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Why the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not on track to be financed soon
Why the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not on track to be financed soon | Global Stage

Why the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not on track to be financed soon

The world faces a sustainable development crisis, and while most countries have strategies in place, they don’t have the cash to back them up. How far off track are we with the financing needed to support the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from quality education and health care to climate action and clean water?

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Are markets becoming immune to disruptive geopolitics?
Geopolitics & the economy | Global Stage

Are markets becoming immune to disruptive geopolitics?

There’s no escaping the intricate link between economics and geopolitics. Today, that link has become a crucial factor in investment decision-making, and who better to speak to that than Margaret Franklin, CEO of CFA Institute, a global organization of investment professionals? Franklin sat down with GZERO’s Tony Maciulis at a Global Stage event for the IMF-World Bank spring meetings this week.

Economists once predicted that sovereign debt would overwhelm global markets. But now, having been through the pandemic, the advent of AI, and wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, “there's almost a level of immunity,” she says, “to the dramatic nature of it until something really cataclysmic happens.”

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Why Africa's power partnership with the World Bank should attract investors
De-risking a plan to bring 300 million people electricity in Africa | Global Stage

Why Africa's power partnership with the World Bank should attract investors

There’s a word frequently used at global convenings like the World Bank Group’s Spring Meetings held this week in Washington, D.C.—multistakeholder. It refers to an approach to problem solving that involves input from a wide range of players—governments, civil society, private sector corporations and investors.

It will take a multistakeholder approach to bring an ambitious new project announced Wednesday to fruition, an initiative to provide electricity to 300 million people in Africa by 2030.

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World Bank Group President Ajay Banga listens during the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors' Meetings at the IMF and World Bank’s 2024 annual Spring Meetings in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2024.

REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

The big challenges facing the IMF and World Bank

As the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings wrap up Friday in Washington, the two crucial global lenders face a few important challenges in the year ahead. GZERO has been on the ground to bring you the big takeaways.

A tale of two recoveries. The IMF’s global economic outlook is fairly rosy as a whole. Inflation is easing in the US and Europe, and 3.2% growth of global GDP is a respectable clip – especially given recent fears of a recession. The US and Chinese economies are both growing, even if Beijing is still struggling with persistent debt and property market woes.

But the recovery has yet to reach every corner of the globe. One-third of the lowest-income countries are poorer today than in 2019, before the pandemic. And because inflation has pushed up interest rates, the costs of servicing sovereign debt have skyrocketed, an especially heavy burden for lower-income countries. Bringing financial stability to these fragile situations is a key focus for the IMF and the World Bank.

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How to tackle global challenges: The IMF & World Bank blueprint
How to tackle global challenges: The IMF & World Bank blueprint | Global Stage

How to tackle global challenges: The IMF & World Bank blueprint

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington have told a tale of two economies: In the developed world, inflation is falling, and recession looks unlikely. But many of the world’s poorest countries are struggling under tremendous debt burdens inflated by rising interest rates that threaten to undo decades of development progress. That means these key lenders of last resort have their work cut out for them.

The good news? There’s a proven model, as GZERO Senior Writer Matthew Kendrick discussed with Tony Maciulis at a Global Stage event while reporting on the meetings. Somalia, once the byword for a failed state, managed to implement massive reforms to its financial system to meet the guidelines of the IMF’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

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World Bank announces plan to bring power to 300 million in Africa
World Bank announces plan to bring power to 300 million in Africa | Global Stage

World Bank announces plan to bring power to 300 million in Africa

World Bank Group is bringing power to the people. Literally.

This week, during the bank’s annual Spring Meetings, the group announced a major new initiative to provide electricity to 300 million Africans by 2030. It is estimated that nearly 800 million people globally lack access to power, and the vast majority of them, 600 million, live on the African continent.

GZERO’s Tony Maciulis met with the World Bank’s Director of Infrastructure for West Africa Franz Drees-Gross, to discuss the project's details.

Over the next six years, the World Bank aims to connect 250 million people using $30 billion of public sector funding largely drawn from its International Development Association. The development finance institution provides low-interest loans and grants to the poorest countries. The group has also partnered with the African Development Bank, which has committed to supporting an additional 50 million people.

The connectivity will come from a combination of sources, some existing and some to be created by the project.

“It turns out that the most cost-effective way to connect those 250 million people is to connect about half of them using off-grid solutions,” Drees-Gross said. “So that means solar home systems, it means mini-grids that aren't connected to the larger national grid, and the other half of that goal will have to be connected by grid extensions and grid densifications.”

The ambitious plan comes with challenges including fortifying and modernizing existing utility companies to be able to consistently provide power and collect customer payments.

“The problem in many Sub-Saharan African countries is that utilities aren't recovering their costs,” Drees-Gross said. “They lose 30, 40, sometimes 50% of electricity due to commercial and technical losses. Since they only invoice a fraction of what they buy from the generators and then fail to collect that entire amount, that leads to a deficit.”

That inconsistent business has made the utilities less attractive to private-sector investors. World Bank hopes its support in stabilizing the power industry in the region will be an opportunity that will bring in private investment, ultimately powering the growth of more economies in Africa.

For more of our 2024 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings coverage, visit Glogal Stage.

Half the world can’t access healthcare. How can the World Bank help?
Half the world can’t access healthcare. How can the World Bank help? | Global Stage

Half the world can’t access healthcare. How can the World Bank help?

Globally, a shocking 4.5 billion people — more than half the world’s population — lack access to essential healthcare and another 2 billion have to make tough financial choices to find care. That means for the majority of people on earth when a child is sick, families can’t get medicine; when a mother gives birth, the delivery is unsafe; when people develop chronic conditions, they go untreated.

Billions of individual tragedies come together to hold back development in some of the world's most fragile countries, and that’s where the World Bank has a role to play. Monique Vledder runs the Global Health Practice at the World Bank, and she sat down with GZERO’s Tony Maciulis at a Global Stage event for the institution’s annual Spring Meetings.GZERO’s Tony Maciulis met with the World Bank’s Director of Infrastructure for West Africa Franz Drees-Gross, to discuss the project's details.

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The Bland Bombshell and the Big Banks

Is there anyone more bland, more powerful, and less recognizable than Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell? He makes money moves more than Cardi B, and yet most people wouldn’t recognize him if he were sitting on their lap in the subway.

Why do relatively obscure banker meetings matter? Fair question, and it’s precisely why our GZERO team in Washington, DC, is covering the IMF-World Bank spring meetings this week.

For Masters of Monetary Policy like Powell, being bland is a strategy, not a characteristic. They speak in a purposely arcane language that requires near Bletchley Park decoding powers because everything they say makes news that impacts markets. This, in turn, affects things like your mortgage, your investments, and your grocery bill. It also impacts global poverty, which ought to make a lot more news. So understandably, they have to be careful and neutral to avoid panics or bouts of enthusiasm and ensure their signals leave lots of room for interpretation. But don’t mistake bland for lack of consequence. In global banking, bland is the brand, but influence is the purpose.

What have you missed so far?

Powell had a major bland moment at the Wilson Center’s Washington Forum on the Canadian Economy, which coincides with the spring meetings, where he hinted he would delay dropping interest rates because US inflation is proving more stubborn than predicted. “The recent data have clearly not given us greater confidence and instead indicate that it’s likely to take longer than expected to achieve that confidence,” he said, as the finance world listened to him emphasize every SYL-la-ble.

Then, in case anyone missed it, he took out the verbal highlight pen. “We can maintain the current level of restriction for as long as needed.” Whoa. Treasury yields moved higher that very moment, and he wasn’t even done speaking. Translation for those not steeped in Bland Banker Speak: Interest rates are gonna stay higher for longer – at least until the inflation rate hits the target goal of 2%. Govern yourselves accordingly.

That news got a tiny corner of social media all ginned up, giving us the world’s first – and perhaps last – Federal Reserve Meme: Check out this AI-generated Jerome Powell hyped on rate cuts. Maybe Blands really do have more fun.

Meanwhile, Bank of Canada Gov. Tiff Macklem, who was on the same panel with Powell, hinted he might go in the other direction – and having had many conversations with him over the years, I can say that Macklem isn’t bland at all. Just last week, he held the key interest rate at 5% because inflation had centimetered up a titch, but he still suggested a rate drop was “within the realm of possibilities” as early as June.

What would that mean? For one, if Canada drops rates faster than the US Fed, the Canadian dollar would likely weaken considerably, so depending on which way you travel, things could get either a lot cheaper or more expensive.

In short, everything central bankers say makes a difference to millions of citizens, and still, most folks only pay scant attention to talk about inflation and interest rates close to home – not internalizing how much impact these decisions have on major issues like global poverty. For example, GZERO’s own Matthew Kendrick has been reporting from the spring meetings this week, covering the impact of inflation on the most vulnerable economies like Somalia and what is being done to help. You can read his surprising look at the Somali success story on debt reliefhere.

But if world bankers are all so smart, why are one in three countries worse off than in 2019? Why are so many falling back into poverty post-COVID? To find out, our Head of Content Tony Maciulis sat down with Ayhan Kose, the World Bank Group’s deputy chief economist, who told him, “When the food price goes up, the price of oil goes up. That has significant implications for these economies.” He also noted that some countries have experienced “the weakest growth rate on average since the 1990s.” What are the solutions? Watch Tony’s interview here.

News about IMF and World Bank financiers doesn’t often make the front page because it’s so complex, often depressing, and … well, kinda bland. There are other riveting events, like Donald Trump’s first criminal trial, the war in Ukraine, and Iran launching missiles at Israel to grab our attention, as they should.

But spare a moment for the folks who live in Blandlandia – those people at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings. They are participating in panels like “The Path for Taxing the Super-Rich – Towards a Progressive Global Taxation Agenda,” “Biden Pauses LNG; COP 28 Fossil Fuel Phase-Out Decision – Is World Bank Lagging on Fossil Fuels?” and even “The Polycrisis – How Unchecked Public Debt Fuels Corruption and Bad Governance.”

Beneath the bland, the story of our world unfolds. Since 1944, when both financial institutions were established, the World Bank itself has funded over 12,000 programs focused on economic development and reducing poverty. Has it worked? The record is mixed.

There have been big wins – like the reconstruction of Bosnia after the war, or working on debt relief programs, like Matt described in Somalia. But the World Bank also set a goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2023, and its leaders admit they are not even close.

Meanwhile, the IMF, whose mission is to “firefight” big, macro-economic emergencies, like a currency collapse, comes in for much harsher criticism. Its Structural Adjustment Programs – loans to low-income countries in distress – have been subjected to extensive research, often proving that they have kept people in countries like Zimbabwe or across Latin America in poverty while enriching investors. Are these Western-designed programs just a neo-liberal form of colonialism, as some suggest, or pragmatic ways to get countries onto the path of economic development? The debates are so divisive that China has moved into the space in countries that no longer trust the IMF, using its Belt and Road Initiative to invest in infrastructure and push its own influence. So, politics are driving this as well.

The IMF and World Bank may not always make things better, and there is even paranoia right now that Donald Trump, if he wins in November, might withdraw the US from the World Bank, which would devastate developing economies. Still, these two organizations are relevant and demand our attention.

At GZERO, we are committed to covering these topics and making them accessible and interesting. So please tell us what you think. If you have suggestions for things we ought to cover, or questions about events like the IMF-World Bank spring meetings, send us a note here, and we will post answers to some of your key questions next Thursday.

Thanks for your remarkable attention to all these matters, and now, let’s get at the rest of the news.

– Evan Solomon, Publisher

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