The World Bank is potentially far more decisive than a bank. At its best, the bank serves as a powerhouse of ideas and a meeting ground for key actors who together can solve daunting problems of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation. The World Bank should create a truly international meeting of the minds (a point underscored by the fact that its highly esteemed lead economist is from China).
I know the power of that approach. In Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, I’ve been a trusted problem-solver for heads of state and impoverished villagers. My good fortune to see the world through the eyes of others, during 30 years working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has helped me understand various regions’ challenges and the need for tailored solutions. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India.
Yet the World Bank is adrift. It is spread too thin. It has taken on too many fads. It is too disconnected from critical areas of science and knowledge. Without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank. And unfortunately, Washington has backed at the helm bankers and politicians who lack the expertise to fulfill the institution’s unique mandate.
The World Bank presidency should not be a training ground in development. Its leader should come to office understanding the realities of flooded villages, drought-ridden farms, desperate mothers hovering over comatose, malaria-infected children, and teenage girls unable to pay high school tuition. More than knowing these realities, and caring to end them, the bank president should understand their causes and interconnected solutions.
Solutions to critical problems such as hunger, AIDS, malaria and extreme deprivation remain unaddressed because of vast gaps in knowledge, experience and power among those who ultimately need to work together. I work with scientists who have powerful answers but no public voice; bankers with ample finance but no clear idea of how to deploy it; business leaders with powerful technologies but no ways to reach the poor; civil society with deep community roots but no access to capital; and politicians who lack the time or experience to forge solutions.