Let's spring forward: Getting good growth on the World Bank-IMF agenda

The Development Committee meeting during the 2016 World Bank-IMF spring meetings in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Franz Mahr / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

As the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund concluded their spring meetings, growth was near the top of the agenda. And rightfully so: between China’s increasing focus on domestic demand, low global commodity prices, and tight fiscal conditions in many countries, the global community needs to think about how we accelerate growth.

But we don’t want just any kind of growth.

The World Bank and the IMF should channel momentum from the 2016 spring meetings to set the stage for good growth. The kind of growth that doesn’t accelerate climate change, increase income inequality, or pollute the water, air and land. As a believer in — and career practitioner of — private sector development at an organization working for greater global prosperity, I know good growth is possible.

The global community can’t simply grow its way to achieving the sustainable development goals. In fact, the SDGs are in many cases imperiled by a myopic growth focus. As premier policy-setting and program-implementing organizations, the World Bank and the IMF have the ability and the responsibility to lead the global discussion about how we strike the balance between needed global economic growth and the consensus aspirations of the global community as reflected in the SDGs. The 2016 spring meetings, and the weeks that follow them, are the time to have that discussion.

So how do we start the discussion and move through to implementation? Here are four steps.

1. Define what good growth means.

The Bank and the IMF should dig into this topic and produce some parameters that can be deepened by the rest of the global community. I mentioned environmental and inequality parameters for good growth. One could look at health outcomes, urbanization, or any number of other parameters that should be considered. And, of course, let’s not forget growth itself — the vitality of the global economy is central. This first step is one the bank and the IMF can manageably take on following the spring meetings.

2. Define the investments that national governments can make to drive good growth.

Crown Agents USA is working with governments around the world on issues from public financial management to health systems strengthening to food security and humanitarian response. We’re by no means alone in this work. We’re also not alone in recognizing the increasing need to invest in integrated, multi-sectoral solutions. So, while the approach needs to be tailored to each country, working from a sound, shared definition of good growth, the global community certainly has the expertise and experience to suggest constructive strategies.

3. Work with the private sector to map the investments they need to make. 

The private sector is absolutely integral to sustained, good growth and, with a shared understanding of good growth, will innovate and make decisions far better than could be centrally prescribed. The African Development Bank and others have already identified priority sectors and investment types. Again, customizing for national context will be critical in driving effective solutions.

4. Use the outputs from each of those steps to shape smart multi- and bilateral investments.

This process will yield design elements upon which smart bilateral and multilateral investments can be made. Recent initiatives from the International Finance Corporation (the Bank’s private sector arm) provide a blueprint we can work from. And by collaboratively defining the issue of good growth, and then letting national public and private sectors define and pilot needed investments, the multi and bilateral community can invest in solutions that have the benefit of national innovation, testing, and buy-in.

Given the excitement about the SDGs, the timing is right, and I’m hopeful that we can spring forward. It all starts with the first step of getting good growth on the agenda.

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About the author

  • Alene McMahon

    Alene McMahon is the president and chief executive officer of Crown Agents USA, an organization working for greater global prosperity. A private sector development practitioner, prior to joining Crown, she served for 16 years in project and corporate leadership positions at Chemonics International. Her career in international development began with Peace Corps service in Togo, and has seen her work in 17 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.