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 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.
Sometimes it feels like Groundhog Day. Every twelve months or so, I sit down to write about my main wishes for the forthcoming year in development, and every list for the last few years has included my desire to see the US make good on its commitment to IMF quota reform (which would be of little extra cost to the US taxpayer as the US share of IMF funds could be augmented from existing monies already set aside for global financial crises). Dear reader, you can share my past frustration here, here and here.
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
P.S. Please share your knowledge and appreciation of CGD's work with a friend, family member, or colleague by making a contribution on their behalf or inviting them to join you in becoming a member of the CGD Society today.
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.
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.
Previous IMF studies set forth the basic principle that getting energy prices right means setting taxes at a level that reflects health and environmental costs. A new, path-breaking study will be presented by Managing Director Christine Lagarde shows what this would mean in practical terms for 150 developed and developing countries across the four most widely used fossil fuels: coal, natural gas, diesel and gasoline. The new study finds that fossil fuels are widely and substantially underpriced, and that correcting these market failures in a manner that balances environmental benefits with economic costs offers large health, environmental and fiscal benefits.
Following the presentation of the key findings, CGD president Nancy Birdsall will discuss the implications of the IMF recommendations for development; World Resources Institute president Andrew Steer will describe how the new IMF study may change the international debate on policy responses to climate change. The event will conclude with questions from the floor.
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.