When President Barack Obama last week announced that he was nominating Dr. Jim Kim, an outspoken poverty advocate and physician, to take the helm of the World Bank, it was a surprise to almost everyone.
Kim is currently president at Dartmouth College but is best known as the physician co-founder, with Paul Farmer, of the renowned anti-poverty and health improvement organization Partners in Health. He was a surprise nomination because he isn’t a banker, a financial expert or a politician at sunset looking for new pastures to practice the art of compromise.
And like Paul Farmer, he is passionate, fearless and fairly uncompromising in the fight to defeat global poverty, and the diseases of poverty. This is why so many in the global health and development community are excited about his nomination to head up the World Bank — and also why Kim may become the first U.S. nominee to face a serious challenge for the post.
I happen to know of at least one job search Kim reportedly got dropped from due to his tendency to say what he thinks. Continue reading →
The World Bank is an institution created in the closing days of World War II to provide loans to poor and/or struggling countries based on the concept that a healthy global economy is good for all of us.
See, this ‘globalization’ stuff really isn’t that new. The World Bank’s approach to helping poor countries hasn’t always worked out too well or been seen as very healthy (see ‘structural adjustment‘ or economic ‘shock therapy‘ programs) but alleviating global poverty is the stated goal of the institution.
The news this week is that World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who before taking the post in 2007 was a Goldman Sachs executive (yes, they’re everywhere), is stepping down. So now the buzz is all about who will replace him. By tradition, the head of the WB is always an American.
The ongoing trend of foreign investors purchasing massive tracts of land in poor countries isn’t getting much media attention in the U.S., but one case in Uganda may change that.
Oxfam International reported a few weeks ago that the Ugandan government, on behalf of a British company and with financial support from the World Bank, had forcibly removed some 22,000 people in rural communities from their farms in order to transform the land into a massive tree farm.
The project is intended to provide Uganda with carbon credits in the global fight against climate change.
Voice of America, the New York Times and mostly British media have reported on it. The Guardian, which reported on it earlier as well, issued this new video report today. I think Oxfam’s video makes pretty much the same points and it’s half as long.
The Guardian video does mention the death of a child that took place when the mother claims her hut was being burned down by officials. It’s not clear if the death was related to the displacement or not.
The British company, New Forests Company, says it had believed the displacements of the farming communities were legal and voluntary. The firms says it is “puzzled” by the discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the official story.
The World Bank has also said it will investigate the allegations. World Bank watchdog Bill Easterly, who I recently interviewed, has started an online clock to track how much time it will take the WB to go from launching its investigation to reaching a determination. (The displacements began two years ago.)
It isn’t that tree farming is, by itself, a bad idea or has to displace locals. Here’s a story about a reforestation project in Burkina Faso that’s being done by the locals — as opposed to foreign investors.
NOTE: A Seattle organization, Landesa (formerly the Rural Development Institute) has been working for decades on improving the land rights of poor people. Read this essay by Landesa’s Zoey Chenitz on how the global land rush has effected women especially.
Oh, and the founder of Landesa, former UW law prof Roy Prosterman, has been named by Global Washington as the recipient of its inaugural Global Hero Award. Here’s an earlier post about Prosterman and his organization. He receives the award officially Nov. 1.
Though the site may look, at first glance, about as exciting as cold oatmeal, a closer look likely will make data wonks’ hearts beat faster.
It’s an incredible treasure trove of country-level information organized into further categories such as agriculture, aid effectiveness (that will cause some debate), environment, health, labor and so on. Each of these are broken down into subcategories as well.
Remember the poverty trap? Countries stuck in destitution because of weak institutions put in place by colonial overlords, or becausse of climates that foster disease, or geographies that limit access to global markets, or simply by the fact that poverty is overwhelmingly self-perpetuating. Apparently the trap can be escaped.
Zambia and Ghana are specifically celebrated in the article as having risen rapidly from “low-income” toward “middle-income” status, according to new World Bank country classifications.
Low-income means countries in which people make less than $1,005 per year (why that extra $5?). Lower middle-income countries where people make between $1,006 and $3,975 per year and upper middle-income countries are those where people make $3,976 and $12,275 annually.
So what’s the behind this rapid progress? The authors provide three key perspectives:
1. Foreign aid, public and private investments to poor countries actually work.
2. The World Bank country criteria may not be measuring poverty accurately since many of those people living in poverty live in middle-income countries.
3. Fighting poverty is becoming increasingly a matter of domestic politics, a recognition of and public intolerance for inequity.
Peterson writes that she ran into an inflatable palm tree in Washington D.C. last weekend, which apparently meant something to a group of protesters demonstrating — to little media attention — against the international trade policies promulgated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization (WTO).
In a word, globalization. Says Peterson:
Twelve years ago, the nation was captivated by the Battle in Seattle, an anti-globalisation protest so vast that it brought the city to a standstill. The 1999 protests were marked by widespread media coverage, which sparked conversations about the role of the three largest global trade governing bodies – and illuminated how violence can be leveraged by activists seeking publicity.
The arguments back then — I helped cover them and got a dose of tear gas — were based on the complaint by many organizations that multi-national corporations were exercising too much power over poor nations through unfair trade agreements.
The protests were followed by the so-called Doha talks — or, more accurately, the Doha Development Round — aimed at reducing international trade barriers and getting rid of national subsidies (e.g. for agricultural products) that many felt undermined the economies of poorer nations.
Peterson wonders, in print, if the protesters and the media just lost interest:
The discussion of Doha has been largely confined to financial media – a far cry from the public conversation once hoped for by those who took to the streets in Seattle, which they hoped would encourage the barons of international trade to put people first in their policies. And the effects of the debate being marginalised are all too evident: as the small procession continued up the street, most people continued about their daily lives, knowing that the protest, like so many in DC, would fail to create any measurable change.