New World Bank President: From ‘Who’ and ‘How’ to ‘for What’!

With the formal process of selection of a new World Bank President kick-starting in a week’s time, it’s imperative to have a view beyond this selection, now that the dust of Jim Kim’s sudden resignation has settled down.

That the process of this selection should be transparent and inclusive goes unsaid. Further, in a statement issued earlier this month, the Bank’s Board of Directors “affirmed its commitment to an open, merit-based and transparent selection process”, except that in the past such commitments met a weak knee when faced with the dictates of United States in the appointment of the previous presidents. Though the clarion call has been given earlier also, it is high time that people beyond the borders of US are considered, particularly that from the global south, and a woman, who has been at the receiving end (both literally as well as figuratively) of Bank’s lending over the past seven decades.

However, if the new president – whether from global south or north, whether selected through an open process or not– is just to fill-in the gap and continues the existing policies and priorities of the Bank as in the previous years well, nothing changes much. In fact, a president from global south will only be used to legitimise what the Bank does!

Here’s the crux of the story known to many – as a lender, the Bank extends loans and technical assistance for economic, institutional or other policy reforms – not always for specific projects – in countries they operate. This influences the public spending of that country and, as always observed globally, paves way for greater private sector involvement and management of State-owned enterprises. In fact, privatization of public utilities has been Bank’s prime agenda since the past many decades. Continue reading

The non-Americans: A who’s who of non-US candidates for the World Bank’s top job

Who do you think would be the best non-US candidate? Participate in the poll here

While much of the media coverage since Jim Yong Kim’s resignation has fixated on who the Trump Administration will pick as its nominee for World Bank president (see here for odds of favourites – including US passport holders Indra Nooyi, David Malpass, Ray Washburne, Dame Nemat Minouche Shafik and Dina Powell), the notion that it’s time for a non-American to lead the Bank has increasingly entered the public discourse as the Bank nears its 75th birthday, with a number of op-eds calling for an end to the American monopoly of the Bank’s presidency (for examples, see here, here and here).

Let’s be frank: the odds still favour the appointment of an American nominee. But a less-than-satisfactory US nominee could put pressure on key Bank shareholders who have historically supported the US-backed candidate (namely Japan and European shareholders, with the latter supporting the US nominee in return for a European remaining at the helm of the IMF). Any member of the executive board will be able to nominate candidates from 7 Feb. The lingering question is, will non-US executive directors dare?

Civil society has long favoured an open application process; after Kim’s resignation, the World Bank’s staff also backed this demand. However, as the Board has made clear that candidates need to be nominated by executive directors, this will limit the scope of how ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ the process actually is.

In lieu of a completely open process, the nomination of a large number of qualified candidates by World Bank executive directors is the next best thing; yet, whispers from DC suggest this is unlikely, and that various members of the Board are angling for the ‘least bad’ US nominee. Continue reading

Managing the World Bank Group ‘successfully’

The Board’s Executive Directors have left their second selection criterion dangerously inadequate. 

  • “experience of managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector”

I would have thought “successfully managing” is what the world expects. Maybe that goes without saying, even if the Board’s recent history on selecting World Bank presidents from available nominees is uneven.

Let’s consider some markers for “successfully”.

Let’s see what results were achieved during the candidate’s tenure, and what can be attributed to him or her.  A lot of résumé padding involves taking credit for things others do and would have done anyway, activities done by teams of staff with external partners they know. Examples I can think of are NAFTA2 (aka USMCA/CUSMA), IDA replenishments, ‘clean’ audits. Not eligible would be Brexit, the SDGs, and the Paris Accord (a collective success for negotiations, and a collective ‘incomplete’ for early implementation).

Talent management is what managers primarily do. What is the candidate’s experience at attracting and retaining senior staff? Have non-performers been exited for cause, and have any left because they felt the candidate managed poorly, to the organization’s detriment? Continue reading

In the news

25 January

24 January

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

Setting the bar for Dr Kim’s successor

Now that the initial puzzled excitement over Jim Yong Kim’s abrupt resignation and short notice has abated, and the fun speculating over replacements has passed, the tough work of selecting a suitable successor must begin.

Civil society and journalists can gossip about why and why now, and question whether his rumored $20mn signing bonus is appropriate for a man without any skills or experience in infrastructure, investment, or private equity. Fine, but that’s not as important as finding someone excellent to head up the Bank Group starting this spring less than two years after he was given an undeserved second term. 

Governments, I hope, are looking at suitable candidates—women and men—for these challenging, anti-multilateralism times, and civil society is watching. So are World Bank Group staff.

But first things first: let’s flesh out the criteria that the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors have announced for a transparent, open, and merit-based appointment. Yes, we’ve heard that before, and as Lant Pritchett famously observed in 2017 when Dr Kim was reanointed, “this time is last time’s next time.” Will we be fooled and disappointed again? Continue reading