World Bank


Gates Foundation won’t take a stand on universal health coverage | 

A funny thing happened at the World Bank the other day.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim  gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington,  Thursday, April 10, 2014.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, Thursday, April 10, 2014.

The international financial institution devoted to fighting poverty and advancing economic growth in the poorest parts of the world held an event last week, Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

That wasn’t the funny part. What was funny (or, well, funny-strange maybe) was watching the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation work so hard to avoid taking a position on this goal of ensuring all people have access to affordable, basic health care.

As Humanosphere has noted, there’s a lot of enthusiasm around the world today for universal health coverage. Even many of the hard-pressed health and finance ministries of poor and middle-income countries are enthusiastic, largely because a number of analyses and expert studies have shown that getting everyone reliable access to basic health services contributes to long-term economic development, social stability and poverty reduction.

“There’s a consensus out there that universal health coverage is a critical development goal,” said Robert Marten, a global health policy expert for the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading

USAID hopes to boost innovation in development with new lab | 

Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Rob Baker

Innovation is the buzzword for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the launch of its new Global Development Lab. The agency held an event, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to unveil its collaboration with 32 “cornerstone partners” including US universities, major corporations, foundations and nonprofits. It comes with a roughly $1 billion annual budget, marking a significant shift in US development priorities.

The new lab puts more emphasis on discovering and spreading solutions to the biggest challenges in international development.

“With breakthroughs that reach a global scale, we can really bring an end to global poverty,” said Lona Stoll, senior adviser to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to Humanosphere. ”It gets us to development impact better, cheaper and more sustainability.”

Its creation is the realization of a recommendation included in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, carried out when Clinton was at the helm of the US State Department, to review the performance of the entire US  State Department. USAID’s head Raj Shah has talked a lot about the need to support innovation. He has made previous forays with programs such as Development Innovation Ventures.

Private-public partnerships are increasingly getting  attention for both their positive and negative potential. The lab features notable corporate partners: Cargill, Cisco, Citi, Coca-Cola, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, Syngenta, Unilever and Walmart.

The event came on the same day that an attempt by the agency to create a Twitter-like platform in Cuba to spark civil unrest, was revealed by the Associated Press. It gave cause for concerns that US development policy was not purely humanitarian. Critics the public-private partnership rush are concerned with what the lab will actually accomplish.

“This preposterous idea that corporations will solve the world’s development challenges is so out of touch [with] reality that it would be comical if it were not for its disastrous consequences,” said Anuradha Mittal, the founder and executive director of the US-based Oakland Institute thinktank, to the Guardian.

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Why are male farmers out-performing women in Africa? | 

Tanzanian farmers
Gates Foundation

The gap between men and women in some African countries is easily seen in agriculture. Male-managed farm plots consistently out-perform those of their female counterparts by as much as 66% in Niger and 25% in Malawi.

The long-held belief was that a lack of access to the necessary inputs (seed, fertilizer, labor) to make a farm successful were less available to women. That is the case to some extent, but there are more ways that women are put at a disadvantage as to their male counterparts.

“Despite the centrality of agriculture in the economies of most African nations, relatively little is known about why farms managed by women are on average less productive. This “knowledge gap” in turn translates into a “policy gap” in the steps that African governments, their development partners, business leaders and civil society can take to equalize opportunities for female and male farmers,” writes Makhtar Diop, Vice President for the Africa Region for the World Bank.

In fact, equal access to inputs does not necessarily mean that men and women will have the same levels of agricultural productivity. Doip’s comments come as a part of a joint-report on gender and agriculture led by Michael O’Sullivan from the World Bank and Arathi Rao from the ONE Campaign. A closer look at six African countries that are responsible for more than 40% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa helps to make sense what is happening.

Continue reading

New global momentum for universal health coverage | 

Editor’s note: I wrote this piece for publication in November’s edition of Al Jazeera Magazine, accessible through downloading on iTunes or other Apple (only) devices. Re-posted here for those, like me, who persist in using PC-based machines. 

Young girl in hospital, Gambia
Young girl in hospital, Gambia
Mike Urban,

The idea that every person should have access to affordable, basic health care is hardly new, but many believe there is new global momentum toward achieving this worldwide.

While U.S. politicians and pundits squabble over the relatively modest aims of Obamacare, policy makers in nearly every other country have either already adopted a system or embraced the goal of universal health coverage as a critical component of their economic, social and development strategy.

“I would say it is not just feasible, but unavoidable,” said Ariel Pablos-Méndez, a key player in this movement and assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We’re in a fundamentally different place today,” agreed Tim Evans, director of health, nutrition and population at the World Bank.

“The demand for universal health coverage is not coming from advocates or from experts just saying this is a good idea. This is being driven by citizens at the country level, a phenomenon politicians ignore at their peril.” Continue reading

Clean cookstoves can save 1 million lives a year, says World Bank | 


Global pollution is accelerating the melting of ice and snow. A new report from the World Bank and  International Cryosphere Climate Initiative says fourteen actions must be taken today to preserve the world’s ice, snow and permafrost in order to slow down climate change.

Acting now will save lives and keep the global temperature from rising. A fifty percent reduction in open field and forest burning can save 190,000 lives each year. Another 340,000 deaths can be averted by reducing the emissions from diesel vehicles.

The recommendations are not solutions to the problem of emissions, rather targeted areas where global leaders can focus their efforts and have impact. For developing countries, the situation is dire. An estimated 1.5 billion people live in the Himalayan mountain range in Asia. Rising temperatures and melting snow is contributing to problems like increased floods in some parts and drought in others.

The biggest gains can be made in the household. Getting four cleaner cooking solutions into the hands of the world’s poor could save one million lives a year, says Rachel Kyte, VP of the Sustainable Development Network, in the report’s introduction.

“The benefits would multiply because, with cleaner air, cities become more productive, child health improves, and more food can be grown,” she writes. Continue reading

One woman’s struggle to escape extreme poverty | 

DSC_0041Yala, Kenya  - The world’s leaders want to reduce extreme poverty to three percent by 2030. Mary Anyango would like to see progress now.

Getting to the overall target means halving the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by 2020 to nine percent, World Bank President Jim Kim said earlier this month.

“Our strategy calls for more investment in fragile states, and it also calls for working on a variety of fronts to combat climate change; and to improve health and education systems, especially for the benefit of girls and women,” said Kim at the Bank’s annual meeting.

But it is one thing to talk about lifting people above the $1.25 line; it is, of course, another thing to do it.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is an initiative aimed at showing how and it started in Sauri, Kenya in 2005. By providing a series of opportunities and interventions, the MVP was designed to meet some of the Millennium Development Goals and create an environment that would tackle problems like extreme poverty. Continue reading

World Bank Prez Jim Kim on how to use the market to defeat poverty | 

Dr. Jim Kim
Dr. Jim Kim

What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘World Bank’? For me, it brings to mind a bunch of a stodgy old economists holed up in office buildings, dictating to poor countries around the world how to run their finances. Indeed just last week, the bank faced protests in Washington D.C. over its support for dams and gas projects across the developing world.

And yet, to hear activist-physician Jim Kim – formerly of Partners in Health and president of Dartmouth University, and now the President of the institution – tell it, the bank is transitioning towards a smart, holistic approach to fighting poverty. Does he believe markets can do harm as well as good? Should growth be prioritized over political freedom or other development metrics? How does he deal with criticism that he’s just a doctor, not an economist? Here’s a recent critical analysis in The Economist of his tenure so far.

Humanosphere’s editor Tom Paulson, who’s known Kim for a while, chatted with him last month about all this and more. Kim notes he was once a World Bank protester. But he now seems to relish the chance to defend his own record and that of the bank.

We also discuss the headlines from this week, including Tom’s rejoinder to critics of anti-poverty advocate and economist Jeffrey Sachs and our look at a new lawsuit against the UN over cholera in Haiti. Don’t miss this.

(Clarification from Tom: Jim actually came to Seattle to speak at the Gates Foundation, but took time out to chat with us. And that guy who broke in near the end to hurry me up was my buddy John Donnelly, a great journalist who now serves as Jim’s press guy.)

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Learning from mistakes made: The Millennium Villages Project | 

Millennium Villages
Millennium Villages

Eds note: Updated with rebuttal and comments from representatives of the MVP.

The Millennium Villages Project, an ambitious project launched across Africa by economist Jeffrey Sachs, is once again drawing attention.

A somewhat critical book, The Idealist, by Vanity Fair editor Nina Munk describes Columbia University Professor Sachs’ sometimes brash style in convincing even his strongest opponents to follow his poverty alleviation prescriptions.

The MVP, as the project is known, was launched by Sachs nearly a decade ago to demonstrate that relatively inexpensive targeted interventions can achieve major benefits against disease and poverty. Since then, the project has been repeatedly criticized for lacking adequate measures and data to back up its claims of progress.

The book’s profile of Sachs is augmented by two new reports on the MVP. One explores media attention to the MVP in Africa. Another says that the mistakes made by the MVP provide lessons for future projects and illustrate the importance of transparency in development projects. Continue reading