Open letter to the World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors

Appointment of the new World Bank Group President

The selection of the new World Bank president takes place amid a crisis of multilateralism reflected in the ascent of anti-establishment and nationalist parties and increased trade tensions. These arise from persistent challenges to the world economy ranging from the growing inequality crisis, the increasing importance of finance, financial markets, and financial institutions in the economy, a looming debt crisis and increased corporate capture that is resulting in the erosion of states’ sovereignty and their ability to meet their human rights obligations. These trends are exacerbated by the quickly evolving climate change crisis, which threatens the livelihoods of the poorest around the globe.

The World Bank requires a leader able and willing to critically assess the role the Bank can play in challenging the failed model that has led us here. The next president must ensure the institution leads by example and uses its privileged position to articulate the need for radical change. More than ever the World Bank requires a president who is qualified to lead what is still the world’s principal public development bank.

It is therefore imperative that the selection process results in the appointment of the best candidate, chosen from a wide-ranging pool of people with the background and experience required.

One thing is certain, at a time when the legitimacy of international institutions is increasingly under attack, reliance on the previous process, where the US and its European allies work behind closed doors to ensure the selection of a US World Bank president in exchange for the European leadership of the IMF will only further erode confidence in the multilateral system. It is of vital importance therefore that the next president has the support of the majority of low and middle-income countries, to which World Bank lending is restricted. Continue reading

The right messenger for the right messages

The World Bank’s Board established as its third criterion ”the ability to articulate a clear vision of the World Bank Group’s development mission.

It’s not a prospective candidate’s fault they have to do it: the Board’s word salad Forward Look strategy, and the IBRD/IFC capital package agreement as articulated in the Sustainable Financing for Sustainable Development Paper would challenge a Kennedy, an Obama, and even a Churchill. A PowerPoint would be so long with small-font slides that Donald Trump would go back to watching FoxNews. 

“Our Dream is a world free of poverty” was a clear message Jim Wolfensohn used to inspire the Bank and its partners. Eventually its sentiment became the headline of both the MDGs and SDGs, and the first goal of each. Freeing the world of poverty has inspired development practitioners, official development agencies, and civil society organizations. Dr Kim’s Twin Goals embraced and expanded the poverty eliminated goal. But the expanding shared prosperity lacked the clarity of meaning, and inspired little agreement on how, so that the “Twin Slogans” got little traction as a lodestar with practical actions attached. Various attempts to be practical, like “Cascade” were advanced, but haven’t won universal favor. Dr Kim’s Human Capital Index was another framing, and reflected (some) research and his own proclivities and comfort zone. Inside the Bank, there’s resentment about yet another framework for client dialogue. The Bank’s external critics have seized on it as abandoning a rights-based approach, obscuring long-standing critiques of Human Capital Theory (HCT) and its notion of ‘capitalisable humans’, seeking to shame, and ignoring income inequality within a country. Continue reading

Time’s Up for the World Bank?

Last weekend, tens of thousands of feminist demonstrators rallied in solidarity at women’s marches across the world. The annual march, which was originally a response to Trump’s election, this year comes amidst an entirely different presidential race – for the World Bank President.

Unlike the IMF, the WHO and the OECD, the World Bank has never had a woman in the top job, or a non-American for that matter. It really puts the “men” in gentlemen’s agreement. Strange that an organisation that purports to advance gender equality worldwide has yet to manage it in its own HQ.

Reports that self-proclaimed “advocate for the empowerment of women and girls” Ivanka Trump is involved in the selection process is hardly cause for feminists to pack up our banners. In fact, perhaps mobilising against this could even serve as our next rallying cause. Truly, patriarchy has no gender.

This is not Ivanka’s first collaboration with the Bank. Her Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a financial intermediary facility housed and managed by the Bank, aims to leverage private finance to increase access to finance for women entrepreneurs in small and medium sized enterprises. Continue reading

It’s good to be back

As the deadline for nominees approaches, now less than 48 hours away, how can one take stock of a flawed process to make a flawed candidate win?

The United States behaved furtively in the heat of August to push through a hasty process when many Executive Directors and senior shareholder officials were on leave. Caught out by the Staff Association and international media (the FT, the WSJ and CNNI’s Quest on Business), Treasury forged ahead with its plan to have Dr Kim reappointed before the Annual Meetings, 10 months ahead of the end of his term. Shortly after midnight the very day the three-week nomination period opened, Treasury nominated him by email.

Preempting other candidates with this show of force, Treasury then twisted a few more arms, with calls to their World Bank counterparties in various countries, including Pakistan. China, Germany, Japan and France fell in line, as did the UK’s new, green Secretary of State for DfID, with Canada acquiescing in a throwaway remark by its Finance Minister at a G20 presser.

It is no secret in Washington that Treasury Secretary Lew is no fan of Dr Kim, so despite the formal role his office plays in the nomination, all fingers point to the White House. Rewarding golfing buddies is not exactly President Obama’s style, but the fait accompli is nearly done. Continue reading

Promise-breaking at the World Bank, Part 1: Before

That 66th birthday month of his, March 2012, was auspicious for adding a little spice to his dreary life, but no, it just can’t last. Born in March 1946 alongside his evil twin, IMF, in Savannah Georgia, after conception in what must have been a rather sleazy New Hampshire hotel (the ‘Bretton Woods’) in mid-1944, the old geezer known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or much better by his nickname World Bank (but let me just use WB), really ought to be considering retirement. Continue reading

US Rep. John Conyers Urges Obama to Nominate Jeff Sachs to Lead the World Bank

President Obama has a historic opportunity to help reform the World Bank, by nominating development expert Jeffrey Sachs to be the World Bank’s next president. Sachs has said that as president he would sharpen the focus of the Bank on achieving the Millennium Development Goals for reducing poverty and extending access to health care and education. Coming from Sachs, this pledge is “change you can believe in,” because for years Sachs has a leading international advocate of efforts to achieve the world’s poverty reduction goals, currently serving as an adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Continue reading

Campaigners launch action against Larry Summers nomination

A campaign group in the US has launched an online petition demanding that President Obama NOT nominate Larry Summers. The campaign group is called UltraViolet and it “fight[s] to expand women’s rights and combat sexism everywhere – from politics and government to media and pop culture.” Here is what their action says: Continue reading