Why I Want to Be President of the World Bank

The World Bank can once again take the helm of global development—with the right leadership

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Philip Scalia / Alamy

Headquarters of the World Bank, Washington D.C.

I am seeking to be president of the World Bank because I believe that with a good strategy, the bank can help solve many of the world’s biggest challenges, including violent conflicts in impoverished regions, sustainable food and energy supplies and economic growth and jobs in both poor and rich countries. Let me explain why this little understood institution can be so useful — if properly led.

Extreme poverty dramatically increases the chances of violence and conflict, which in turn deepen poverty. Ending extreme poverty can help restore and sustain peace in many of the world’s conflict zones. Currently, extreme poverty is concentrated in several high-risk settings, such as the arid (dryland) region that stretches west to east across the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, and across the Red Sea to Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ending the vicious cycle of poverty and instability in these regions requires a strategy that combines improvements in agriculture, livestock, public health, veterinary care, education, sustainable infrastructure and business development. That’s a complex but doable challenge. My colleagues and I at Columbia University’s Earth Institute are undertaking such “integrated development” programs in the Horn of Africa right now with powerful benefits.

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World food and energy prices are soaring as a growing world economy presses against ecological and resource limits. A key strategy should be to harness new technologies to ensure sustainable increases in food supplies and low-carbon energy, including in the developing world. This objective is even more urgent as the world enters an era of increasing climate instability. The World Bank can be a strategic leader on achieving sustainable food and energy supplies. Africa’s agricultural production could double in a decade, ending famines and easing pressures on the fragile global food supplies. The Millennium Villages, a project I helped establish in 2006, have demonstrated that potential across Africa’s major farming zones.  Africa can also tap into the vast renewable energy resources of solar, wind and geothermal power. Other regions have similar breakthrough opportunities.

Building infrastructure and sustainable cities in poor countries not only spurs long-term growth in those countries but also creates demand and jobs in the high-income countries as well, through exports of machinery, infrastructure design and operations, and construction services. The poorer regions of Africa and Asia will need trillions of dollars of infrastructure investments in the coming decade, including vast sums to build the transport, housing, power and water systems of their fast-growing urban regions. Such investments will not happen by themselves.  Global savings will be attracted to these projects only with a sound strategic framework that addresses governance, project finance and environmental sustainability.

Past efforts to direct global investment into the infrastructure of low-income regions have usually failed (for example in the 1970s), typically leading to a fiscal crisis when governments cannot repay the loans. The prospects are far better this time. The technologies that underpin 21st century infrastructure (like smart grids) are much better today than in the past. Poor countries have improved their governance, project financing and management capacities. African and Asian low-income countries enjoy a strong demand for products in China. There are countless win-win investment programs in low-income countries that can break the poverty trap, raise living standards in poor countries, protect the natural environment and stimulate global trade and jobs.

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With good leadership at the helm, here are six quick wins that the Bank can help to achieve in the next five years:

1) Complete the victory against malaria, measles, polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus and pediatric AIDS

2) Support smallholder African farmers and pastoralists to double (or more) their productivity and farm incomes

3) Speed the building of Africa’s cross-border infrastructure — including roads, power, rail and fiber — in order to increase African and global trade and jobs

4) Promote integrated development in the African-Asian drylands (the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Western and Central Asia) to create the foundations for peace

5) Improve the quality, coverage and graduation rates of secondary education, partly by deploying the information and communications technologies

6) Support heavily polluted Asian countries to clean up the air and waterways

It’s a big agenda, but doable – if the Bank is led with vision, determination and expertise.

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