The History And Functions Of The World Bank And The IMF

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have shaped the global economy since the end of World War II.

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The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are two pivotal institutions in the global financial framework. They were established in the wake of World War II to foster international economic cooperation, stabilize global financial conditions, and promote economic development and poverty reduction.

The Role Of The Bretton Woods Conference

In July 1944, during the final stages of World War II, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, for the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, commonly known as the Bretton Woods Conference. The primary goal of the meeting was to design a new international monetary and financial order that would support economic development and stability in the post-war world.

Renowned economists John Maynard Keynes from the UK and Harry Dexter White from the US played leading roles in the conference. They introduced proposals for institutions designed to ensure stability in global financial relations and facilitate economic growth.

Bretton Woods conference Washington 1945
Bretton Woods conference Washington 1945 (Photo: Associated Press)

Out of the conference came two new global institutions: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), now a part of the World Bank Group. The IMF was tasked with overseeing the international monetary system to ensure exchange rate stability and encourage member countries to eliminate exchange restrictions that hinder trade. The IBRD's primary focus was on providing financing, expertise, and coordination among other nations to aid in post-war reconstruction and development.

The Bretton Woods system, as it became known, shaped international finance and the global economy for decades to come. Its influence can still be seen in the way the IMF and the World Bank operate today.

Structure And Governance Of The World Bank And The IMF

The World Bank is made up of two institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which lends to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries, and the International Development Association (IDA), which provides interest-free loans and grants to the world's poorest nations.

The IMF, on the other hand, is a single organization. Its governance structure involves a decision-making process based on a quota system, where members' voting power corresponds to their financial contributions.

Functions Of The World Bank

The World Bank's goal is poverty reduction and the promotion of sustainable development, which it accomplishes through providing loans and technical assistance to developing countries for development projects (such as infrastructure, health, and education) that are expected to improve the economic prospects and quality of life for people in those countries.

For instance, in the fiscal year 2020, the World Bank committed nearly $59 billion in loans and grants to its member countries. The funding went into projects aimed at several development areas including:

  • Education: In Ethiopia, World Bank-funded programs have helped nearly 3 million more girls enroll in school from 2000 to 2020.
  • Health: In India, World Bank funding has assisted in reducing the prevalence of tuberculosis from 465 cases per 100,000 people in 1990 to 199 cases per 100,000 in 2019.
  • Infrastructure: In Vietnam, World Bank-supported projects have helped provide access to hygienic latrines to over 1.4 million rural people, and clean water to 500,000 more.

These are just a few examples of the type of work the World Bank funds to foster sustainable socio-economic development.

However, it's also important to note that the World Bank's function extends beyond just providing funding. It also conducts research and analysis, provides technical assistance, and helps with policy advice to its member countries. It is a source of financial and technical expertise globally and works to create a climate conducive to investment, jobs, and sustainable growth.

The World Bank logo

Functions Of The IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is primarily responsible for maintaining international financial stability and facilitating global growth. It fulfills these functions through surveillance, financial assistance, and technical assistance.

  • Surveillance: The IMF monitors the global economy and the economies of its member countries, assessing economic and financial developments and offering policy advice. In 2020, for example, the IMF assessed over 90% of its 190 member countries to maintain global economic stability.
  • Financial assistance: The IMF lends money to member countries experiencing balance-of-payments problems to help them stabilize their economies. From 2011 to 2020, it provided around $105 billion in financial assistance to countries, with Ukraine, Egypt, and Argentina being the top recipients.
  • Technical assistance: The IMF offers guidance and training to help countries improve their ability to manage their economies. In 2019, the IMF delivered over 270,000 person-days of technical assistance and training, which constituted about 30% of its operational expenditures.

Furthermore, the IMF plays a key role in addressing economic crises. For example, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF provided over $100 billion in financial assistance to 85 countries and delivered debt service relief to its 29 poorest and most vulnerable members.

By executing these functions, the IMF plays an integral role in supporting and maintaining the health of the global economy.

The International Monetary Fund logo

Impact And Influence Of The World Bank And The IMF

The World Bank and the IMF exert considerable influence on global economic policies. Their loans and grants come with conditions that often require substantial economic reforms in recipient countries. They play a crucial role in promoting financial stability, economic development, and poverty reduction.

Despite their important roles, the World Bank and the IMF face criticisms. Some argue these institutions impose neoliberal economic policies on developing countries, exacerbating income inequality. Others criticize their governance structures, which give greater voting power to wealthy countries.


The World Bank and the IMF are integral to the global economy. While they face challenges and criticism, their role in fostering global economic cooperation and stability remains indispensable.

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