The World Bank Gets An Overhaul — And Not Everyone's Happy : Parallels The World Bank is undergoing a vast reorganization, its first in nearly 20 years. The process has been controversial, but the bank's president says it's needed to foster better internal collaboration.
NPR logo

The World Bank Gets An Overhaul — And Not Everyone's Happy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The World Bank Gets An Overhaul — And Not Everyone's Happy

The World Bank Gets An Overhaul — And Not Everyone's Happy

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


The World Bank is undergoing a sweeping reorganization. It's the first of its kind for the bank in nearly a generation. The bank is the world's largest source of assistance for development nations. It's facing a new set of goals but they're accompanied by deep budget cuts. Also planned: the elimination of a whole layer of senior management jobs.

NPR's Jackie Northam has the story.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The overhaul of the World Bank is being led by its president, Jim Yong Kim. The 54-year-old physician and anthropologist was an outsider when he took office in July 2012. One of the first things he did was launch a companywide survey. He says the majority of the roughly 10,000 employees told him how the bank could be better.

JIM YONG KIM: We need to move knowledge more effectively. We need to be more nimble. We need to use our balance sheet more effectively.

NORTHAM: Kim also wanted to find out if employees thought the bank was ready to take on two new ambitious goals: reducing poverty worldwide by 2030 and boosting income of the poorest 40 percent.

KIM: And the answer that I got back was no, not even close. We need to change.

NORTHAM: Kim has launched a series of reforms at the bank, which lends up to $50 billion a year to more than 100 countries for projects and expertise for health, education, infrastructure and the like. The budget will be cut by eight percent - the equivalent of $400 million - over the next three years.

And Kim is changing the organizational structure, which has traditionally been split up into regions of the world with separate budgets and management. Kim says he wants break down those silos and reduce redundancies. So he's created something called Global Practices.

KIM: So health people were scattered all over the institution, education people were scattered all over the institution - we're going to bring them together.

NORTHAM: Some even within the World Bank are applauding the overhaul, saying the organization for years has groaned under the weight of bureaucracy. But for others, the changes have all the subtlety of a chainsaw. Several employees, who did not want to go on record for fear of retribution, tell NPR that a climate of fear is permeating the bank.

Paul Cadario, who was a senior official at the bank for nearly four decades, says that's because Kim has handled things badly. As an example, he points to the unexpected departure of two senior officials early on in the reorganization. He says they had more than 50 years of World Bank experience between them.

PAUL CADARIO: Certainly the way it was done was crude, was hasty and was never really well explained, which in any organization is going to lead to rumors, which isn't helpful if you're trying to change a culture to make it more open and trusting.

NORTHAM: Kim is eliminating a whole layer of senior managers, more than 50 people. Their jobs will be gone by July 1st. Kim says they can apply for other positions, including newly created ones in Global Practices. But he says the bank will open up positions to outsiders because it's good to bring in fresh eyes.

Scott Morris is a senior associate at the Center for Global Development.

SCOTT MORRIS: I think what you would find is President Kim's critics and fans agree on is that he is a disruptive force in the organization.

NORTHAM: Morris says one of the things the bank is grappling with is its place in international development. Many of the poor countries it helped for decades are now middle-class and have access to different streams of funding.

MORRIS: The question was for the bank was: Does it continue on its current path and become less and less relevant to its client countries, or does it launch some kind of change to make sure it continues to be relevant?

NORTHAM: Morris says Kim likely laid out his plans while campaigning for his job, and he does have the endorsement of the board of governors and the 188 member countries. Kim says he feels empathy for the employees' anxiousness but that is not going to slow things down.

KIM: I believe though if you know changes should be made, you should make them. You shouldn't - there's some sense that, well, you know, these are going to be difficult so we should stretch them out over five years. That never works.

NORTHAM: The reorganization, including new leadership, will be finished by July 1st.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2014 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. 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.