On a normal office day, one may find Andrew Berg drafting either a note to Malawi donors about what would happen if they didn’t increase aid or a short memo to the International Monetary Fund’s executive board on the list of countries hit hardest by surging food and fuel prices.
Berg, head of the Regional Studies Division at the fund’s African department, leads IMF missions to monitor macroeconomic and financial developments as well as provide policy advice to the Malawian government.
“I go to Malawi every few months for a couple of weeks with a team of four economists from Washington and two who live in Malawi,” said Berg, who meets with senior policymakers from the African country’s Central Bank and Ministry of Finance as well as other stakeholders such as parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations and donors during country surveillance missions.
He noted that IMF focuses on both the qualitative and quantitative interplay of macroeconomic variables including fiscal and monetary policy, exchange rates, economic growth, inflation and trade balance to foster development in beneficiary countries.
“We at the IMF tend to focus on development as growth in per capita income, which should be and usually—but not always— accompanied by improvements in a wide range of aspects of well-being, as measured by the Millennium Development Goals,” Berg stressed.
Although getting macroeconomic fundamentals in order represent only one facet of development, such a move has been instrumental in posting economic gains as manifested by Africa’s remarkable turnaround in overall growth since the mid-1990s, the IMF regional chief shared.
Berg noted: “In many cases, with the help of the IMF, (African countries) began to control their inflation rates, avoid excessive borrowing, and other things that helped set the stage for a take off.”
To encourage policy changes in partner nations, Berg takes on longer-term projects such as creating practical monetary policy models for African officials that veer away from aggregates and directly examine interest rates. Recently, he helped conduct an IMF research on the implications of high level aid inflows on interest rates and inflation among other macroeconomic fundamentals.
However, given limited time frames and bureaucratic processes within governments and aid communities, Berg shared that, “it is possible to put too much emphasis on internal processes and maybe even begin to lose sight of the objectives of giving good policy advice and helping countries financially to deal with their problems.”
Berg worked at the fund’s Policy Development and Review Department for three years before landing his current position.
“I’ve also spent some time in the US Treasury working on Mexico and the Asia crisis, and a long time ago I worked for Jeffrey Sachs in Poland,” he said.
He holds an undergraduate degree in applied math from Harvard and a doctorate in international economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the future, Berg hopes to continue performing a mix of research and country operations.
“But I find myself increasingly interested in stepping back,” he said, “and helping to develop the tools and analytic frameworks that our country teams, or policymakers in the countries themselves, can put to use.”