It is with a sense of privilege and humility that I present myself before you today as a candidate for the position of President of the World Bank Group. And I thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with you, in broad terms, my vision for the World Bank Group.
Several lessons inform the thoughts that I will be sharing with you. My vision for the World Bank Group and my passion for development draw on my experiences dating back to my childhood years. I have been through tough times as a girl growing up in Nigeria. I have lived poverty. I know what it means to fetch water from the village stream two miles from my home, to hunt for firewood, and to weed the farm with my grandmother under the hot sun. I have experienced the risks and challenges of living through conflict and its aftermath during the Nigeria civil war. My life has continued to remain deeply-rooted in my country, Nigeria, a country where mothers still die in unacceptably large numbers in childbirth, and where many born children do not get past the age of five.
My vision has also been informed by my two and a half decade experience at the World Bank working on development issues, and my four years spent as Finance and Foreign Minister of Nigeria. The experience at the World Bank has taken me beyond poverty issues in Africa to other regions. I have worked worldwide on policy issues affecting developing countries, specifically on the Middle East and North Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. In the process, I have gained experience on what needs to be done, what are the best practices, what works and what doesn’t. I have seen how to get results on the ground whether in managing finances prudently for a stable macro-economy or in delivery of better health services, in trying to modernize agriculture and create jobs, as well as garnering resources to finance infrastructure. Together, these experiences have given me a taste of the life and the extra-ordinary challenges faced by millions of poor people around the world, as well as their hopes and aspirations.
My experience notwithstanding, I believe in listening and learning because no one has all the answers to the complex development problems we face today. I have a keen listening ear. I have listened to different countries to distill what their aspirations are. I have listened carefully to leaders in emerging markets and their aspirations. And I have tuned in to the developed countries, with their strong desire to tackle issues of poverty. I have listened to you all, I have learnt from you, and I have gleaned from these valuable insights that feed into, broaden and enrich my vision for taking the World Bank to higher levels. In articulating my vision, I also seek to build on the many strengths of the Bank whilst addressing its weaknesses.
I will outline my vision in three parts:
Delivering on the Bank’s mission
Dealing with the Bank’s clients and donor countries
Building a Bank for the 21st century
Delivering on the Bank’s mission
Let me state emphatically that I fully subscribe to the mission of the World Bank of fighting poverty with passion and professionalism. It is a timeless and inspiring mission. But what does it mean to actualize this vision today? I think it requires that we focus very tightly on a number of priority areas: job creation, infrastructure investments, building institutions, social sector spending, fragile states, gender and global public goods.
Job creation: My vision of the World Bank is that of an institution that focuses on job creation as a central platform for its efforts in fighting poverty and improving living standards. There is not a single poor person I have met who does not want the dignity of a job, to be able to feed, clothe, educate and bring up his or her family. But unemployment remains the central, perhaps most challenging problem of our time, in both developing and developed countries. Today, the unemployment rate in the Eurozone is about 10.8 percent, in Spain about 23.6 percent, in South Africa about 24.4 percent, in India at about 9.9 percent. In my own country, Nigeria, the unemployment rate is about 23.9 percent. The problem becomes even more glaring, when we focus on youths, where high unemployment and underemployment prevents the reaping of demographic dividends, posing immense risks to social and political stability in many countries. I will certainly support the development of key sectors that help create jobs. For example, there is plenty of scope to do agriculture differently focusing on value chains. In addition, we could harness the potential in the housing and construction sector. As President of the World Bank, I will view this as one of the key areas where the Bank must be more aggressive in assisting client countries. Realizing this goal of job creation requires that we focus on removing structural impediments in various countries. The specific impediments may differ from country to country but there are some common issues. In Developing Countries, infrastructure appears to constitute the biggest obstacle, and this leads me to my next area of focus.
Infrastructure investments: The World Bank Group is doing a lot to support infrastructure development in client countries. But it must do more, and at a faster pace. It must deploy greater effort and creativity to address the large infrastructure financing gap. In Africa, for example, an estimated $120 billion per annum is needed, and even after you factor in available resources, a funding gap of $50 billion still remains – with the largest gap in the power sector. In India, $1 trillion is needed for infrastructure investment over the next five years as India struggles to create 8-10 million jobs a year. In this regard, the Bank can make a huge difference by using its instruments more aggressively to mobilize finance, whilst safeguarding its financial health. In Africa, a pool of resources in the form of large pension funds lie waiting to be tapped, in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Yet, Africa struggles to find resources for infrastructure investments. The key question is: what can the World Bank Group do to help tap into and utilize these resources? Although progress has been made in relaxing the use of guarantees for IDA and IBRD, I believe that more could be achieved by leveraging resources from the private sector through the use of such instruments.
Building institutions: The World Bank must also complement its financial assistance support to developing countries with technical assistance services to help build strong institutions in these countries. Institutions of governance, systems and processes for dealing with finance, procurement, etc are paramount. As an example, developing mortgage finance systems in many countries has hitherto been paralyzed by issues of land tenure, land rights and land registration. We must explore ways of addressing these.
Building institutions is arduous, and requires patience and persistence. There is no organization better suited to this difficult long-term task than the World Bank Group. Institutional reforms have been dear to my heart, both in Nigeria and elsewhere, and nowhere more so than in fighting corruption. In Nigeria, I have promoted and implemented transparency of the budget and of public finances by publishing monthly revenues of all tiers of government. These publications have been instrumental in making leaders at the local, state and national levels more accountable. I have fought corruption at the ports, and worked to strengthen institutions of governance.
Social sector spending: The Bank is also well-placed to address human capital development issues. But I think we need to re-think the existing approach to investing in the health and education sectors. In the health sector, investments should prioritize strengthening of national health systems as a way of sustainably managing disease prevention and control. Similarly, in the education sector, the Bank needs to place more emphasis on improving marketable skills in developing countries. Many developing countries today have a severe shortage of skilled artisans, engineers and entrepreneurs – the type of skilled professionals who are important for job creation.
Gender: The Bank has made immense intellectual cont
ributions on gender issues and is a leader on economic empowerment of girls and women. The publication of its flagship report, The 2012 World Development Report on Gender, took these issues several steps forward. Personally, I have set a track record in working on gender issues. I will make sure the Bank works more forcefully in integrating and mainstreaming gender into its approach. In addition, the Bank must work with governments to spell out exactly how they will strengthen empowerment of girls and women within their policies, programmes and projects.
Fragile States: The World Bank has prepared a ground-breaking World Development Report on Fragile and Conflict-affected States, which has set out ways of helping these countries transition out of conflict into sustainable development mode. This provides a solid basis for designing appropriate assistance strategies. Consistent with the main theme of my vision, the optics with which I would look at fragile states would be the creation of jobs and restoration of basic social services as a means of reducing social tensions and tackling poverty. I am pleased that the seminal work on LICUS (Low Income Countries Under Stress) carried out by Paul Collier and I has provided an enduring basis for the Bank Group’s work on fragile states.
Global Public Goods: Finally, I see the Bank as a leader in addressing global public goods and issues relating to the global commons such as climate change, cross-border health challenges, green growth and environmental pollution. Developing countries lack knowledge, expertise, skills and financing in these areas, and capacity building support coupled with knowledge transfer and finance will be required. In addition, there is also the need to build trust between developed and developing countries particularly on climate change and green growth issues.
2. Dealing with the Bank’s clients and donor countries
Let me state categorically that the World Bank has many strengths. One of these strengths is its “collaborative”, which is encapsulated in the Board that sets the policy direction for the Bank. It has worked for the good of the Bank for many years, and we have to build on it. This “collaborative” of partners on the Board, from both Developed and Developing Countries, has worked very much to the advantage of the poorest people in the world.
I seize this opportunity to thank the donors around the table who have been very generous, helpful and understanding even in tough times. I see at least two ways of husbanding this generosity. First, we need to use aid resources in leveraging greater investment and trade flows that create jobs. Second, we need to provide support to states in delivering effective services. As World Bank President, I will work very hard to ensure that this partnership is strengthened. The World Bank Group, under the Presidency of Bob Zoellick, overcame a very tough period in its history and came out strong and better. This manifested in the World Bank’s excellent handling of the recent food, fuel and financial crises. You have my assurance that I will strive even harder to ensure that the Bank continues to perform more strongly in the future.
Today, the Bank Group is no longer the type of organization that dictates to countries what to do. It has become a better listener and partner. It has also become more responsive in the delivery of services to its members and in its focus on results. But it can work even faster and better. Given a chance to lead, I will strive to further increase the Bank’s client responsiveness. Being on the ground now as Finance Minister, the need to respond quickly to assist policy-makers to solve policy dilemmas has become more evident. There is a need for the World Bank to position a rolodex of experts that could be mobilized quickly to help address thorny policy problems. The Bank also needs to cut down on operational processing times but this cannot be achieved without the concurrence and support from the Board. The Bank has demonstrated its ability to cut down its operational processes as its responses during the global food and financial crises showed. We should explore ways of extending this to other Bank operations without undermining the Board’s oversight role.
I will also pay great attention to results, and to ensure quality over quantity in the delivery of the Bank’s products and services. I envision a Bank that pays greater attention to results, outcomes and output, and further hones its ability to measure these.
Knowledge exchange is a key area that the Bank can leverage in helping to fight poverty. A lot can be shared from the experiences of successful emerging economies among themselves as a group, and between emerging economies and other developing countries. There is in fact scope for south-north knowledge transfer in the areas of structural reform and social insurance. These are problems bedeviling some Eurozone members at this time. South-south investment and trade is also fast becoming the norm. The World Bank Group is well-positioned to help push this agenda forward through better and faster knowledge intermediation among sharing countries.
The Bank continues to attract significant financing through IDA to help its poorer countries while showing capability for innovation in designing and delivering both financial products and services. The success of IDA 16 replenishment has required the building of a global coalition involving continued commitments by traditional donors and expanding the contributory role of emerging markets in new and innovative ways. I am pleased to have chaired the IDA 16 replenishment process, supported by a superb IDA team, which succeeded in raising almost $50 billion, amidst the difficulties of an uncertain global environment. IDA will remain a key instrument of the World Bank Group to support its low income member countries but the future sustainability of IDA will depend on a willingness to look at new models and approaches for its financial health and sustainability. I pledge to support a more innovative World Bank Group approach to IDA sustainability.
I also attach great importance to the role of Trust Funds in Bank operations. Particularly, since about 40 percent of the recipient executed Trust Funds are directed towards Fragile States – a key priority for the Bank. If elected, I will continue to ensure close donor coordination in these settings drawing on my experiences with Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other fragile states.
I will ensure that the World Bank’s financial health is maintained. The Bank has been a strong institution because it has managed to maintain its financial health under tough circumstances whilst safeguarding its Triple A rating. Nevertheless, I am among those who believe that the World Bank and IFC will require another capital increase in the near future to enable them maintain their financial relevance to client countries. I appreciate that this will take a few more years given the fiscal stress of many shareholders at this time. So whilst not now, surely it is also not 20 years from now! We need to think carefully about good timing for this so that the Bank remains relevant in terms of its financial assistance.
3. Building a Bank for the 21st Century
The Bank’s staff is its greatest asset. Its superb staff embodies rich knowledge, expertise and experience that the Bank must harness to support client countries. I will work hard to carefully husband this resource. We must nurture an environment that attracts, motivates and retains the best talent working on development. I also strongly believe that we must ensure more diversity in the staff and management composition. We will strive hard to attract people from different nationalities, educational backgrounds, and experiences, which is needed to address the complex development challenges facing member countries across the globe.
For the broader World Bank Group, my vision is one of greater coordination and increased efficiency. The Bank Group must work
more closely as one, if it is to assist countries more effectively and efficiently on the ground. Situations where IFC and World Bank Country Directors do not interact much or know what each other is doing must end. The Bank is stronger as a group, deploying its instruments together. This is even more important in fragile and conflict-affected states, where we should pilot one World Bank Group Country Director, pulling all instruments together to deliver in difficult situations of fragility.
Good progress has been made in governance reform, particularly on the subject of voice and representation. But it is not enough. We must take this agenda forward, keeping in mind however, the sensitivities of developed and developing countries.
If indeed I am selected, I commit to a very strong relationship with the Board, a relationship of mutual respect and partnership. I will give the Chairing of Board meetings the importance and attention it deserves. Many of you know my antecedents as the Bank’s Managing Director, and my approach to the Board. I will do even better than that. I will strive hard to build trust and respect because I believe that partnership with the board is essential in managing this institution. At the same time, though, I believe that the Board should give the Chief Executive Officer room to manoeuvre, to take decisions, and to effectively deliver on the Bank’s mandate.
Distinguished members of the Board, to conclude, my focus will be on these three goals: delivering on the Bank’s mission (jobs, infrastructure, institutions, social sector issues and global public goods), improving relations with client and donor countries, and building the Bank as a development institution for the 21st century.
I pledge to be a good ambassador to the Bank – with civil society, policy-makers and other stakeholders. I will certainly make sure that the Bank pays attention to doing things faster, quicker and more efficiently, husbanding the Bank’s staff that constitutes a wonderful asset.
My work as Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister in one of the world’s largest and most complex developing economies has provided me an important vantage point to see how a close partnership between governments, donors, private sector and civil society matters for delivering on development. I pledge to harness all of the World Bank Group’s unique attributes and resources to make this partnership deliver for the world’s poor people.
Remarks made by Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, when she appeared before an interview panel on April 9, 2012 in her bid for the presidency of the World Bank.