09th Mar 2012

Who will head the World Bank?

By the end of this month, countries are expected to have nominated their candidates for the top job at the World Bank. And due to certain developments on the international political scene, competition for the job might turn out be a little bit stiffer than it has been in the past. There have been reports in the press that a bloc of strong developing countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), want the Obama administration seriously to consider a non-American candidate in the upcoming search for a new World Bank president.

The institution’s top job has been filled exclusively by Americans throughout its 68 year history. The current president, Robert Zoellick, who was appointed by the Bush administration in 2007, announced three weeks ago he will step down when his 5 year term ends this June. Bloomberg reported last month that the Obama administration initially discussed Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, and economist Lawrence Summers as possible candidates for the job. More recent reports have suggested the current front-runners include Senator John Kerry, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

If either of the latter two get the job it will be the first time in history a woman has held it, and many commentators think Susan Rice is in with a serious chance. BRICS may be planning to nominate a non-American candidate in the next three weeks – although the likelihood of Obama appointing an outsider to run the World Bank in an election year is slim.

Whoever takes the job in June will effectively become CEO of Global Financial Aid Inc, which will require the individual in question to juggle US political and corporate interests, the needs of many of the world’s poorest countries, and the future demands of the increasingly assertive BRICS, all at a time when the global financial situation in general is anything but stable.

But one thing is certain. The next president of the World Bank, will want to put his or her individual stamp on the institution and assume a stance of forward-thinking authority from which to arbitrate between the stakeholders’ diverse claims. They will want to orient themselves by setting out a vision of the World Bank’s current priorities and plans for the near future. They will need to quickly set up a strong and ambitious team, and they will need to be making brisk strides toward their goals during their first 100 days in office. In short, they will need to hit the ground running – accelerating performance from day 1 could prove the difference between success and failure.

Hilda Goold

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