Getting ready to pick the next World Bank President

Robert Zoellick’s article in Foreign Affairs “Why We Still Need the World Bank” was intended to be a flattering account of the Bank’s achievements during his time as its president.  Correlation is not, of course, causality, but as the World Bank’s Board gets ready to select his successor from a shortlist of three nominees, it’s time to look more closely at what’s missing.

It gets back to what was not done in the last 4 1/2 years–manage the Bank. Two points about the challenges Zoellick faced (sic) deserve particular attention.

Zoellick states “The job for our leadership team was to point out the new directions, build support and partnerships, translate the overarching vision into specific actions, remain alert to opportunities to innovate, and execute, execute, execute.” and then goes on to imply that he made great improvements in the Bank’s willingness to become faster and more flexible.

Many argue that the heavy bureaucratic procedures in the institution, including the morning quizzes he conducts of his senior management team are becoming worse in the daily work of staff, and that a systemic solution is long overdue for the Bank to be competitive, cost effective, and better meet the needs of its clients.

This will take time, but until such a revamped system is in place, the Bank should be recognizing and rewarding managers who help bring practical solutions but not those whose main goal is to advance themselves, as some would argue Zoellick has been prone to do with his micromanagement of the managerial shortlisting and selection process.

For better management to become a priority for the next President of the Bank the Board needs to pay attention now to some of the rest of what was in the Development Committee paper.  In particular, they need to ask themselves whether their own procedures, including and especially their approval of each and every project, discussion and authorization of each and every comma change in the Bank’s policies, and their uninformed micromanagement of the Bank’s budget serves the institution and its clients well, or is paralyzing positive efforts and results.  Do they need to meet twice a week formally, and daily in committee meetings?

Candidates for the position, particularly from outside the development world, need to ask whether Board members are prepared to operate in a new way, holding the next President accountable for results, and backing away from pretending they are part of the Bank’s management.

1 thought on “Getting ready to pick the next World Bank President

  1. The Foreign Affairs article published in a pliable journal was meant to be a
    manifesto for Zoellick’s re-appointment for one more term.
    That Zoellick was forced to leave is a magnificent achievement.

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