CDG’s President Emeritus Nancy Birdsall didn’t call being World Bank president the hardest job in the world for nothing.
Personal traits are important.
Now that David Malpass is rumored to be the Trump Administration’s nominee to succeed Dr Kim, the Board’s fifth criterion “effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity in the performance of the responsibilities of the position” goes without saying if you take the Board’s first four assessment criteria seriously.
Cheerleaders for financial recklessness that led to widespread adverse impact and expensive fixes without accountability need not apply. Modest in judgment in one’s profession or field of expertise, and learning from one’s mistakes, are essential.
Partisan attachments are to be avoided. That includes campaign fundraising and giving bad advice that isn’t listened to. The line between blunt, and candidly descriptive and persuasive, is a difficult one. It needs to be clear.
No pettiness or abusing of subordinates. Tone at the top matters. So does respect for expertise, experience, and perspective. Continue reading
More than a bland statement, the Board’s fourth criterion, “a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation”, is particularly important at this inflection point in global development and geopolitics.
As Gilly Wright has reminded us—again—“Since the inception of the World Bank, Europe has backed the US choice of an American to head it, while the US in return leaves Europe to pick a European to head the IMF—a tradition that now seems unnecessary and outdated. Donald Trump’s anti-multilateral stance and antagonism toward Europe will perhaps see the end to this “gentlemen’s agreement,” and it remains to be seen if the Trump administration will resist the urge to nominate a lackey in favor of a globally respected candidate, and whether a non-funding stick will be wielded.”
This defeatist view has an element of realism: as long as the Eurozone’s economy remains fragile and risky, Europe is unlikely to relinquish leadership of the IMF, which will have to play a key role in Greece, Spain and Italy by lending its credibility to a EU-crafted solution led by the European Central Bank and Germany.
Against this background, the Trumpian view of “multilateralism” means many things, from bullying NATO allies to pay up more for collective defense, to withdrawing from important international agreements like the Paris Accord and TPP, and renegotiating—with much fanfare and little practical change—important regional and bilateral trade pacts, the noisiest one being NAFTA 2, for lack of a more mellifluous acronym. Continue reading
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
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
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