World Bank’s new chief asks staff to ‘double down’ on development

Ajay Banga told employees his vision was ‘to create a world free from poverty on a livable planet’.

Mastercard President and CEO Ajay Banga speaks to attendees during the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Summit in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 31, 2018.
World Bank's new chief Ajay Banga has said annual investments of trillions of dollars are needed to arrest the forces of climate change and fragility [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

The World Bank’s new president Ajay Banga has asked the lender’s 16,000-person staff to “double down” on development and climate efforts as he seeks to accelerate the bank’s evolution to tackle the most pressing global problems.

On his first day on the job Friday, the former Mastercard CEO told staff in a memo seen by Reuters that he would seek to recruit each of them to work towards his vision “to create a world free from poverty on a livable planet”.

“Making good on our ambition will require us to evolve to maximise resources and write a new playbook, to think creatively, take informed risks and forge new partnerships with civil society and multilateral institutions,” Banga wrote.

He also said the bank needed to become more efficient, slashing the approval time for financing projects, which can now take up to three years.

“The process is overly elaborate and subject to multiple review mechanisms that not only cost valuable years but erode staff ambition,” he said, adding to a “trust deficit” among developing countries.

Banga on Thursday met with United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who urged him to “get the most out of the bank’s balance sheet” and mobilise more private capital, the treasury said.

Yellen last year began pressing the World Bank and other multilateral lenders to revamp their business models and dramatically scale up lending resources to address climate change, pandemics, food security and other global crises.

This would move the development lenders beyond the country-specific project loans they have pursued for decades, though she has urged they maintain their core mission to reduce poverty.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen meets with World Bank President Ajay Banga at the Treasury Department, US
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged World Bank President Ajay Banga to raise more private capital [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

In his memo, which incorporated his statement to the World Bank Executive Board during an April 1 job interview, Banga said annual investments of trillions of dollars were needed to arrest the forces of climate change and fragility while building up human capital and fighting inequality in health, education, and financial access.

“We are at a critical moment in the arc of humanity and the planet. The World Bank Group is being asked to lead the way, to double down on development and climate efforts and to deliver even more impact and results,” he said.

He added this would require “all shoulders to the wheel” and all of the World Bank’s divisions working together to deliver solutions needed by the world.

Banga, 63, was elected to a five-year term as World Bank president by the lender’s board of governors in May.

Nominated by US President Joe Biden, the Indian-born finance and development expert was the sole contender for the job.

Climate demands

He takes over from David Malpass, who came under criticism last year after remarks that raised questions about his personal views on global warming despite doubling the bank’s climate finance during his tenure to $32bn last year.

Climate and development groups welcomed Banga and began presenting demands, including that the bank fully withdraws from financing fossil fuel projects and take stronger action to cancel the debts of poor countries.

Kevin Gallagher, director of Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, said Banga will first need to restore staff morale at the bank and quickly implement balance sheet reforms to squeeze more lending from existing resources.

“On his watch, the world has to deliver on the sustainable development goals and a big tranche of the Paris climate commitments. There’s just no way he can do it without a capital increase and a major increase in resources.”

Source: Reuters