How to tackle challenges like climate change and inequality at the World Bank Ajay Banga, the next nominee to lead the World Bank, says it will take trillions of dollars of investment and global partnerships to meet the world's challenges.

Separating climate change and inequality won't work, says Biden's World Bank nominee

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The World Bank is poised to get a new leader. In February, President Biden nominated businessman Ajay Banga to lead the bank, a sprawling international organization which oversees billions in funding which is lent to developing countries with the goal of alleviating poverty and raising living standards. Banga, the former CEO of MasterCard and a former top executive at PepsiCo, was born and raised in India and is now a U.S. citizen. As the largest shareholder of the bank, the U.S. has selected every president since the bank's founding in 1944, and Banga is unopposed. When I spoke with him earlier this week about his vision for the institution, I started by asking him what attracted him to the job after a successful career in the private sector.

AJAY BANGA: The World Bank and institutions like it are among the few that can tackle long-term money, long-term thinking aimed at fighting inequality, but also aimed at fighting the intertwined challenge of climate change. And I've thought of it that way. I never dreamt I would actually get a chance to do this job.

MARTIN: Well, you know, as you just mentioned, the job of the World Bank is basically to alleviate poverty around the world. But increasingly, as you also noted, the thinking is that the bank has to confront climate change as well. Some people argue that that's even more important. What in your background prepares you to do that? I mean, you have to be aware that there are those who think that someone with a career specifically focused on climate change, somebody with more of a public sector background, would have been the better choice. I hope I'm not hurting your feelings.

BANGA: Oh, you're not hurting my feelings. I've heard that over the last six weeks a few times. I understand that. My view is that I've shown over the course of my career that I can manage complex global organizations for change, for a new direction, for a new time. And I think that's exactly where the World Bank is today. It was created at a point of time when development and poverty and spreading prosperity were the best and most important uses and causes for it. I think the world's challenges are intertwined today. Therefore, the World Bank needs to evolve for that change. And I think that partnerships is a very important part that would be required for the World Bank partnerships with other MDBs, partnerships with government, but most interestingly, partnerships with the private sector, because the scale of these challenges require trillions, not billions.

MARTIN: So in a recent talk at the Center for Global Development, you talked about the link between climate change and poverty. And I was particularly struck by your observation about how climate change is thought about and experienced differently in the so-called developed world versus the so-called developing world. Could you just talk a little bit more about that?

BANGA: The Global South views the whole climate topic not only as an energy emissions issue - which they feel they did not contribute to, by the way - but also as an impact on the day-to-day life of being able to breathe clean air, have access to enough water and clean water. And then there's the existential challenge for a number of them of the impact of a catastrophe. That's the reason why I think the Global South sees climate as a much bigger and more complicated issue than just managing energy emissions.

MARTIN: And you feel confident that in this role that you can address both because, you know, there are concerns among developing countries that this renewed interest in energy and urgency is going to crowd out their ongoing concerns about poverty and inequality in health and education and so forth. Can you assure them that you can do both?

BANGA: Well, I'm going to try. I honestly don't think we have a choice, that somehow we can unwind the two challenges of development and climate and segregate them. If you're a farmer in Kenya, where they haven't had rains for four years, it very quickly becomes from two crops to one crop in a year. That leads to them then getting rid of their cattle that gave them income from milk and dairy. That then leads to them laying off the laborer they hired and bringing their girl child out of school or the boy child out of school to help them on the farm. That is a complete reversal of the development agenda, and it's intertwined with climate.

MARTIN: Does something have to change at the World Bank to address both of these at once? And I'm asking you, you know, to describe your vision here, recognizing that most of us don't know anything about the way the World Bank is structured to begin with.

BANGA: Well, I haven't yet had a chance to meet the people of the World Bank because that's the way the process works. And so making a commentary about what has to change inside the World Bank without meeting the people is not something I want to do. But I can tell you that one thing that I'm very focused on that I think helps to get everybody aligned is to measure outcomes. So rather than measuring the dollars we lend or the number of projects we finance, I would like to be sure that the transparency we provide to our outcomes is how many girls went to school; how many people got skilled; how many private-sector dollars were we able to bring in? I think that's going to be an important part of our journey.

MARTIN: Let's talk about China, speaking of dollars lent. Beijing has itself provided loans to developing countries. That's been a benefit to many countries, but that's also a source of concern to other governments who worry about what China expects in return. But China is still seen as a developing country which is eligible for World Bank support. Is China basically competing with the World Bank's work?

BANGA: I don't think we should view ourselves as competitors, any of the multilateral banks or countries. All countries have got bilateral aid systems in addition to helping with the multilateral development banking system. And I think we need all shoulders at the wheel, including the private sector, if they're going to make a difference with a sense of urgency, particularly in climate, where 2030 is seven years away and 2050, with the Paris Accords, is 27 years away. We don't have the time to play in silos. If young people have good quality of life - health, education, clean air, clean water, the things you and I take for granted if they get that and then they also get jobs when they're eligible for jobs, then young people - their optimism, their future transforms countries.

MARTIN: Ajay Banga is the Biden administration's nominee to lead the World Bank.

Mr. Banga, thank you so much for joining us. I hope this will be our first conversation and not our only.

BANGA: I look forward to that. Thank you very much.


Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.