Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How evil is the World Bank?

Confessions of a World Bank stalker, or World Bank... Mr. Burns or Mr. Grinch?, or Information about the World Bank that is a little huge-antically more interesting than Wikipedia

World Bank... Mr. Burns or Mr. Grinch? (Source: Fox)
Last blog, I talked about how I am friends with the World Bank. Okay, to clarify, I am Facebook "friends" with the World Bank. While the World Bank will probably never reach Gangnam Style status, it does have almost 300 thousand likes.

I actually am friends with World Bank India which only has a little over two thousand likes. Nonetheless, I was still surprised when they replied back to a comment I made:

Further exploration worthy (World Bank India)

Wow, I'm worthy of "further exploration" and "exciting"! And I really am the World Bank's friend.

Now technically, I'm not a "friend." I'm just someone who "likes" the World Bank. And that's weird because--I wonder--is it OK to "like" the World Bank?

The World Bank employs about nine thousand people, so they must like themselves, but it seems like many do not, especially drum circle "occupy" types. What's so wrong about the World Bank? Well, Dr. Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics and Political Science highlights a few evils.
  1. Forcing a neoliberal economic policy on developing nations
  2. Such a strategy did not stimulate growth in developing countries, in fact growth was cut in half in the 1980s
  3. Past World Bank strategy reform was just the old strategy with new labels
  4. The objective of the World Bank is not to reduce poverty, but (1) to circulate corporate "overaccumulation" to poor countries at high returns, effectively shifting wealth to first world banks and (2) to create new markets for corporations by opening restricted economies and subsidizing Western products
  5. Wall Street has profited more from World Bank activities than developing countries have
Hickel understands that much of this is not a secret and that the newly appointed World Bank president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, knows it. In fact, Kim has written a whole book on how such international restructuring programs systematically end up killing the poor. Though Hickel is pessimistic about Kim's appointment bringing revolutionary change, many agree that Kim is the right choice for change in the World Bank.

It does seem that Kim has immediately taken strides to step up to bat.

The World Bank has learned some from past mistakes. Last week, retired World Bank senior manager, Thomas Blinkhorn, admitted that the World Bank's Narmada River project in India in 1989 was a failure.
“It was a failure, but we learned a lot. It was a watershed in the history of the evolution of the World Bank. Until this point, not enough attention was paid to the implications of infrastructure projects.” (Dartmouth, 2013)
At his lecture at Dartmouth last week, Blinkhorn highlighted the bank's transformation since 1944 and since Dr. Jim Yong Kim took charge:
  • From focusing on financing infrastructure to refining institutional systems
  • From confidential analyses to free public information online
  • From US holding about 60% of power (1944) to currently approximately 16% of voting power
  • From economic and military background leadership to development and public health background leadership
What does Dr. Jim Yong Kim have to say?

Last month, World Bank president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, highlighted areas as "critical" for the World Bank management, saying, "[W]e are moving into a new and more complex period and that further changes are required to meet the challenges ahead...." Kim detailed five key areas:
  1. Strategic focus: "To implement our common vision of eliminating poverty and building shared prosperity, we must move towards a clear, unified strategy, focused on results."
  2. Accessible information: "We are working at putting in place those structures and systems that will make knowledge available and accessible to our staff, our clients and the global development community."
  3. Improve leadership: "The World Bank Group should be the employer of choice in the development area."
  4. Focus on results: "We should be focusing not so much on the process, but rather on the results for our clients."
  5. Mobilize resources: "Our budgetary processes must be aligned with our strategy. Our financial products must continue to evolve to match the demand from our clients. Our IDA replenishment processes must offer a larger number of options to our contributors in order to continue leveraging funding for development, in these times of fiscal constraint."
Although the World Bank may make for somewhat of an "evil" friend, it is one I believe that is trying to become less sinister. Though let's hope it becomes more like the transformed Mr. Grinch and less like unabashed financial whore, Mr. Burns.

World Bank... Mr. Burns or Mr. Grinch?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Is poverty funny?

Maybe, sort of. Sorry, did you say something?

When I told someone that I study environmental science, he asked me, "Aren't you perpetually depressed? Because it's like bad news everyday for you."

I thought about it. Contaminated water, energy crisis, malnutrition and the looming uncertainty of climate change day in and day out. Hey, I thought we're supposed to be the tree hugging, nature walking, panda snuggling granola people and now we're like those sandwich board guys on the street corner, bellowing at people that they better eat organic or we're all gonna die!

We might, right? Nah, joking. Right?

So I wanted to turn the tables and wondered how to make all of this more positive, even funny. What? Make world crisis and poverty funny?

Can poverty be funny? (Source: Lucas Jans)
Well, for us masochistic environment development types who enjoy this stuff, we readily plow through mono-drone podcasts on NPR and the Economist, and yes, I do admit I have friended the World Bank, UNEP and Washington Week on Facebook. Hmm, that didn't seem so sad until just right now saying it.