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
The Kapuscinski Development Lecture will be delivered by Nancy Birdsall, Founding President at the Center for Global Development. The lecture is a joint initiative of the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme and the Hertie School of Governance. This is a non-CGD event and will be live-streamed.
The two economic developments that have garnered the most attention in recent years are the concentration of massive wealth in the richest one percent of the world’s population and the tremendous, growth-driven decline in extreme poverty in the developing world, especially in China. But just as important has been the emergence of large middle classes in developing countries around the planet. This phenomenon—the result of more than two decades of nearly continuous fast-paced global economic growth—has been good not only for economies but also for governance. After all, history suggests that a large and secure middle class is a solid foundation on which to build and sustain an effective, democratic state. Middle classes not only have the wherewithal to finance vital services such as roads and public education through taxes; they also demand regulations, the fair enforcement of contracts, and the rule of law more generally—public goods that create a level social and economic playing field on which all can prosper.
PovcalNet, the World Bank’s global poverty database, provides all kinds of country statistics, including mean income, the share (and number) of the population living in absolute poverty ($1.90), the poverty gap and several measures of income inequality, such as the Gini coefficient. But one thing it doesn’t provide is median income or consumption. The median is a better measure of “typical” well-being than the mean, which is always skewed to the right.
We’ve been waiting for the World Bank to add these medians to its PovcalNet database, but we got impatient and did it ourselves. By manually running a few hundred queries in PovcalNet, we now have (and can share with you) the latest median income/consumption data for 144 countries (using 2011 PPPs — more on our methods below).
Join Nancy Birdsall for a bipartisan conversation with Raj Shah and Michael Gerson on the future of US foreign assistance: what works, what doesn’t, why we should care, and what we should do to reform it.
Shah, USAID Administrator under President Obama, and Gerson, assistant to President George W. Bush for policy and strategic planning, are co-authors of “Foreign Assistance and the Revolution of Rigor” in the recently released second edition of Moneyball for Government.
In an increasingly globalized world, inequality is an issue of rising concern, especially in Latin America, home to many of the world's most unequal societies. This new book, co-published by the Center for Global Development and the Inter-American Dialogue, describes the links between recent growth trends, changing patterns of inequality, and rising cynicism and frustration with the political leadership across the region. The authors, Nancy Birdsall, Augusto de la Torre, and Rachel Menezes, present a dozen economic policy tools to make life fairer for the great majority of people--without sacrificing economic growth.
Like you, I know that there are many ways to make a difference in the world. I believe that improving the policies and practices of the rich, powerful, and influential is one of the most powerful and effective ways to support poor people in their efforts to improve their lives.
At the Center for Global Development our research feeds directly into practical policy proposals; we then work with thought leaders and decision makers to push these ideas into action. Our work is making a difference in the lives of small-holder farmers in Africa and unemployed workers in Haiti—and a CGD proposal for a new form of sanctions could help to end the violence in Syria, to name just three recent examples.
I invite you to join the CGD Society with a gift of $150 or more to help us continue to punch above our weight, pushing for policy changes that better the lives of the world's poor. By joining today with a check, wire transfer, or secure credit card transaction online, your investment in our work will be doubled thanks to a generous challenge grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Let me tell you about three ways that we will put your gift to work.
Our work on pull funding—market-like incentives for the delivery of products and services needed by poor people—paid off last month with an announcement at the G-20 Summit in Mexico that five countries and the Gates Foundation will provide $100 million for agricultural technology innovations to benefit farmers in Africa. CGD is now urging that the approach be applied to big technology challenges, such as a new form of fertilizer.
After a two-year research and policy engagement effort through our Migration as a Tool for Disaster Recovery Initiative this year the the US government added Haiti to the list of countries eligible for H-2 temporary worker visas, a move that could make available hundreds of millions of dollars to the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. This month a CGD team returned from a trip to Port-au-Prince where they met with Haitian government officials who said that they were determined to implement the program efficiently.
The CGD proposal for preemptive contract sanctions to bring pressure on the Assad regime in Syria to stop civilian killings is outside of our usual work on poverty and inequality but very much within the CGD tradition of encouraging the rich and powerful countries—in this case primarily the United States and United Kingdom—to use creative measures to create a fairer, more just and more prosperous world. Our latest effort in pushing this idea is a draft Declaration Regarding Illegitimate Contracts with the Syrian Government.
While identifying policy opportunities such as these and then pushing for them to become reality, CGD also hosts a lively calendar of events that serve as a nexus for senior officials, development practitioners, academics and experts, and others like you who are a part of the global development community. In the first half of 2012, we hosted engaging, open dialogues on the leadership selection process at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We also hosted major speeches by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on sustainable development ahead of the recent Rio+20 Summit. And we welcomed other "development heavyweights" as speakers at CGD events, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, the World Bank's Justin Lin, and the White House's Gayle Smith.
By joining the CGD Society now with a gift of $150 or moreyou will gain preferred access to upcoming CGD conferences, events, and meetings—and the opportunity to exchange ideas with CGD experts and other leading figures in international policy, business, NGO, and media circles. You will be subscribed to our weekly newsletters and blogs , where you can comment on our work on aid, financial services, trade, migration, health, climate change, and other research spheres that enhance opportunities for the world's poor. Society members are acknowledged on our website and have access to the Center's intellectual resources by receiving complimentary copies of our books and reports published throughout the year.
The support of individual donors is fundamental to our independence and future success. I hope that you will choose to invest in CGD today and take advantage of the Hewlett Foundation's commitment to match your individual investment dollar for dollar.
Center for Global Development
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We argue that survey-based median household consumption expenditure (or income) per capita be incorporated into standard development indicators, as a simple, robust, and durable indicator of typical individual material well-being in a country.
Nancy Birdsall discusses the future role of the World Bank in addressing global commons problems, using the example of climate management and financing to set out the principal-agent problem facing the global development and climate communities.
Global public goods (GPGs) provide benefits to people in both rich and poor countries. They play a crucial role in safeguarding the social, economic, and political progress of the past century. They are fundamental to managing global risks such as climate change, infectious diseases, and financial crises that can harm developing countries disproportionately; and in exploiting opportunities, such as new vaccines, that can benefit them especially. Yet very little is known about how much governments spend on GPGs that matter for developing countries.
Jubilee essays by David Roodman and Ben Leo
Working group report: Preventing Odious Obligations
This year marks the 10th anniversary of 2000 Jubilee debt relief movement, in which religious organizations, development NGOs, and policymakers pressed successfully for deeper, faster debt relief for the world's poorest countries. What did the movement achieve? What pitfalls and policy opportunities lie ahead?
CGD fellow David Roodman discusses the beginning of the Jubilee movement. On Wednesday, September 29, 2010, CGD experts were joined by key actors in the movement to assess the legacy of the Jubilee. The event featured presentations by CGD Senior Fellow David Roodman and Todd Moss. The chair of CGD'd board, Ed Scott, and Minister Counselor Lars Petter Henie of Norway provided opening remarks. The morning and afternoon panels were moderated by CGD's Lawrence MacDonald, vice president of communications and policy outreach, and Nancy Birdsall, CGD's president.
The morning panel focused primarily on the evolution of the Jubilee movement and its growing impact in the last decade. CGD fellow David Roodman explains in his essay The Arc of Jubilee that the Jubilee 2000 movement, which called for the cancellation of the foreign debts of the poorest nations, reached its zenith in the late 1990s and 2000—and then, by design, shut down. In the space of a few years, it became one of the most successful international, non-governmental movements in history.
For complete videos, visit the CGD youtube channel.Jamie Drummond on why the Jubilee movement gained support from both secular and religious institutions.Roodman concludes that nongovernmental groups have shown that they can exercise power by educating members of the public and engaging them in the policymaking process. The success of Jubilee 2000 led directly to creation of new, high-profile NGOs in the 2000’s such as DATA and the ONE Campaign (now merged). It advanced an advocacy style that exploits the power of stars such as Bono; uses media old and new with savvy; strikes a strongly centrist stance (in the U.S. context, bipartisan); and subtly melds secular and religious appeals. In particular, Jubilee progeny unlocked more than $50 billion in U.S. government funding for global health in the 2000s, mainly for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. This aid flow dwarfs the new funds generated for debt relief. See David's full speech here, view the handout, or read his full paper here.
Masood Ahmed explains the importance of the process of engaging heavily indebted poor countries in the Jubilee movement.In transition between the morning and afternoon panels Masood Ahmed, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, offered a first-hand perspective of how international financial institutions are approaching the issue of odious debt and what obstacles remain for the process of debt cancellation. Ahmed explained that in the World Bank there was always the sense that debt relief was a "crazy idea". In fact there was never any concern about where the money for debt relief would come from, but rather people within the World Bank were concerned that these efforts had short-term benefits and long-term consequences.
Speaking to these concerns, Todd Moss followed by arguing that the International Monetary Fund is partially at fault due to its proven systematic overestimates of growth for heavily indebted poor countries. Additionally, even as past debt was relieved, the sustainability of low-income countries' debt was eroded by new, even greater official lending—primarily by IFIs. Between 1989 and 2003, new nominal lending to HIPCs was twice as large as the amount of nominal debt relief provided. In the early 2000s, several donor governments, think tanks, and civil society organizations began to realize that the HIPC Initiative did not provide a lasting solution to the problem of unsustainable debt in poor countries.
Todd Moss outlines some of the crucial elements of the evolution of the Jubilee movement.However, despite sound academic support for debt relief, the reality of instituting any kind of debt cancellation policy for the heavily indebted poor countries still remains grounded in a quagmire of bureaucracy both on the scale of governments and international finance institutions. Some members of the afternoon panel raised doubts about whether there was any statistically significant evidence that debt relief was an effective tool for aid of the heavily indebted poor countries.
Clay Lowery discusses the difficulties of instituting policy changes in the face of governmental bureaucratic gridlock.The panel ultimately offered conflicting assessments of how to proceed with the future of the Jubilee movement. Panelist Seema Jayachandran posited that the status quo had to be changed in order to give poor countries better opportunities to avoid the burden of illegitimate lending. The idea of debt relief in itself can be a powerful tool in spurring economic growth for the HIPCs, but it is by no means a sweeping solution regarding the issue of odious debt.
Another approach, set forth in a recent CGD working group report, is to prevent odious debt from forming in the first place. The report, Preventing Odious Obligations: A New Tool for Protecting Citizens from Illegitimate Regimes, proposes an agreement that could declare that successor governments to a (named) illegitimate regime would not be bound by contracts that the illegitimate regime signs after the declaration. Some rogue investors might operate in defiance of the system, but this new approach would still help free successor governments from concerns about repudiating illegitimate contracts.
The gap between the richest and poorest countries -- and people -- not only persists, it is getting larger. In developing countries in particular, inequality is frequently economically destructive, interacting with underdeveloped markets and ineffective government programs to slow growth – which in turn slows progress in reducing poverty.
This CGD conference will bring together technical experts and policymakers to consider the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to measuring and understanding inequality—and the potential application of these measures in setting national and global policy targets, including within the United Nations post-2015 development goals. It is intended as a substantive, technical contribution to the ongoing debate about what measures of inequality are useful in what settings, and how to include these in national and international policy goals.
The event will include two panels: the first comprised of experts on measurement approaches and issues; and a second panel of individuals drawn from development institutions, governments, and civil society.
Most studies of privatization look at what happens to companies. Reality Check, a new volume of case studies from Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet Union, examines the impact on people. Surprise: privatization has often been a reasonably good thing, even for the poor.