World Bank strategic review kicked into long grass

1 April 2008

In late 2006, then-president Paul Wolfowitz initiated a process to come up with a long-term strategic vision for the World Bank. Former chief economist François Bourguignon published a background paper before his retirement last October (see Update 57). In a speech at the 2007 annual meetings, new president Robert Zoellick announced six “strategic themes”: the poorest countries, post-conflict countries, middle-income countries, global public goods, the Arab world and the Bank’s knowledge function. Bank watchers have been trying to decipher what this means for the planned strategic review. At a meeting of European executive directors and NGOs in February, the officials claimed they were also being kept in the dark about the review.

The Bank’s vice-president for external affairs, Marwan Muasher has said that the institution will be holding “two rounds of broader communication about these thematic areas, both internally and externally”, stressing that “this will be an ongoing process, not a finite one – Bob Zoellick has described it as a ‘network of conversations'”. The process could continue “over the next year or two”. No formal global consultation is planned because, as Muasher explains, “we don’t think it would work well and we can use other channels for getting input”.

The exception to this is work on the Arab world. Zoellick and other senior staff will be making trips to the region and further consultations are planned including a meeting with “prominent thinkers” in Egypt in May. Consultations so far have included: Arab and Islamic funds; visits to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman and others; the Arab League; and “several Arab civil society groups”.

At the end of March, the Bank was due to begin work on its regular bi-annual poll of “global opinion leaders”. This iteration will cover, amongst other topics, the six strategic themes. According to Muasher, the results of this poll “will be disclosed eventually, after the board has seen it – but that will not be for many months”. Descriptions of the work being done are to be posted on the Bank’s website, and online discussions with leaders of the thematic groups are planned. A ‘dialogue session’ with civil society is planned for the spring meetings.

Strategic theme Leader(s)
Fragility and Conflict Jeff Gutman (VP OPCS)
Global Public Goods Graeme Wheeler (Managing Director), Kathy Sierra (VP, Sustainable Development)
Knowledge Graeme Wheeler, Jim Adams (VP East Asia and Pacific), Danny Leipziger (VP PREM), Alan Gelb (Director, Development Policy)
Middle-Income Countries Juan Jose Daboub (Managing Director), Vincenzo La Via (Chief Financial Officer), Pamela Cox (VP LAC)
Poorest countries Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Managing Director), Oby Ezekwesili (VP Africa)
The Arab World Juan Jose Daboub, Marwan Muasher (VP EXT), Daniela Gressani (VP MENA)
Common challenges Hans Martin Boehmer (Manager of corporate strategy)