What is... | January 4, 2016

What is the World Bank?

What if a worldwide resource existed to help countries out of poverty? If underdeveloped economies grew faster, the entire globe might benefit. That’s the modern mission of a global institution known as the World Bank.


The World Bank – alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – was formed following a famous 1944 meeting in Bretton Woods, USA. The initial idea was to help European countries in particular with post-World War II reconstruction and development.

What does it do?
Like other banks, the World Bank provides loans – but to countries, not individuals or companies. Its first loan was to France in 1947. By the 1950s, however, the World Bank had begun funding large infrastructure projects like dams and electrical grids, roads and irrigation systems in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Since the 1980s it has broadened its remit even further and now includes “social development” targets, taking in issues around education, communications, cultural heritage, and good governance, for example.

The World Bank also provides data and research on development to individuals, organisations and institutions. Each year the World Bank publishes a World Development Report. In 2015, the theme was how development projects could benefit from learnings in behavioural science.

In 2015, two institutions – the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) – made up the World Bank, itself part of the five-institution World Bank Group.

How has it helped?
Since 2011, World Bank strategy has been self-assessed every April and October against its own 80-indicator corporate scorecard. The scorecard rates its progress in countries that have received World Bank help. For example: 63.9 million people, micro-enterprises, and small-to-medium enterprises were reached with financial services, and 54.3 million people provided with improved water access between 2013 and 2015, according to the October 2015 scorecard. African countries including Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Ghana have all benefited economically from support, according to a World Bank blog post.

But not everyone agrees
The World Bank has been criticised – just like many other international organisations, including the IMF. One group, the Bretton Woods Project, disagrees with the conditions imposed on borrower countries, arguing there is too much focus on the liberalisation of trade, investment and the financial sector. It claims that rich countries have too much say in both the World Bank and the IMF. Others argue that too much of the money funding the World Bank and its loans has been wasted.

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