02 March 2012

Who Wants to Be the Next World Bank President?

A dark horse making a late break from way back in the field to come at least 5 wide in order to pace the lead pack reared into the race for the next World Bank president. Not only does famed economist Jeffrey Sachs want to take the spot, he took to the Washington Post to explain why.

Last week Sachs said the Bank needed a new form of leadership. In a well argued OpEd, he points out that the previous leaders have been largely political appointees from the United States. For an body aimed at ending poverty, such choices have missed the opportunity to do what is best for low and middle income nations and the 1 billion people living in poverty.

He wrote, "For too long, the Bank’s leadership has imposed US concepts that are often utterly inappropriate for the poorest countries and their poorest people." I would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with that statement. Even Bill Easterly would agree to that.

Though indirect, it is clear that he is advocating for himself as the perfect leader. He illustrates what qualities the leader should have, all of which he by chance possesses. So it came as no surprise when Sachs wrote a new OpEd about the World Bank in the Washington Post. In what Dan Soloman aptly described as a public cover letter, Sachs says
[I]n 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.


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.


My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to see what can work in practice and then to help make it happen.

I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving. I will work with industry, governments and civil society to bring broadband to clinics, schools and health workers, creating a revolution of knowledge, disease control, quality education and small businesses. I will work with agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and communities to build prosperity in impoverished and violence-ridden dry lands.
Sachs even has Michael Shank of  George Mason University writing in The Hill blog for support.
Given the World Bank’s focus on all three of these – poverty, economics and climate – and given Sachs’ wealth of experience in all three, there is no better candidate. There is a reason why Fareed Zakaria praised Sachs - who is the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute - as “one of the world's leading economists, the go-to man for guiding countries out of economic crises.”
It is hard to believe that a Sachs-led World Bank would abandon the top-down approach he criticized. If we were to imagine Sachs as head with a large budget to put to work, is there any doubt that he would fund more projects like the Millennium Villages Project (MVP)? He has made it clear that he thinks that is the appropriate solution for eradicating poverty.

Despite concerns about how effective the intervention is and the methodology of measuring impact, Sachs could press on and establish more MVPs. Critics accuse Sachs and his MVP as a traditional top-down solution. If them problem is that previous leaders have implemented top-down solutions to poverty, why would it make sense to bring in a leader who advocates for the same formula?

Further, funding the MVP may come in conflict with the Bank's progressive push toward open data. Having kept information close at hand, Sachs might have to finally lay his cards down on the table for all to see what is actually happening in the millennium villages. Researchers, like the team who write the Development Impact blog, have done an excellent job to push impact evaluations into the DNA of the World Bank.

Sachs has shown a reluctance to implementing impact evaluations based on his disagreement with MVP critics. What will he do as leader of the Bank? Will impact evaluations be sidelined for less rigorous evaluations? Or will we finally have the opportunity to empirically test Sachs's theories on combating poverty?

Aside from that, if the world wants to get serious about eradicating poverty it should not select a leader from a Western nation. This is the time to bring in new ideas, not old ones. Since I am making the suggestion I should put forward a candidate. My horse, taking the shorter route via the inside rail, is former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Yea, it won't happen and he is not perfect, but that is the kind of change that is needed. Annan has become something of a global peace-broker in his post-UN career and such relationship building would be an exciting change in the World Bank.

Who are you pulling for to lead the World Bank?