsall has been researching and writing on economic development issues for more than 25 years. Her most recent work focuses on the relationship between income distribution and economic growth and the role of regional public goods in development.
Birdsall is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), of the African Population and Health Research Center, and of Mathematica. She has chaired the board of the International Center for Research on Women and has served on the boards of the Social Science Research Council, Overseas Development Council, and Accion. She has also served on committees and working groups of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birdsall holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Putting Education to Work in Egypt, by Nancy Birdsall and Lesley O'Connell. Prepared for Conference, Growth Beyond Stabilization: Prospects for Egypt, sponsored by The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in collaboration with the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector, University of Maryland; the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the US Agency for International Development, February 3-4, 1999, Cairo, Egypt. March 1999.
"Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America: Deeper Markets and Better Schools Make a Difference," with Jere R. Behrman and Miguel Szekely, in New Markets, New Opportunities? Economic and Social Mobility in a Changing World (1999)
"The U.S. and the Social Challenge in Latin America: The New Agenda Needs New Instruments," with Nora Lustig and Lesley O'Connell, in The Search for Common Ground: U.S. National Interests and the Western Hemisphere in a New Century (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999)
"Deep Integration and Trade Agreements: Good for Developing Countries?" with Robert Z. Lawrence in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 1999)
"No Tradeoff: Efficient Growth Via More Equal Human Capital Accumulation in Latin America," in Beyond Trade-Offs: Market Reforms and Equitable Growth in Latin America (1998)
"That Silly Inequality Debate," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2002
"Education in Latin America: Demand and Distribution are Factors that Matter," with Juan Luis Londoño and Lesley O'Connell in CEPAL Review 66, December 1998
"Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World," in Foreign Policy, Summer 1998
"Public Spending on Higher Education in Developing Countries: Too Much or Too Little?" in Economics of Education Review, 1996
Inequality and inclusive growth were high on the agenda of the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank earlier this month. We are glad about that, but the under-reported story here is that this prominence marks a dramatic shift in the IMF over the last two decades in the IMF’s approach to the relevant challenges for the poorest countries, including on the issue of social safety nets and social expenditures.
Globalization is under attack in the West. The debate among pundits is no longer about whether globalization is to blame or not. It is about why globalization is now the bugaboo it has become. A common thread are changes, for the worse, in the economic and social standing of the Western middle class.
We visited the AIIB a few weeks ago, and heard more about the emerging AIIB model: What is likely to be the same—as at the five big legacy banks (the World Bank and the four regional development banks) and what is likely to be different.
Sub-Saharan African countries are at a critical juncture. With China's slowdown and the collapse in commodity prices, growth slipped to 3.4 percent in 2015, on average just over half what it has been for the past 15 years. Estimated growth for 2016 is below the population growth rate of about 2 percent, thus negative in per capita terms.
Following more than a decade of healthy growth based on good economic policy and improved governance, African economies are now growing much more slowly. Potential investment returns remain high, however, and investment, especially in infrastructure, is critical to restoring growth and ensuring its sustainability in the region with the poorest and most fragile states in the world. How can the African Development Bank (AfDB) help unlock more funds for investment on the continent — in infrastructure, where the bank has a good record, and in education, where its leadership could help trigger critical reforms? And what is the role of the AfDB relative to the other multilateral development banks (MDBs)?
Many emerging economies could benefit from insurance against this backdrop of volatility. Fortunately, cheap and no-strings-attached liquidity insurance exists, in the form of the IMF’s Flexible Credit Line (FCL) for countries with very strong policy fundamentals; for countries with somewhat weaker, but still sound fundamentals, the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL) offers a similarly good deal. But these precautionary instruments remain underutilized. We have some suggestions on how the IMF could fix this.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, the IMF undertook a series of reforms to its lending facilities to manage volatility and help prevent future crises. The reforms included the adoption of two new lending instruments: the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), introduced in 2009, and the Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL), introduced in 2011. They are meant to serve as precautionary measures—effectively, as insurance—for member states with a proven track economic record. Yet, the IMF’s precautionary instruments remain underutilized.
Since the term “data revolution” was brandished in the High-Level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, there has been a great deal of activity to define, develop, and drive an agenda that could transform the way development statistics are collected and used throughout the world. But nowhere is the need for better data more urgent than in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a decade of rapid economic growth in most countries, the accuracy of many types of basic data remains low, and improvements have been sluggish.
Country action should drive the data revolution from the bottom up, but high-level activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda can and must help catalyze progress on national statistics. This event will highlight the need for more timely, accurate, and open data in Africa, and discuss strategies to help national governments, donors, technical agencies, and the producers and users of statistics to drive a data revolution that can be led and sustained in the region.
The event will mark the launch of the Data for African Development Working Group report, Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, co-chaired by Amanda Glassman from the Center for Global Development and Alex Ezeh from the African Population Health and Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya.
In this paper we argue that neither the level nor the change in a country's trade/GDP ratio can be taken as an indication of the "openness" of a country's trade policy. In particular, we examine the ways in which terms of trade shifts have affected trade/GDP ratio over the past two decades, and find that the empirical evidence offered by the existing literature overstates the importance of trade policy in economic growth.
In May 2014, Nancy Birdsall, William Savedoff, and Frances Seymour visited Brazil as part of a three-country study to gain insights into the value of future expansion of performance-based payments in other countries. This brief is based on discussions with government officials, NGO staff, private entrepreneurs, and independent researchers in Brazil about the policies and programs that are associated with reduced deforestation and forest degradation in Brazil, with particular attention to the influence of the Brazil-Norway Agreement and the Amazon Fund.
Protecting tropical forests is good for the global climate and good for development in forested countries. In the absence of robust carbon markets, performance-based funding to reduce emissions from deforestation is a key way donors can provide the incentives and commitment tropical countries need to curtail forest loss.
Tropical forests are undervalued assets in the race to avert catastrophic climate change. They deliver a global—and very public— benefit by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon.
In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.
Traditional economic models have tried and failed to understand why some countries have managed to improve living standards while other countries have not. Using ideas from complexity theory, Owen Barder will argue that development is a property of an economic and social system, not the sum of what happens to the people within it. Drawing on the understanding of complex adaptive systems in physics and biology, Barder will address important policy implications for policymakers who want to bring about faster development in their own country, or to help other countries to make faster progress.
Based in London, Owen Barder is the director of CGD in Europe, which he established in 2011. Barder was a British civil servant from 1988 to 2010, during which time he worked in the UK Treasury, No.10 Downing Street and the Department for International Development. He was Private Secretary (Economic Affairs) to the Prime Minister and previously Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the Department for International Development he was variously Director of International Finance and Development Effectiveness, Director of Communications and Information, and head of Africa Policy Department. Barder is a director of Publish What You Fund and a member of the advisory board of Twaweza.
This event has reached capacity. Please click here to add your name to the waitlist.
Shared growth—growth that helps to build a middle class—is now widely embraced as a central economic goal for developing countries. In this new working paper CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews how macroeconomic policies shape incentives for inclusive growth, focusing on fiscal discipline; fair revenue and expenditure practices; and a business-friendly exchange rate. Relying heavily on the experience in Latin America and drawing lessons for other parts of the developing world, Birdsall argues that growth that strengthens the middle classes helps poor people, too.
In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall reviews a large body of work, primarily of economists, that shows that high levels of inequality in developing countries are likely to inhibit growth. She argues that high income inequality can discourage the evolution of the economic and political institutions associated with accountable government and can undermine the civic and social life that sustains effective collective decision-making, especially in multi-ethnic settings. Learn more
Does aid to Africa undermine the emergence of a robust African middle class? If so, what can be done about it? In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall argues that high and unpredictable aid flows could be making life harder for Africa's small and medium-sized businesses by, for example, inflating wages and making governments less reliant on domestic revenue—and hence less accountable to taxpayers. She urges that donors systematically monitor such impacts in aid-dependent countries and suggests ways that aid could help to bolster Africa's crucial but fragile middle-income groups. Learn more
The aid business has long grappled with the trade-off between showing results and supporting a country's own institution-building. Donors want to be sure that their money makes a difference, and often quickly. But close monitoring raises costs and pushing for quick results leads to projects that bypass or even undermine domestic institutions that are crucial to development. In Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid, Owen Barder, now director of Global Development Effectiveness at the United Kingdom Department for International Development, and CGD president Nancy Birdsall propose solving this problem by having donors pay for proven progress towards such agreed goals as additional children completing school and additional kilometers of roads built. How to achieve these goals would be left to the aid recipient government. They suggest this approach may be particularly useful in fragile states. Learn more
Does openness in trade and the free flow of capital promote growth for the poor? In this new working paper, CGD president Nancy Birdsall describes asymmetries in globalization and their implications for poverty reduction. She argues that poor countries lack effective social contracts, progressive tax systems, and laws and regulations that rich capitalist societies use to manage markets so that free trade and commerce more equally benefit all. These asymmetries also exist at the global level, where poor countries are especially susceptible to the risks of free trade and the vagaries of volatile capital flows.
Nancy Birdsall and Kemal Dervis propose that a "Stability and Social Investment Facility" be housed either at the IMF or the World Bank to offer emerging market economies with high debt-burdens lonas on a concessional basis. Read this CGD Working Paper to see how this Facility would be a useful step forward in promoting pro-poor growth.
While most technical assessments classify privatization as a success, it remains widely and increasingly unpopular, largely because of the perception that it is fundamentally unfair, both in conception and execution. We review the increasing (but still uneven) literature and conclude that most privatization programs appear to have worsened the distribution of assets and income, at least in the short run. This is more evident in transition economies than in Latin America, and less clear for utilities such as electricity and telecommunications, where the poor have tended to benefit from much greater access, than for banks, oil companies, and other natural resource producers.