The IMF and poverty

28 January 2003 | Inside the institutions

Three years ago the IMF announced that poverty reduction would be its new priority. In an emotional address to the Governors of the Fund on 28 September 1999, outgoing Managing Director, Michel Camdessus, sounded the clarion call:

“…it is the hard, the demanding, task – it is the honor – of the IMF, even if it is not a development institution, to try continuously to help governments, to be responsive to the cries of the poor. The cries of the poor!… During the past decade, in most countries implementing IMF-supported programs, education and health care has significantly increased in real per capita terms. At the same time there have been improvements in important social indices. But the voices of the poor around the world, are telling us in no uncertain terms that this is not enough. The time has come for a new and more decisive start!”

Camdessus stated that the meetings had “resulted in a clear mandate for the Fund to integrate the objectives of poverty reduction and growth more fully into its operations.” This acknowledgement that IMF programmes had deep, potentially adverse social impacts was long overdue. Many observers welcomed it but questioned the Fund’s expertise to address and correct these impacts, let alone go beyond simplistic theories linking growth to poverty reduction.

Over three years later, a quick look at the composition of IMF staff gives an indication of how well equipped the Fund is to address the multidimensional nature of poverty. Out of more than 2,600 staff members, only one is a poverty specialist. The IMF is, however, about to hire a second one and its External Affairs Department reported that “several” people work on poverty issues in other departments.

Caroline Robb, Social Development Advisor, Africa Department

Address by Michel Camdessus to the Board of Governors of the Fund, September 28, 1999