The World Bank’s new president Jim Yong Kim set out his vision for the institution at the Bank’s annual meetings in mid October, but his desire to build a ‘solutions’ bank and end absolute poverty comes with few details or big changes at the Bank. Next year’s replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA) will put Kim’s vision to the test.
Throughout the autumn the Bank has been publicising a campaign called “#whatwillittake”, which asks people to respond to the question “What will it take to end poverty?” via the social media site Twitter, which allows people to give 140 character responses. At his speech for the annual meetings in Tokyo, Kim revealed that within a year he would set a Bank-wide target to end absolute poverty, meaning bringing everyone in the world above the contested poverty line of $1.25 a day in income (see Update 80, 78, 62). Kim, though admitting that the Bank could not set such a target in isolation from governments, said that it would give the Bank “clarity” on how its activities, structures and processes “align with this notion that we are going to end poverty”. It is unclear if the Bank will be pushing to have Kim’s target included in the UN discussions about targets after the Millennium Development Goals reach their deadline in 2015.
Kim’s speech mentioned “build[ing] shared prosperity” as a goal, but did not delve into more detail. An internal committee at the Bank, chaired by chief economist Kaushik Basu and managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati, is working on defining this concept in more detail and proposing targets, as well as agreeing a date by which the Bank proposes to end absolute poverty.
Sabina Alkire of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at Oxford University welcomed Kim’s determination to end absolute poverty, but worried about other aspects of poverty that are missed by this focus. Alkire said “I’m hoping that the World Bank will think carefully about how it defines and targets poverty, so that its measures support seamless work towards eradicating deprivations in education, health, nutrition, assets, services and livelihoods, as well as in income.”
Alkire has pioneered a calculation of multidimensional poverty measures, and commented on emerging data from 11 countries: “For each country, we compared multidimensional poverty with monetary poverty using the same dataset. When the multidimensional measure did not include income as an indicator, 40 per cent to 80 per cent of multidimensionally poor people were not identified as income poor (the headcounts of poor persons matched for both income and multidimensional poverty). When each measure focused on the poorest of the poor, the mismatch between definitions of poverty was higher. This mismatch needs to be explored as the World Bank considers what targets to set itself to best achieve its goal of ending poverty.”
“If the Bank is serious about ending poverty, it must address the issue of inequality head on,” argued Nuria Molina of NGO Save the Children UK. “If even the IMF can recognise that inequality is one of the defining problems of our global economy, the Bank looks out of touch when it fails to put some of its analytical work into practice and support countries to actively manage and reduce inequality. It needs to think much more about inequality; but also about human rights, justice and sustainability.”
In his annual meetings speech, Kim said that the Bank “must grow from being a ‘knowledge’ bank to being a ‘solutions’ bank. To support our clients in applying evidence-based, non-ideological solutions to development challenges. Let me be clear: when I say we will be a solutions bank, I do not mean to suggest that we have ready-made solutions for every development problem. We do not, nor is this our goal. Rather, as a solutions bank, we will work with our partners, clients, and local communities to learn and promote a process of discovery.”
Owen Barder, European director of US think tank Center for Global Development (CGD), expressed doubts about the solutions bank concept, writing: “Solutions emerge from internal processes. They are not things that can be put into banks.”
The final explicit theme in Kim’s presentation was internal reform at the Bank. Kim promised to “work with our board to streamline our procedures, simplify our processes, and cut down project preparation time.” The idea is for the Bank to focus on the results of its activities rather than the volume of finance it disburses. Kim has also promised that he has “no intention of diluting the Bank’s safeguards” (see Update 83).
Aside from the overarching direction