Competition Heats Up To Head World Bank

The World Bank is expected to announce its new president in the next several days. For the past six decades, the bank has been led by an American. President Obama has already nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim for the job. But for the first time in its more than 60-year history, there is serious international competition for the job.

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The World Bank is expected to announce its next president in a few days. The top job at the huge global development bank is normally held by an American, but the shifting balance in the global economy means that for the first time in its more than 60-year history, there is serious international competition for the post. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: In the ever-changing world of international development, there is one constant: the head of the World Bank is a U.S. citizen. It's part of a long-held tacit agreement between the U.S. and the Europeans, which, based on their combined economies, make up the largest share of the vote. The U.S. backs Europe's choice to head the International Monetary Fund. In return, Europe supports America's choice for president of the World Bank.

But Johannes Linn, a former World Bank vice president, now at the Brookings Institution, says the balance of votes is shifting, as emerging markets have gained economic strength.

JOHANNES LINN: And certainly the emerging market economies have been pointing out that this is happening and that it's appropriate to begin to make these institutions less hide-bound in terms of tradition, but actually open them up and make sure that everybody has a chance in terms of the best person leading these institutions.

NORTHAM: So, instead of one unchallenged nominee, this time there are three contenders to head the World Bank. The Obama administration has nominated Jim Yong Kim, a physician who currently is the president of Dartmouth College. Much of Kim's career has centered on global health care. He co-founded Partners in Health, which works in developing countries. And he headed the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization. During his Dartmouth inaugural address in 2009, Kim talked about the value of his hands-on experience.

DR. JIM YONG KIM: What has become clear to me is that delivering on ambitious social goals requires more than principled individual action. It requires building and implementing systems that can deliver sustainable solutions.

NORTHAM: But there are questions whether Kim's expertise in global health is enough to lead a massive international financial organization like the World Bank, which lends billions of dollars every year to countries in need. Several dozen former World Bank officials sent a letter to the board of directors, calling for a more open and inclusive process, one that's based on merit. And they threw their support behind Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank executive.

During an address earlier this week, Okonjo-Iweala, talked about her vision for the World Bank in the 21st century, saying it needs to better embrace issues such as climate change, job creation and education.

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: You know, the bank has been around 60 years. That's quite a bit of inertia. So you have to have the courage to say, look, certain things that we've always done this way, they have to go.

NORTHAM: Jose Antonio Ocampo, the former finance minister and agricultural minister of Colombia, is also a contender. He says he has all the qualifications needed to lead the World Bank, but acknowledges a nagging concern that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, that the American candidate will win. Still, Ocampo says a corner has been turned.

JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO: Maybe we'll not succeed this time, but I think we are seeing the process of change. That if it doesn't happen this time, next time it will happen.

NORTHAM: The Brookings Institution's Linn says not opening the nomination to other nations could hurt the World Bank, which he says has already lost its predominance among international financial and development institutions.

LINN: Over time, yeah, if the World Bank is not seen as legitimate and run on the best principles of good governance, which after all the World Bank and others are preaching to developing countries, then I think there will be a problem of continued effective and relevant work by the bank.

NORTHAM: Linn says already some of the emerging countries are setting up their own regional development banks.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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