Good Advice from Center for Global Development’s Nancy Birdsall

In a CGD “wonkcast”, Nancy Birdsall sets out some excellent criteria for the next World Bank president.

Ability to “corral” the World Bank’s resident, 25-person board onto a new agenda, including perhaps letting loose their grip on how the Bank runs, day-to-day, will be key.  This will involve personal and persuasive skills that the Bank has not seen much in evidence since Jim Wolfensohn’s departure nearly seven years ago.  Admittedly, Wolfensohn had a rocky start, and a stormy relationship with the Executive Directors at times, but once he realized that “what’s good for the Bank is good for Jim Wolfensohn, and vice versa” he moved the Bank to a new level of respect and effectiveness, with a Board that was fully behind him.

This new agenda has to have a clearer Bank role in global public goods. These include the Bank’s role in the financing vehicles for climate change, for health and education, and for the other global issues on which the Bank’s expertise, convening authority, and financial leveraging capacity are key to successful collective global action.  As Nancy says, a clear mandate and disciplined execution are sorely needed.

Her other point about the Bank’s lending to MICs like China and India is also well taken. Clearly neither country–and a few others like Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South Africa–needs the Bank’s money, and even in Indonesia, the Bank’s financing role is very modest compared to the country’s own resources. Here, again, the Bank’s credibility on advice, on helping upgrade public administration, and on dealing with the risks associated with use of country systems, needs to be improved. Her point on ‘cutting administration costs’ associated with dealing with competent middle-income borrowers is a bit off the mark, but clearly the Bank’s resources on poor and fragile countries could be increased if budgets for large, largely self-reliant countries were not so great.  That would also have the advantage of reducing Bank dependence on trust funds for donor favorites–read, Africa–where the temptation for European donors to steer where the Bank heads is great.

But any credit union has to provide its products to all its eligible members; moreover, there is much to be learned and some influence to be exercised, by working with MICs, perhaps in a more deliberate way “what’s in it for the Bank, and for the Bank’s other clients?”

Nancy Birdsall’s implicit plea for someone to manage the place is welcome, after seven years of neglect.  Her candidates, alas, are sort of ‘meh’ and both in the public and private sectors there are probably strong contenders.

Who are also Americans, like Nancy is.

Whatever her other attractions, at 66, Nancy is probably outside the age limit the Bank’s Board has implicitly set.

But, at 64, Hillary Clinton might also be, and that doesn’t stop speculation about her plans.