In 1944, the Bretton Woods conference set up institutions that reflected a world about to emerge from the second world war. Nearly 70 years later, the world has changed. Emerging countries, once dependent on the World Bank, have become world powers. Growth across Asia, Africa and Latin America is transforming the global economy. TheWorld Bank must adapt to such tectonic shifts and progress is being made, albeit slowly.
For the first time, three candidates are contesting the World Bank presidency in what ought to be an open, competitive and merit-based process. I feel privileged to be one of those candidates, and to represent the aspirations of many people from the developing world.
My own approach to thinking about development has been influenced by my childhood experiences. I grew up in a village in Nigeria where I knew poverty first-hand. I lived through the Nigerian civil war in my formative years, where I observed how violence could set back years of economic development. My thinking has also been shaped by the past 30 years, working in almost every region of the world on thorny issues of development. It has certainly been informed by four years as finance and foreign minister in one of the most challenging but also exciting countries in the world – Nigeria.
In the wake of the great recession, the uncertain times in which we live call for decisive action. The World Bank must respond quickly and effectively to three key challenges facing its client countries in ways that respect their priorities, their culture and their own processes.
Creating jobs is the first and most important challenge, complicated by the coming of age of a burgeoning youth population. This requires steady, inclusive economic growth based on prudent macroeconomic policies and development of key sectors of the economy, fitting the specific conditions of each country. No one size fits all. For many countries, it would be important to prioritise investments in infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and other sectors that can unleash jobs.
Second, the Bank must support investments in human capital, especially in health, education, and welfare. Health sector investments should prioritise strengthening national health systems as a way of sustainably managing disease prevention and control. Similarly, investments in education must extend beyond primary and secondary enrolment targets, and focus on learning outcomes, vocational training and the development of employable skills at the secondary and tertiary level.
Third, the Bank must support developing countries in building appropriate institutions that support property rights and the enforcement of contracts, promote good governance and provide a conducive environment for private initiative. Building institutions is arduous and requires patience and persistence. Institutional reforms have been dear to my heart, both in Nigeria and abroad, and nowhere more so than in fighting corruption. In Nigeria, I have promoted and implemented transparency of the budget and public finances by publishing monthly revenues of all tiers of government, which has been instrumental in making leaders more accountable. I have fought corruption at our ports and strengthened central government governance.
These three major challenges – creating jobs, investing in the human capital of the poor and building institutions – have to be pursued with vigour. Furthermore, the Bank also plays a key role in ensuring the efficient delivery of global public goods and in meshing its initiatives with the priorities of national and regional development programmes.
Over the past 30 years working in developing countries I have listened to the concerns of politicians and policy makers, to the aspirations of entrepreneurs and youth activists, and to the dreams of women for inclusion and true equality of opportunity. All would like to see a Bank that is innovative and responsive; a true partner; a quick and nimble Bank that listens and supports them on their journey to a better life.
The work of the World Bank affects the welfare of millions of citizens and the prospects for a more peaceful world. I would be most honoured to lead this important institution with a sense of humility, urgency and hope at this time of change and challenge.
Ms.Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s co-ordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance is a candidate for president of the World Bank. She wrote this piece for the Financial Times from where it was culled.