World Bank presidency and the moral aspiration

[Edited version published by  Joongang Daily – April 9th,]

Dr. Kim and Ms. Ngozi

When the US president Barack Obama recently nominated Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, debate arose regarding who among the other formidable candidates was best qualified for the top job.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister and former Colombian finance minister José Antonio Ocampo are other frontline candidates. Jeffrey Sachs, with massive experience in development and poverty eradication programs would have made a decent entrant. Well, that’s life, isn’t it?

I have no doubt that Dr. Kim, a Korean-American public-health expert, can make an exceptional head of the World Bank having led World Health Organization’s global body on AIDS/HIV, an significant public health body. I also have no doubt that Ngozi, a World Bank savvy insider, can bring in her experience and development perspective which is an important ingredient to regions yearning for crucial development.

And of course, Mr. Ocampo can also inject his expertise of international finance and perhaps a fresher cog to the South-South cooperation which is getting attention in its role in the global economy.

Admittedly, debate still lingers over the candidates and their merit on proficiency in global economic development which is seemingly what the World Bank is about. The debates may continue but what matters at the end of the day is whether the new president will turn the premier institution to make sense to the people it designs to help.

The man or woman at the helm of WB might want to check whether the impact of what they do trickles down to say, a farmer, a fresh graduate or vegetable vendor somewhere in India, Africa or Chile. To them, what really is meaningful are approaches that bring intellectual, economic and to some extend political empowerment to overcome poverty and related hardships. In fact they will care less, though it matters, about who is taking over the bank’s presidency.

In most places where World Bank assistance is in dire need of local and national fundamental policies (which reward hard work and merit), is still something to crave for. And perhaps the new WB chief may need to be a little more passionate in encouraging policies that bring governments, private sector and people at the grassroots level to a participatory arena. Integration and inclusive engagement can greatly reduce hurdles that stand in people’s socio-economic freedom. In other words, a more of a “down-top approach” will be more appropriate means of empowering individuals’ industrious capabilities rather than solely depending on governments, some of which are more politically charged than development focused.

Economic freedom through empowerment of locals is beneficial as individuals are able to establish businesses, create jobs, invent products, compete for workforce, increase wages and invest proceeds in a manner they deem sustainable. They could also inject their worldview commitment in determining what it means to be a faithful office worker, clergy, teacher, farmer, politician or bus driver.

Certainly the next WB president also faces significant tasks including reforming the institution itself, the delicate question of the bank’s role in advancing good governance and accountability, and no doubt juggling the global financial politics.

Whether it will be Kim, Ngozi or Ocampo, one thing remains – raising people out of poverty is in reality a moral obligation that comes with the presidency. I am tempted to say “may the best candidate win,” but as you already guessed, it might not always be the case. Sad mhh!

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