The World Bank has joined another competitive field – the area of information sharing. In recent news, the World Bank has opened its doors by making public information that were previously available to some 140,000 subscribers, most of which are governments and researchers who have the ability and willingness to pay. The information comes in the form of data sets giving interested individuals and groups’ access to more than 7,000 documents.
The data sets contain information about the developing world. This includes economic statistics such as gross domestic product of countries, consumer prices and inflation to more interest-specific data like breast-feeding, for example.
This sharing of information has been going on for more than a year now and has been seen as a big leap forward from the once very secretive and closed World Bank. It is sending a message that it is opening up to the rest of the world.
Created after World War II with the specific task of financing the reconstruction of war-torn Europe, the World Bank evolved into a financier of specific projects worldwide with the bulk of its money being channeled to the developing world. The idea is to foster economic growth and development. The World Bank has extended trillions of dollars in loans for projects such as building schools and hospitals, building roads and even spending on environmentally unfriendly projects like coal-fired power plants and hydroelectric dams.
However, the World Bank’s practices together with its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, have been severely criticized especially by the countries of the developing world – the very countries they are helping. Critics of the World Bank’s practices call their policy prescriptions to be one-sided and are reflective of what the elitists from Washington hands to them. Critics say the banks policies to liberalize, privatize, and deregulate the economies and industries of the developing world are nothing more than straightforward and heartless advancement of the interests of wealthy nations. Many critics believe that the policies have made the developing world worse-off with disastrous results.
But this time, the World Bank, under the leadership of Robert B. Zoellick, is trying to address an intriguing existential dilemma: Why is the World Bank here?
The World Bank opened its treasure chest of information and is now competing against the sharks in Wall streets, national governments and even regional banks. It is competing for power and influence. Regardless of the accuracy or biases in the World Bank’s data sets, no one can deny that the information one can get from this new openness of this behemoth of a financial institution can affect and define the lives of billions of people economically. The information can be used by national governments in making economic and social policies and by organizations advocating economic change.