WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank President Robert Zoellick on Wednesday called on economists to rethink the way they look at issues affecting developing nations and said he was overhauling the way his institution approached research.
Zoellick said development economics was often too narrowly focused and not transparent to those affected by policies that emerged from the analysis.
He said the global financial crisis and the rise of developing countries had forced a rebalancing of the world economy and raised questions about policy approaches.
“Even before the crisis there was a questioning of prevailing paradigms and a sense that development economics needed rethinking,” he said in a speech at Georgetown University. “The crisis has only made that more compelling.”
Zoellick, who is not an economist, said as a policymaker he looked to development economics even more for answers. He said success in tackling global poverty was uneven and countries were frustrated with the lack of progress.
He said the World Bank would apply its economic know-how to studying issues from food security to what drives growth to be more relevant to the developing countries it assists.
The Bank would make its research available online free of charge so that it can be accessed not only by other economists but also by “a health care worker or parent in a village”.
“We need to democratize and demystify development economics, recognizing that we do not have a monopoly on the answers,” he said. “We need to throw open the doors, recognizing that others can find and create their own solutions.”
The World Bank chief said there were lessons from the experience of emerging economics like China, where rapid economic growth has reduced poverty and created new markets.
His speech followed a week after world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama called for a new approach to development to meet goals agreed by the United Nations in 2000 to tackle global poverty, disease and hunger.
Obama said the United States would focus its development assistance more toward helping countries develop their economies. He called for results-based development — applying strategies that in practice benefit the poor.
Zoellick said experience had shown that what may work for one country does not necessarily work for others. He said development knowledge should become “multi-polar” and recognize developing countries are new poles of growth.
“I believe we need a more practical approach — one that is firmly grounded in the key knowledge gaps for development policy,” he said. “One that is geared to the needs of policymakers and practitioners — as a primary focus, not as an academic afterthought. One that throws open the doors to all those with hands-on experience.”
He identified four areas that needed more research. These included a better understanding of how economic transformations occur and why some countries are able to grow and others remain trapped in dire poverty.
Research should also help countries understand how access to economic opportunities can be broadened, including by connecting education to jobs and giving the poor access to markets and finance.
Zoellick said research should look closer at risk to do with natural disasters to health pandemics, and climate changes that are affecting food production. Lastly, more study was needed to gather evidence and data to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of development efforts, including aid, he added.