Politics of Poverty

It’s time to raise the bar for the next World Bank president

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ideas missing questions lightbulb clarity What's missing from the search for a new World Bank president? Photo: Pixabay

The best way to find the right person to tackle the injustice of poverty is to raise our collective expectations.

I’m blown away by what some people are willing to accept when considering who should be the next World Bank president.

“As long as they believe in climate change”

“We just need someone who cares about multilateralism”

“Let’s just pray they’re not a complete misogynist”

And my new favorite: “The US must choose the next president else we risk losing its support for the World Bank.”

We deserve better. After all, who gave Ivanka Trump, Steven Mnuchin, and Mick Mulvaney the power to choose behind closed doors the head of arguably the world’s most influential development organization?

The point is we shouldn’t resign ourselves to accept that the next World Bank president will be the US nominee. The next leader should be the most highly qualified person for the job. To get that, we have to demand it: In the way we talk about it and the way it is covered in the media.

So here are my questions: Where are the other potential non-American candidates? Why aren’t journalists covering them, but with a few exceptions? A process that is merit-based and open in name only will impact the credibility of the next president and could shred the legitimacy of the Bank itself.

Many are resigned to believe that even if the process is technically open, blocks will form and coalesce around a US nominee, similar to what happened in 2016. And this time the stakes might be even higher; I can already imagine this White House playing its America First tune with the Bank and other shareholders: “Promote our candidate and you’ve got our IDA19 contribution”; “I’ll lift that tariff we’ve been discussing for the past two months”; or “Do you really want to get on our bad side?”

Absent other serious candidates in the running—or being “talked about”—there will be no pressure on the US to put forward a candidate capable of navigating the World Bank through major global crises and supporting countries to meet their ambitious targets. As far as Ivanka and company are concerned, they just have to put forward a “not so terrible” candidate—and the deal is done.

We must do better and demand more from this process. So, Governments around the world—including the US—and the Board of Directors that represent them and committed themselves to a serious process in 2011, 2016 and 2019, listen up!

1. Put forward your best candidate.

Make sure they are bright, and understand what global poverty and sustainable, inclusive development look like.

Make sure they care about the World Bank’s mission and the people it should serve.

Make sure they understand the urgency of tackling climate change and the role of the Bank in helping countries meet their commitments.

Make sure they value working with all stakeholders and shareholders.

Make sure their egos don’t overpower their ability to heed advice from others who know more.

Make sure they know how to manage a large multicultural and multi-faceted organization.

Serious alternative candidates will be good for the process, good for the Bank, and good for the US’ role in the world for the long-term.

P.S. If you are not putting forward a candidate, let other shareholders know you would be willing to support the best candidate possible for the job. Interested shareholders will hesitate to nominate people if they don’t know they would have anyone else’s backing.

2. Demand a public debate among the three short-listed candidates.

In 2012, both Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and José Antonio Ocampo participated in such a debate while the winning candidate, Jim Kim, did not participate. This led to a lot of speculation that he may not have stacked up against the others if put side by side. Make sure we all understand why you made the choice you did.

3. Do your jobs as you have committed to do, and understand that despite what it may sound like, we do expect a lot of you.

Grill the candidates on every level. We expect you to do what is best for the institution but most importantly to do what is best for those communities living in poverty whose lives can be improved or worsened with the various choices your institution makes.

The official clock on the nomination period hasn’t even started yet so there is time.

Don’t waste it.

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