The World Bank-IMF annual spring meetings just wrapped up. What were the biggest themes from this year's gathering? Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank’s spring meetings in Washington, DC wrapped up over the weekend with some of global development’s biggest names in town.

Bill Gates made an appearance in the World Bank’s atrium to discuss the future of  development finance. And a first assembly of multilateral development bank presidents gathered on stage at the International Finance Corp.’s headquarters to discuss ways to tackle the massive “infrastructure gap” facing developing countries.

Here’s a look back on the week and a recap of some of the topics at the yearly gathering:

Involuntary resettlement

The World Bank’s approach to involuntary resettlement was under the microscope early in the week as the bank’s Inspection Panel released a report calling resettlement “one of the most challenging aspects of development” and issuing practical lessons the World Bank and other development institutions should consider if they want to do resettlement better.

World Bank watchdogs and human rights advocates criticized the bank’s long history of involuntary resettlement episodes and questioned whether the institution is doing enough to avoid resettlement in the projects it supports. Devex reported on the debate and asked if development finance institutions should pursue involuntary resettlement at all.

MDB collaboration

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank President Jin Liqun and World Bank President Jim Kim signed a co-financing framework agreement, signaling the commitment of the two institutions to work together to develop projects in Asia. And during the historic gathering of MDB presidents — all of them male, as event moderator Zeinab Badawi pointed out — at the IFC on Saturday, cooperation amongst the MDBs rose up as a major theme.

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Liqun said that AIIB is willing to partner with the Asian Development Bank and other MDBs for financing in Asia, and other MDB presidents reiterated to Devex the importance of collaboration.

“We need more of us working together,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina told Devex, adding that closing the estimated $60 billion to 70 billion infrastructure gap in Africa requires collaboration between institutions that have often been portrayed as rivals.

“I hope everybody does [financing] differently so we learn from each other, but I think the cooperation is there,” Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno told Devex.

World Bank’s role in the global tax system

The release of the “Panama Papers” prior to the spring meetings made tax avoidance an unavoidable topic in the halls of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

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Speaking to reporters, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said that tax avoidance, “can have a tremendously negative effect on our mission to end poverty and boost shared prosperity” and emphasized that governments around the world want to work with the World Bank, “to track down these illicit financial flows.” Kim also reference the World Bank’s partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, known as the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative or StAR, which works to prevent money laundering and ease the return of stolen assets.

Still, international NGO Oxfam and other civil society organizations asked for more concrete proposals to address tax avoidance, and they raised questions about what the World Bank is doing to prevent possible tax evasion by its private sector clients.

Nutrition funding

On Sunday, Devex caught up with African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, who wants to see nutrition feature more prominently on the agenda of Africa’s leaders. When asked why he thinks leaders are not held accountable for poor nutrition outcomes in their countries, Adesina pointed to relative invisibility of malnutrition, child stunting, and underdevelopment.

“You see a bridge, you see a road, you see a port, but you don’t see brain cells. Therefore, it doesn’t get the kind of attention that it should,” he said.

Forced displacement

The global refugee crisis and its impact on developing and middle-income countries was another theme of the spring meetings that came to the fore on Friday. With countries in Africa and the Middle East most impacted by influxes of refugees, there is widespread recognition that the global development community needs to mobilize to prevent economic turmoil and ensure the safety and well-being of those crossing borders.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for more solidarity among the world’s leaders and for more to be done to address the root causes of conflict, while Jim Kim called for greater cooperation between development workers and humanitarian responders.

Mental health and early childhood development

The number of people suffering from depression and anxiety increased from 416 million to 615 million between 1990 and 2013 and depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion every year, according to a new World Health Organization led study. Kim, WHO Director General Margaret Chan, Canada’s Minister of Finance and others called to take mental health “out of the shadows” and made the case for new investments. According to the new WHO study, for every $1 invested in scaling up treatment for anxiety and depression, there is a $4 return.

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Kim even equated mental health advocacy to the HIV and AIDS movement of the 1980s and 1990s and said the global development community needs to recreate the efforts of AIDS advocates for mental health.

Similarly, Kim joined UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and others to make the case for investing in early childhood development, saying, “the world needs something like a Paris moment” for ECD, referencing last year’s pivotal United Nations climate change summit and agreement.

A development finance game changer?

On the last day of the spring meetings, Kim responded to a question about development finance “gamechangers” with a modest proposal: double financing for the International Development Association — the arm of the World Bank designed to help the poorest countries.

“Let’s get to $100 billion dollars for IDA and that would really change the game,” Kim said.

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About the author

  • Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.