Sounding off on the World Bank's Doing Business report

The World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Elvert Barnes / CC BY-SA 

The World Bank’s flagship Doing Business report has played a critical role in propping up the global financial institution’s scrutinized brand.

But how influential is the Doing Business ranking in the global fight to end poverty? And what other steps can the World Bank take to maximize progress around the world?

Our coverage last week of the Doing Business report and World Bank brand sparked a rich discussion that touched on these questions.

The Doing Business ranking system, showcasing the best and worst countries in which to do business, received praise from some of our readers, who emphasized that it motivates government officials around the globe to pursue much-needed reforms that encourage private sector investment.

“Working in a number of countries on legal and economic reform, one of the few effective ways to convince a government minister who is in denial that an area is not ok and needs to be reformed is the WB DB ranking,” Milo Stevanovich wrote. “The value-add here is that its independent — even if it is not perfect, it is still a sober, objective reading of the situation … Its one of the few credible, objective reality-checks available, and I know from experience that the rankings have sparked many reform efforts.”

Other readers expressed more skepticism. According to a reader who goes by Linus, the Doing Business report makes little sense because it subscribes to the idea that economic activity alone is an accurate measurement for development and “human progress.”

“I think we long since passed the point where such a crude measure is good enough,” Linus wrote. “It allows for such vast discrepancies in the distribution of wealth and power; inherently [prioritizes] the voices — and therefore the needs — of those with money above those who are struggling to make ends meet, at all levels of decision making; and has absolutely no way of registering questions of environmental sustainability … that the whole edifice fails the test of viability in today's crisis-laden world.”

Aleksi Aleksishvili wrote that while the Doing Business report has limitations and gaps, those shortfalls are minimal compared to the positive value it brings to the table.

“We should bear mind that it is not a full telling story but one significant component to snap shot an environment,” wrote Aleksishvili. “We have been working with many transitional and developing economies and have seen important, and sometimes crucially vital value of this ranking.”

Olga Moreva, who identified as an independent international business climate specialist, noted that the Doing Business brand is “worth the entire World Bank budget or more.”

Moreva wrote that the rankings allow even the poorest countries to implement business reforms and serve as a “wakeup call” for even the most developed countries that enact barriers for business. As far as improvements are concerned, Moreva wrote that the Doing Business Report “needs more and more contributors, more experts, more dialogue platforms, tools, technologies, etc.”

Durga Nidhi Sharma asked whether as a result of the report’s findings, “further reform support” is given “to the uprising or developing economics.”

“If not this will be another form of NAMING and SHAMING,” she said.

Miguel Camacho looked beyond the Doing Business report to suggest another way in which the bank might strengthen its threatened brand.

“While the Doing Business report is undoubtedly a critically important tool for many countries to steer and focus their policy, I believe a substantial part of the World Bank's problems would be solved if instead of so many economists they put in charge more field savvy development experts,” Camacho wrote, adding, “It would certainly help to steer away from the ideologically tainted, mathematically confusing and error prone policy recommendations that don't consult practical or political realities in the field.”

Camacho also suggested the bank tackle what he sees as its “silo mentality” by getting rid of “at [least] three layers of senior directors, vice-presidents and other many divisions” who are removed from clients and beneficiaries.

What do you think about the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s efforts to encourage private sector investments in the developing world? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, 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.