A US-nominated Korean-born president of an Ivy League university, Nigeria's finance minister and a Colombian economist have been confirmed as the three candidates contesting to become the next leader of the World Bank.
US President Barack Obama, whose country traditionally selects the president of the global lender, said on Friday that it was nominating Jim Yong Kim for the role.
But Kim, president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, faces challenges from Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Colombia's Jose Antonio Ocampo as emerging economies seek to exert more influence over an institution that plays a crucial and often criticised role in global development.
"He's worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas - from capitals to small villages," Obama said on Friday, referring to Kim, a US national who moved to the country as a child.
“The World Bank is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce poverty and raise standards of living around the globe, and Jim’s personal experience and years of service make him an ideal candidate for this job.”
Kim, 52, known for his work in fighting disease in impoverished countries, is also a former director of the department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organisation.
Washington retains the largest single voting share at the World Bank and can expect the support of European nations and Japan, the bank's second-largest voting member.
However, Angola, Nigeria and South Africa on Friday also announced their support for Okonjo-Iweala , Nigeria's finance minister, as leader of the bank when Robert Zoellick steps down at the end of his term in June.
Ocampo, an economics professor at Columbia University in New York who previously served as head of his country's national bank as well as in several ministerial posts, was nominated by Brazil at the request of the Dominican Republic, whom it represents on the multilateral lender’s executive board.
Brazil, another influential emerging nation, has not however decided who it will support to become the World Bank’s next president, a government official told Bloomberg business news agency.
The Brazilian official said the government was likely to support the candidate that would give a bigger voice to emerging markets in the running of the World Bank, Bloomberg reports.
The nominations mark a landmark push from emerging countries for high-profile roles in those international institutions which have remained the preserve of more developed nations.
"It is not a slam dunk. It is not an obvious choice"
- Arvind Subramanian, former IMF official
It signals the desire of emerging nations to have a competitive process as they seek to upend the tradition of the US leading the World Bank and a European leading the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Emerging nations also want to see the bank focus more on helping their economies develop and less on traditional poverty-fighting aid.
"You will see more of a debate, an assessment of the merits of the different candidates and the direction of the bank," said Arvind Subramanian, a former IMF official.
"It is not a slam dunk. It is not an obvious choice," he said of the US nominee.
All of the bank's 187 member countries agreed, last year, on a transparent, merit-based process.
US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who had also been put forward for the job by a group of smaller countries, withdrew and threw his support behind Kim.
He had cast his uphill candidacy as an effort to break Washington's penchant for political appointments.
A Canadian government source said Canada would back Kim and South Korea, his childhood home, also indicated support.
Russia has refrained from publicly backing a non-US candidate and has instead called for a greater role for emerging market countries in other top positions at global financial institutions.
India said it wanted to consult the other so-called BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa - before deciding, and Mexico also said it was keeping an open mind.
The World Bank board of member countries has promised to make a decision by the time of the IMF and World Bank semi-annual meetings on April 21.
The new World Bank chief will take over at a time when the eurozone's debt crisis is weighing on the global recovery, undercutting demand in the poorer nations that often rely on funding from the bank.
The president will have to decide how best to deploy resources in a budget-cutting environment in which large bank shareholders, such as the US, are demanding results, transparency and greater efforts to tackle corruption.