Gates grabs Davos headlines, World Bank chief economist resigns, and another deadly attack on aid: This week in development

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. Photo by: Sikarin Thanachaiary / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

An investigation of the Red Cross reveals alarming conduct in the wake of a sexual harassment incident, the World Bank’s chief economist steps down, and Davos pushes development deals on a snowy, global stage. This week in development.

The annual gathering of global movers and shakers is in full swing in Davos, Switzerland, and global development leaders are working to elbow their way to the front and center of a World Economic Forum agenda focused on "a shared future in a fractured world." Whether the pricey trek to the world’s most exclusive networking event is worth it comes down to dealmaking, and as Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar points out, that has never been more important for an aid industry that has gone all-in on financial innovation. Davos has already paved the way for a few big announcements. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Inter-American Development Bank have teamed up with other donors and governments — and put $180 million on the table — for a new Regional Malaria Elimination Initiative targeting Central America. An initiative that headlined last year’s Davos global health announcements, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, launched its first permanent board of directors. Devex has trekked through the multiple feet of snow blanketing the Swiss ski town to catch up with some of global development’s most influential figures, including Bill Gates and new Global Fund CEO Peter Sands. We’ve also covered a new policy framework for drone regulation, the closing of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, and promise and pitfalls of AI.

World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer stepped down Wednesday, after a tumultuous back and forth with the bank’s leadership over his high-profile criticism of the institution’s Doing Business report. Romer’s tenure lasted roughly 18 months, and it was marked by sporadic hints of his frustration with the bank’s analytical rigor, internal politics, and even the quality of writing in economic reports. Romer, a perennial Nobel prize contender who surprised even himself by accepting the position in 2016, frequently took to his personal blog to clear the air around the mini-controversies that sprung up around him. Last May Romer was moved from his position managing the Development Economics Group to a role more focused on providing “thought leadership.” His comments earlier this month to the Wall St. Journal about the Doing Business report’s flawed methodology — which some took as an implication of political bias in the bank’s rankings — seems to have precipitated his departure. “I appreciated Paul’s frankness and honesty, and I know he regrets the circumstances of his departure,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in an announcement issued after Romer informed the president he was stepping down.

The Red Cross is under fire for helping a former employee who had been forced to resign for harassment get a new job with Save the Children. A ProPublica investigation found senior Red Cross official David Meltzer, now the group’s general counsel, had offered “very positive references” for the employee — Gerald Anderson, who has been placed on administrative leave — without disclosing to Save the Children that their investigation of Anderson found him in “direct violation of Red Cross policies and principles.” The Red Cross told ProPublica that, “laudatory language used in association with Mr. Anderson’s departure was inappropriate and regrettable, given the circumstances,” and it has reportedly apologized to Save the Children.

Islamic State gunmen attacked Save the Children’s office in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, killing five people — including three staff members — and wounding several others. “Save the Children condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. We are shocked and appalled at the violence, carried out against our staff in Afghanistan who are dedicated humanitarians, committed to improving the lives and wellbeing of millions of children across the country. We are doing everything we can to ensure all of our staff get the support they need in the aftermath of this devastating incident,” said President and CEO Carolyn Miles in a statement.

World Health Organization member states are negotiating new recommendations for the global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation, and intellectual property at the ongoing WHO executive board session in Geneva. The strategy, aimed at exploring ways to increase people’s access to medicines, was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2008, but has not been fully implemented, largely due to political disagreement. Many member states, including Brazil, are pushing hard to move the recommendations forward, but high-income countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan, and Switzerland are reportedly blocking their efforts. In particular, they oppose two recommendations calling on member states to support the WHO Secretariat in promoting transparency and understanding of the costs associated with research and development for health products, and a commitment to dedicate 0.1 percent of member states’ GDP to basic and applied research relevant to the needs of developing countries. In an impassioned speech Thursday morning, the representative from Brazil, visibly frustrated by a decade of inaction on the strategy, described countries’ delaying tactics as “not acceptable, and said that, “Brazil rejects any proposals to delay approval of this point of decision.”

Matthew Rycroft, a career diplomat and former United Nations ambassador, took up his post as permanent secretary of the Department for International Development on Monday. In his first remarks to DFID staff members, Rycroft lauded the institution’s mission and reputation, which the UK aid community took as a positive sign at a time when concerns about aid spending have surfaced. Some of those who welcomed Rycroft’s appointment pointed to his long experience with a variety of international emergencies — valuable skills at a time of unprecedented humanitarian need.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.