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Policy Research Talks

The Policy Research Talks showcase the latest DEC research findings and their implications for Bank operations. The goal of the monthly event is to facilitate a dialogue between researchers and operational staff, so that we can challenge and contribute to the Bank's intellectual climate and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practices. The 5 cross-cutting themes are Science of Delivery; Job Creation, Competitiveness and Productivity; Risk Management and Vulnerability; Inclusion and Shared Prosperity; and International Cooperation and Global Public Goods. To register or to get more information, please e-mail



Managing Food Price Volatility
Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
Venue: MC 2-800, World Bank Main Complex
Speaker: Will Martin, Research Manager, Research Department
Discussant: Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Director, Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Food prices tend to be volatile, with relatively long periods in the doldrums punctuated by short but intense price peaks. These periods of high prices pose a serious threat to the food security of the poor, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. When the prices of staple foods surge, as they did in 2007 and 2010, the real incomes of net food buyers decline, with large numbers of net buyers of food forced into poverty as a result. But these short-run impacts may not be the complete story.

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Employment, Demographic Change, and Well-Being: Avoiding Poverty among the Elderly in Aging Populations
Monday, November 17, 2014
Speaker: John Giles, Senior Economist, Human Development and Public Services Team, Research Department
Discussant: Xiaoqing Yu, Director, Social Protection and Labor Global Practice
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

Inclusion and Shared Prosperity

A Measured Approach to Ending Poverty and Boosting Shared Prosperity: Concepts, Data, and the Twin Goals
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Speaker: Peter Lanjouw, Research Manager, Poverty and Inequality, Research Department
Discussant: Ana Revenga, Senior Director, Poverty Global Practice
: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Report


A “Wicked Problem”: Controlling Global Climate Change
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Speaker: Michael Toman, Lead Economist on Climate Change and Manager of the Energy and Environment team, Research Department
Discussant: Marianne Fay, Chief Economist for Climate Change
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)


Growth, Inequality and Social Welfare: Cross-Country Evidence
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Speaker: Aart Kraay, Senior Research Adviser, Research Department
Discussant: Marcelo Giugale, Senior Director, Macroeconomics & Fiscal Management Global Practice
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)


Five Growth Mysteries in Search of a Broader Innovation Policy
Monday, May 19, 2014
Speaker: William Maloney, Lead Economist, Macroeconomics & Growth Team, Research Department
 Gerardo Corrochano, Director, Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, Finance and Private Sector Development Network
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)


Twenty-First Century Trade Policy: Pushing the Limits of International Cooperation
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Speaker: Chad Bown, Lead Economist, Trade and International Integration Team, Research Department
Discussant: Sudhir Shetty, Director, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, East Asia and Pacific Region
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF) 


Schooling and Learning: Understanding Inequalities and What To Do About Them
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Speaker: Deon Filmer, Lead Economist, Human Development and Public Services Team, Research Department
Discussant: Jesko Hentschel, Sector Director, Human Development, South Asia Region
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF) 

Until relatively recently, data about inequalities in schooling and learning were rare. Understanding key dimensions of inequalities, for example by household conditions such as economic status; individual attributes such as gender, disability, or parent survival status; as well as factors such as the distance to the nearest school and how these interact with each other, is a first step. The next step of understanding what works to reduce these inequalities—if anything—comes soon after.

This talk will describe a database on education inequalities covering over 100 developing countries, and research building from that database that aims to understand patterns and trends across countries and over time. Beyond documenting inequalities, the talk will also address recent evidence on approaches that aim to reduce them—both in terms of reducing rich/poor gaps in school participation and completion, as well as in terms of increasing learning outcomes among the poorest.


Empowerment and Economic Opportunities: What Works
and for Whom?
February 18, 2014
Speaker: Mary Hallward-Driemeier, Lead Economist, Finance and Private Sector Development Team, Research Department
Discussant: Jeni Klugman, Director, Gender and Development
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Speaker Presentation (PDF) | Discussant Presentation (PDF) 

“Gender equality is smart economics” has been the World Bank’s mantra for years: failing to realize the full potential of half of the population is costly. But which dimensions of equality matter most? And what is the evidence—not just across countries, but also over time—of how greater gender equality translates into improved development outcomes?

A new database of key constraints to women’s and girls’ equal rights to property and restrictions on their legal capacity covering 100 countries over 50 years demonstrates the significant, but uneven, extent of progress. Analysis links legal reforms to improvements in women’s and girls’ economic opportunities, education and health outcomes, differentiating between types of reforms and across different settings. Beyond legal rights, the talk will also discuss recent findings on how business regulations, corruption, access to finance, training and networks, and political participation affect women’s economic opportunities.


Organizing for Peace and Prosperity:
 Collective Action and Development 
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Speaker: Philip Keefer, Lead Economist, Macroeconomics and Growth Team, Research Department 
Discussant: Joel Hellman, Director, Global Center on Conflict, Security and Development
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

The ability of citizens to act collectively plays a central role in the political economy of development, including the causes of violence and civil conflict, government accountability for service delivery, the credibility of government commitments to support private investment, and fiscal stability.

Focusing on one important vehicle of collective action—the political party—Philip Keefer will discuss the effects of citizen organization in areas ranging from conflict and public administration reform to political budget cycles. His research suggests that whether we are concerned about democratization, state-building, or development more broadly, citizen organization should be a central object of analysis. Moreover, it has important implications for how we think about risk in World Bank operations: where citizens have scant capacity to act collectively, government incentives to serve citizen interests through the effective implementation of projects are likely to be weak.


Patterns of Global Migration and Opportunities for Policy Makers
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Speaker: Caglar Ozden, Senior Economist, Trade and International Integration, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Shantayanan Devarajan, Chief Economist, Middle East and North Africa Region
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF) 

In 2013, the U.S. Green Card lottery—the system that allocates permanent residency to people from countries with low immigration rates to the United States—had 14 million applicants for only 55,000 slots. Recent Gallup Polls find that, in many developing countries, over 40 percent of the population would immediately migrate to OECD countries if they were offered the chance. Furthermore, conservative estimates indicate the economic gains from 5 percent of the world population migrating to higher-income areas would easily surpass the gains generated by completely eliminating existing restrictions on trade and capital flows. In light of many pressing obstacles to inequality, productivity, education, aging, and gender, why are policy makers leaving such low hanging fruits on the trees?

Caglar Ozden will present recent research that addresses these and related questions. He will highlight patterns in migration flows, as well as the various forces that shape the global movement of people based on the World Bank’s Global Bilateral Migration Database. He will showcase two recent projects examining labor market outcomes in highly disparate migrant destinations, the European Union and Malaysia, which address the job-stealing concerns by providing surprising evidence on how migrants can complement a native labor force. Finally, Ozden will review channels through which enhanced global labor mobility can address various development challenges faced by the policymakers and the World Bank.


Global Income Inequality: Current Patterns, Future Trends, and Implications for the Bank
October 15, 2013
Speaker: Branko Milanovic, Lead Economist, Poverty and Inequality Program, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Augusto Lopez-Claros, Director, Global Indicators and Analysis
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

How has global inequality evolved over the past few decades, and what are the implications of current trends for future policy? In this talk, Branko Milanovic will address two issues: (1) who are the winners and losers of globalization extending from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the financial crisis, and (2) how the crisis affected both the level of global inequality and the relative importance of differences in mean country income vs. nationally based inequalities. Can we envisage a situation where income inequality continues, by and large, to increase within nations, but, spurred by the high growth of China and India, decreases globally? Will that lead to the formation of a global middle class in conjunction with the hollowing-out of traditional middle classes in rich countries? What would be the policy implications, most notably with respect to migration and global anti-poverty policy? The talk will draw on the most recently created panel data of country/deciles covering the period 1988-2008 (and in some cases up to 2011).


Leveraging Land Policies for Equity, Growth, and Transparency
September 5, 2013
Speaker: Klaus Deininger, Lead Economist, Agriculture and Rural Development, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Zoubida Allaoua, Director, Urban and Disaster Risk Management, Sustainable Development Network
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF) 

The "rush" for land following the 2007/8 spike in food prices highlighted the key role of land institutions for equity and efficiency, structural transformation and growth, and transparent governance through global debates such as the G8’s land transparency initiative and the post-2015 MDG agenda. Such increased attention and demand provide unique opportunities for the Bank to build on long-standing analytical efforts in the sector to expand its engagement. Innovative examples to be presented include (i) gendered investment and productivity impacts of securing land rights and enhancing access to land; (ii) the scope for more equitable management of urban expansion; (iii) credit market effects of computerizing land records; and (iv) emerging evidence from work with responsible investors to design, implement, and evaluate business models that integrate small farmers into value chains and provide local benefits.

The talk will also highlight operational implications, including integration of land into country strategies and, monitoring, and support to building local research capacity and South-South experience sharing by discussing evidence from implementing Land Governance Assessment Framework.


What should we do about informal firms? Why de Soto is half-right and the IRS half-wrong
July 9, 2013
Speaker: David McKenzie, Lead Economist, Finance and Private Sector Development, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Marialisa Motta, Director, Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD), Latin America and Caribbean Region (LAC), and FPD Investment Climate Global Practice
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

The majority of microenterprises in developing countries remain informal despite more than a decade of reforms aimed at making it easier for them to formally register. What, if anything, should policy makers do about this? David McKenzie will use informal firm surveys and the results of impact evaluations conducted in Latin America, South Asia, and Africa to discuss the evidence for Hernando de Soto's view of potential entrepreneurs prevented from growing by burdensome regulations, and more recent work that emphasizes the importance of enforcement of the laws as well as their simplification. He will discuss the conditions under which governments should try to formalize firms, and new areas for operational and research work which arise from the findings of his recent research.


Taking Context Seriously: Expanding the Range of Ideas, Methods and Strategies to Enhance Development Effectiveness
June 25, 2013
Speaker: Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Junaid Kamal Ahmad, Sector Director of Sustainable Development, East and North Africa Region
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

Everyone agrees that context matters for development, but in practice we face powerful imperatives to adopt universal “best practice” solutions and to avoid deviating from initial plans during implementation. Particular evaluation protocols can also conspire against making real-time modifications. Responding effectively to complex 21st century development challenges will require a heightened willingness and ability to customize real-time solutions to dynamic local realities, the idiosyncrasies of which cannot accurately be discerned through a single discipline or method. Taking context seriously will require coherently expanding the range of ideas, methods and strategies we deploy with counterparts to nominate and prioritize problems, and to negotiate, implement, iterate and assess solutions. In this lecture, Michael Woolcock will use specific examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America to show how context shapes development effectiveness. He will also discuss recent operational research initiatives in local governance and justice reform that seek to engage with context on a daily basis, as well as the implications for research, operations and evaluation at the Bank.


Delivering Education: How the Rise of Private Schooling Changes Everything
May 16, 2013
Speaker: Jishnu Das, Senior Economist, Develoment Research Group
Discussant: Elisabeth King, Director of Education, Human Development Network
Chair: Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research

Story | Video | Presentation (PDF)

Picture this: A village of 400 households in rural Pakistan with eight public and private schools children can go to, each offering a "package" with different instructional materials, quality and costs. Vision 2050? Not really. For many, the phenomenal rise of low-cost private schools has made this a reality today. Unlike the elite schools we hear about, these private schools are two-room affairs in the home of the head-teacher, with a handful of teachers, 120 children and fees less than a dime a day. Yet they are remarkably successful: Despite more funding to public schools, parents are voting with their feet and paying out-of-pocket to enroll their children in such schools. Between 2003 and 2011, a team of researchers followed 800 schools, 1800 households, 5000 teachers, and 24,000 children in rural Pakistan. Join Jishnu Das to explore the findings from this unique study, the largest to date of such educational markets in low-income countries. Contribute to the discussion on how educational markets have the potential to change policy and make our lending more effective.           


Last updated: 2015-01-29

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