Civil society demands the end of the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and calls for merit-based, open and transparent World Bank presidential selection process

The undersigned organisations and individuals write to demand that the World Bank use the opportunity of the resignation of President David Malpass to heed long-standing calls from global civil society and countries from the Global South and ensure the next World Bank president is selected in accordance with a merit-based, open and transparent process, underpinned by well-defined and publicly available selection criteria and civil society engagement with the candidates. The time has surely come to put an end to the archaic gentleman’s agreement, which has its origins in the times of empire and continues to damage the institution’s standing and legitimacy. 

The selection of the World Bank’s next president takes place at a time of mounting global challenges, such as the existential climate and nature crisis, rising inequality, increasing debt distress and the related increase in social and political instability. It also occurs against the backdrop of increasing threats of the fragmentation of the multilateral order. The proposed expansion of the BRICS grouping and the establishment of the New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are clear evidence of the frustration with and consequences of the continued lack of democratic legitimacy of the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the need for an urgent change in their governance. 

Discussions of the World Bank’s evolution roadmap, the G20 MDBs’ capital adequacy frameworks, alongside the Bridgetown Initiative and commitments made at COP26 to meet global goals for nature, climate and people, are signs of a recognition that the World Bank must change if it is to rise to the occasion, meet its development mandate and gain the trust of the population and states of the Global South.  

The next president must have the qualifications, experience and commitment to integrity to ensure that the Bank’s policies and approaches seriously engage with the vast academic and civil society literature that documents the need for urgent reform. The president must ensure reforms are the result of a clear, critical and evidence-based analysis of the serious flaws and shortcomings of the World Bank’s approach to date. 

As the World commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 50th anniversary of the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, we demand that the criteria for the next World Bank president include: 

  •  Minimum of 20 years of professional work experience in the field of sustainable economic and social development, including at international and country levels; 
  • A demonstrated commitment to international human rights law and standards, to ensure that  the World Bank does not work against human rights but to advance prosperity for all, including by developing a human rights policy for the institution and helping to deliver the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; 
  • A demonstrated understanding and commitment to urgently tackle climate change and ensure development supports nature, peoples and the planet;
  • Sufficient experience in development issues to lead a critical analysis of the Bank’s development approach and private sector bias to date; 
  • An understanding of and commitment to feminist principles, equitable development and the green and just transition; 
  • A commitment to ensuring that World Bank policies and programmes advance community-led development, are truly country-led and support ending poverty, reducing inequality and creating shared prosperity for all, as well as the economic transformation necessary for a global green and just transition; and 
  • A commitment to engagement with global civil society and, importantly, civil society at the country and local levels and with under-represented communities, as core to its mission. 

We also demand that the selection process be open and transparent and includes an opportunity for civil society to engage with the candidates. In that regard, we demand that: 

  • The World Bank publishes the revised and detailed selection criteria, including the minimum standards outlined above; 
  • Shareholder votes are made public; and  
  • The World Bank hosts exchanges between candidates and civil society at the upcoming Spring Meetings in Washington DC. 

The process used to select the next World Bank president will speak volumes about whether the reforms undertaken under the banner of an ‘evolution’ of the Bank will result in urgently needed change in policies and approach, and thus enable it to play a positive role in supporting an equitable, feminist, green and just transition, or will rather result in a little changed, but marginally better resourced, institution.

Sing the letter here

Letter of rejection of the US nomination of Ajay Banga, former Mastercard chief, to be World Bank president

Civil society organisations from around the world reject the nomination of Mr. Banga for World Bank president and call for an end of the gentlemen’s agreement. 

We, the undersigned organisations, are appalled that in the context of calls for a democratisation of the governance in the World Bank, and the global consensus of the need for climate and economic justice, the US government nominated Ajay Banga on Thursday 23 February, former MasterCard CEO, to become World Bank president. We reject the nomination of Mr. Banga for World Bank president.

Banga, vice-chair of US private equity group General Atlantic and former chief executive of MasterCard until the end of 2020, was nominated by Joe Biden despite his explicit lack of credentials to lead the World Bank Group towards seriously tackling the generational challenges of climate change and global inequality. A Wall Street veteran, with no demonstrated development experience, Banga lacks the credibility to lead the World Bank in its stated objective of promoting sustainable development and eradicating poverty, or in addressing economic and social rights of the most vulnerable communities, let alone climate change. Banga’s current and past affiliations include being Chairman of the Board at Exor (a Dutch investment holding company) and Director at Temasek (Singapore’s state-owned investment fund), both of which invest in fossil fuel projects. He also benefited from Trump-era tax cuts by cashing in on share sales after the tax cuts had allowed MasterCard to inflate its own share price through buybacks.

The profile of this nominee could not be further away from what the world needs in the current context of multifaceted crises and environmental emergencies. The World Bank is not a private equity firm. The nomination of yet another investment banker illustrates how deeply Wall Street financiers remain embedded in leadership, advisory, stakeholder and many other key positions across international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund.

The nomination demonstrates another dangerous step towards the Wall Street Climate Consensus, where private sector investors take the leading role in financing and governing the supposed “green transition”, while public institutions, including the World Bank, are relegated to derisking private investments in a show of “subsidised greenwashing”. In the context of a Global South debt crisis and hard-hitting austerity measures, the derisking agenda further erodes what is left of the developmental state and the prioritisation of a public budget for economic and social rights and needs.

Banga’s focus on financial markets access and instruments, particularly green bonds, for financing climate and sustainable development investments would only exacerbate the current extractive dynamic, in which scarce public financial resources are massively being diverted from education, health or social protection budgets to repay private bondholders and commercial banks. His appointment is a message from the Biden administration that the World Bank should continue channeling critical sums of public financing to private interests, as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been doing for decades.

The nomination by the US government makes clearer than ever the need for a truly merit-based, transparent and open selection process – not just on paper. The World Bank’s next leader must serve billions of people living in poverty and tackle the growing multiple climate, inequality and economic crises in a just, equitable and systemic manner. The world needs a World Bank President who prioritises public financing for public investments and public services, reverses the austerity wave, supports economic diversification and the nurture of domestic productive sectors, and promotes fair resolution to sovereign debt distress, including multilateral debt cancellation when needed. The only way to ensure this leader has the right experience and background to do so is a due selection process that puts an end once and for all to the gentlemen’s agreement between the US and Europe, and prioritises the nomination of a person who comes from the Global South and represents the interests of these countries. A process that necessarily incorporates exchanges with global civil society and sets clear selection criteria, such as a commitment to human rights law and to a feminist, green and just transition that ensures economic transformation in the Global South.

We look forward to progressive candidates from the Global South with the qualifications and lived experience to enable them to lead the World Bank during these challenging times.


Read the letter in Arabic | French | Spanish.

Add your organisation’s signature here. 

BWP’s reaction to the resignation of World Bank’s President David Malpass

World Bank President David Malpass’s surprise resignation, which will take place by 30 June, comes as the World Bank shareholders are reviewing its draft ‘Evolution Roadmap’ aimed at expanding the Bank’s lending capacity and improving its ability to respond to global challenges, including climate change, fragility and growing global health threats. The process by which the World Bank selects Malpass’s replacement will speak volumes about the degree to which discussions about a World Bank ‘evolution’ go beyond superficial reforms underpinned by additional resources – and premised on increased expansion of the Bank’s preference for private sector-led development.  Discussions about equipping the institution to better respond to global challenges and support the provision of global public goods cannot be taken seriously without an end to the gentleman’s agreement that has ensured a US monopoly on the presidency of the World Bank, with all of the Bank’s presidents to date being men.  

As global civil society and social movements have long demanded, a new president should be appointed through a merit-based, transparent process with criteria publicly available and candidates being able to present their platform. The new process should at the very least mirror the process used to select the UN General Secretary, where candidates respond publicly to questions from civil society and social movements. 

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as the World Bank works to align its activities with the Paris Agreement this year and the United Nations works towards the Summit of the Future in 2024, it is essential that any candidate for the World Bank’s presidency demonstrates a commitment to human rights. This is required to ensure that any ‘evolution’ of the World Bank enables it to fulfil its development mandate, respond to multiple crises and to support a truly green and just transition.   

World Bank President blog is back

As World Bank’s President David Malpass announces his unexpected resignation, effective by the end of the fiscal year, World Bank Prez blog is now back. We are opening this space for partners, academics and anyone interested to push once again for an end to the gentleman’s agreement, the unjust and undemocratic selection process that has characterised the leadership ‘race’ at the BWIs for decades.

We hope that the readership will enjoy a lively discussion about the characteristics required of the Bank’s new leader and ensuring the process is finally democratic and transparent.

We will continue to provide the most active forum for democratic debate about this deeply undemocratic institution, feed journalists tips for stories, inspire activists to ramp up their challenges, and embolden more officials to speak out.

World Bank president selection: ‘Gentleman’s agreement’ alive and well

After the unexpected resignation of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in January, the selection of his successor was subject to considerable scrutiny. Over 150 civil society organisations, academics and other individuals calledon the Board to live up to its commitment following Kim’s departure to an open, transparent and merit-based process. The call was echoed by the demands outlined in a January letter by the Bank’s own staff association. These demands are not new and resonate with long-standing calls to end the so-called ‘gentleman’s agreement’, which ensures that the IMF managing director is a European and the World Bank president a US national. They also reflect the calls made as far back as 2012, not by civil society activists or ‘disgruntled’ governments from the Global South, but by senior Bank staff. Former Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz and Senior Vice-Presidents François Bourguignon and Nicholas Stern argued in a 2012 Financial Times article that the process is “not only hypocritical, it also destroys the trust and spirit of collaboration needed to manage the profound problems facing the world.”

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