World Bank staff highlight “crisis of leadership”

11 Aug 16

A “crisis of leadership” at the World Bank has been highlighted in an open letter to its executive directors from an influential association of staff members.


The World Bank Staff Association criticised the bank for consistently selecting an American, male president, based on a tradition they said was outdated, and called for an international search for a leader as current president Jim Yong Kim’s term comes to an end.

The letter, published earlier this week, read: “At the World Bank Group, we preach principles of good governance, transparency, diversity, international competition, and merit-based selection. Unfortunately, none of these principles have applied to the appointment of past presidents.

“Instead, we have accepted decades of backroom deals, which, twelve times in a row, selected an American male. This must change.”

In 2011, before the process began to select Kim, who eventually won the position with strong backing from US president Barack Obama in 2012, governors had called for an “open, merit-based and transparent process” for the first time.

In response, a new selection process was implemented and several candidates put forward, including Kim.

Beforehand, governors only had the choice to either accept or rejecting the US’ nominee. Under a 1944 deal, the US convinced the bank it would need a US citizen as its leader to gain the confidence of Wall Street, at the time the bank’s biggest supplier of capital.

While 2011’s round of elections were enthused with the buzz of change, the letter states that “in the end we reverted to the status quo”.

Kim was selected as leader, in what many said evidenced how much sway the US still holds over the World Bank’s leadership despite objections from other superpowers.

“The world has changed and we must change with it,” the letter warned. “Unless we revisit the rules of the game, the World Bank faces the real possibility of becoming an anachronism on the international stage.”

Kim, a former medical expert and activist, was a staunch critic of the bank before his appointment. While he convinced Obama to back his nomination against other US heavyweights in 2011, he has not been as successful with staff or campaigners.

He has pushed through a controversial restructuring process, as well as some widely criticised new safeguard standards last week, and staff have complained about his leadership style and his decisions, which many see as misguided.

The letter cited staff surveys, which it said have, for two years running, “made it painfully clear the World Bank is experiencing a crisis of leadership”.

“Four out of five staff affirm that we clearly understand and embrace the institution’s overall goals. However, in stark contrast, only one in three understand where the senior management team is leading us. Even fewer believe that our senior management creates a culture of openness and trust.”

Following the results of such surveys, Kim has committed to doing better for the bank’s staff. However as the bank’s directors start discussing who will take over when Kim’s term ends on 30 June 2017, and suspicions arise that Kim is likely to be re-elected for a second five-year term, the staff association made plain their desire for someone entirely new.

“Let there be an international call for candidates, women and men, and with clear qualification criteria, followed by nominations and a long-listing process handled by a credible search committee, together with a transparent interview and selection process. This is not too much to ask.”

A spokesperson for the World Bank said it is customary for the executive directors to begin discussions on the selection process six months to a year before the president’s term ends.

They stressed that the “open, merit-based and transparent” principles approved by the bank’s board in 2011 were used in the 2012 selection and will govern the upcoming selection process. 

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