Coffee Cart Protest Stimulates Talks at World Bank HQ

In Global Advocacy by Fiona Ip

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and fellow advocates were once again serving up coffee in exchange for conversation at World Bank headquarters last month to “Raise the MIC” during the Bank’s Annual Meetings by drawing attention to its faulty middle-income country (MIC) classification.

The World Bank currently utilizes a country’s gross national income (GNI) per capita to classify its income level into one of three primary categories: High, middle (upper and lower), and low. Unfortunately, the lower end of the middle-income designation—where an individual making as little as $2.82 per day is considered “middle-income”—can mean the difference between whether or not a country will get the resources it needs to fight infectious diseases and other critical issues.

“Earlier in the week, during the World Bank Civil Society Townhall we had a chance to ask World Bank President David Malpass directly about the MIC issue,” said AHF Director of Global Policy and Communications Denys Nazarov. “While Malpass acknowledged that the ‘middle-income trap’ is real, he said with appropriate economic policies the countries can push through the rut. It seems Malpass sees no fault with the World Bank’s classification system even though it’s at the core of the problem.”

In addition to funding for HIV/AIDS that might be held back due to the classification, many MICs are also forced to pay higher prices for lifesaving medicines—up to 10 times more than their low-income counterparts pay for the same drugs.

“The MIC classification is harmful because even though it is completely arbitrary, many bilateral and multilateral aid programs continue to use it to determine which countries get aid and which do not,” added Nazarov. “The coffee is a great conversation starter and helps bring awareness to the issue. There’s simply no logical reason to continue labeling countries as middle-income when their citizens make such little money—we hope these actions will eventually help lead to change.”

This was the second time this year activists used the creative approach to engage passersby with an inviting hot beverage. The first successful “coffee cart” protest was held this past April, which coincided with the Bank’s Spring Meetings.

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