Washington: As many of you know, I'm in my third week at the World Bank, and I'm still learning about this great institution. So, let me use this opportunity to share my early reflections in the role of the World Bank in global development today. I want to start by making two points.
First, the last decade has been very good for many, though not all, developing countries. Progress has not come easily. It was borne out of hard work, learning from success and failures, bold reforms, and strong partnerships. This decade of achievement definitely inspires optimism for the next phase of our development work.
My second point is that while we should be proud of the progress of the last decade, we must acknowledge that 1.3 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day. This is a stain on our collective conscience. Aggressively attacking poverty is both a moral and an economic imperative. The next phase of global development will require us to address critical challenges, if we are to make progress. As a global institution with 188 member countries, the World Bank must play a pivotal role in brokering solutions to achieve a world free of poverty. But in order to succeed, the Bank must also evolve and become better. Let me elaborate.
For the last decade or so, remarkable things have been happening in the developing world. Since 2000, nearly 30 developing countries have grown by 6 percent or more a year. We’ve never seen this kind of rapid and sustained development across so many countries. High-income economies also grew about 1.6 percent, and so we witnessed both growth and convergence. Developing countries are now the engine driving the global economy, accounting for around two-thirds of global growth. We can fairly say that the concept of a "Development Decade" that eluded us for 50 years was finally achieved.
This story of transformational change is not just a story about emerging economies like India and China. It is broad-based, and extends to countries that are land-locked like Rwanda, a country that I visited many times, that are small like Laos and large like India; that don't have natural resources, like Ethiopia; and it extends even to countries that were once mired in conflict, like Mozambique.
This story of transformational change is also about new gains in the fight against poverty. There are millions of people who are no longer poor; there are many more families who are sending their children to school; and there are many more communities that have electricity, water and access to health care. The rate of decline in child mortality in Africa is double what it was a decade ago. The overall percentage of the population in the developing world living on less than $1.25 a day was 22 percent in 2008--half the 1990 figure. The Millennium Development Goal of halving the 1990 incidence of extreme poverty has been achieved.
The lesson of the last decade is that progress is possible for everyone. Nothing is pre-determined. Having come to the U.S. from a country that was once described as a "basket case," I know in my gut that we have to take great care never to again attach that label to any country again.
Although a tremendous amount of work remains to be done as I take the helm of the World Bank, I carry with me an unshakable optimism that all countries can boost prosperity and eradicate poverty.
There are many differences across countries but there are some common elements to countries that have grown continuously. They have stable governments that pursue prudent economic policies, provide essential infrastructure and services, and take a long-term perspective. They use the opportunities provided by global markets and they have a dynamic and competitive private sector.
Through its lending, knowledge, and expertise, the World Bank has been an important partner in supporting these countries in their success.
I have met with hundreds of staff over the last three weeks and I have discovered so many examples of where the Bank has been at its best. It partnered with China to undertake land-terracing to enable small farmers to grow more and earn more, which today is being piloted on the hillsides of Rwanda. It’s been working with governments to improve the management and transparency of public finances so that taxpayer money is better spent.
The Bank is helping countries share experiences across continents. With the Bank's facilitation of knowledge development and transfer, Turkey's economic transition is inspiring reformers in North Africa and the Middle East. India's IT services are emulated in many African countries. Brazil is offering its knowledge in agriculture to African countries.
All across the developing world, the International Finance Corporation, our private sector arm, together with MIGA, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Association [Agency], are leading the way in proposing innovative approaches to leveraging private sector investment in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, and clean energy.
But just as these countries have shown success or failure is not pre-determined, we also know that future progress is not pre-ordained. A great deal remains to be done in order to accelerate our fight against global poverty and I see four major challenges:
The first is protecting development gains against global economic risks;
Secondly, we need to broaden development to countries that are being left out especially the so-called fragile and conflict states;
The third is that we have to ensure that growth is sustainable;
And the fourth is demanding that growth is inclusive.
In our interconnected world, we know that crises in one region or in one sector can affect all countries. For instance, even if the crisis in the euro area is contained, it could still reduce growth in most of the world's regions by as much as 1.5 percent. A major crisis in Europe could reduce GDP in developing countries by 4 percent or more, enough to trigger a deep recession everywhere. Such events threaten many of the recent achievements in the fight against poverty.
To put it starkly, what's happening in Europe today affects the fisherman in Senegal and the software programmer in India. Therefore, it is urgent that European countries take all necessary measures to restore stability. I am encouraged by the recent steps taken towards fiscal and banking union as well as the additional resources made available by some G-20 countries to the IMF.
The World Bank is ready to help developing countries protect growth, jobs, and the poor. Thanks to the generous IDA replenishment and capital increase, the Bank has adequate resources to increase lending and investments and to share unparalleled technical expertise. We can work with our clients to make rapid disbursements to maintain growth-enhancing investments. We can help countries improve the quality of their fiscal spending. IFC's financing is providing credit to small and medium enterprises and businesses as well for trade finance. IFC is also supporting subsidiaries of Western European and other banks in emerging markets to enhance liquidity and credit.
We can help countries in building cost-effective safety nets that can protect people against shocks. What I learned by working in communities around the world is that the poorest are the most vulnerable to sinking even deeper into poverty. When illness afflicts a breadwinner, it compromises the future of the whole family. I have seen this happen so many times in my own work. Three out of five vulnerable people lack safety nets in developing countries, and four out of five in the poorest countries.
Safety nets must be available on a continuous basis to increase resilience against shocks such as ill health or financial crisis, and building them requires political will. The good news is that effective safety nets need not be costly. Flagship Mexican and Brazilian programs cost only around 0.5 percent of GDP, much less than what other countries spend on untargeted and less effective programs or fuel subsidies. The World Bank has worked with governments to expand safety nets in 40 countries, and our goal is to ensure that every developing country has an effective and sustainable safety net.
Second, beyond the current volatility, there are regions and countries with repeated cycles of conflict and instability that are being left behind. One-and-a-half billion people live in areas affected by fragility and conflict. No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country is on track to achieve even a single Millennium Development Goal. These countries need a World Bank that is far more responsive than it is today, and capable of delivering the right financial and technical support at the right time.
Take Afghanistan, where the World Bank has partnered with the government to establish the National Solidarity Program. It is pioneering an approach where local councils are taking the lead in projects aimed at rural reconstruction and poverty reduction. To date, the program has benefited over 20 million people, and it is active in 28,000 villages across all provinces of Afghanistan. This is the kind of successful engagement that the Bank must spread to other fragile states.
Third, even in successful countries, the next stage of development will call for further structural changes in order to sustain growth. Middle-income countries have to diversify their sources of energy. They have to modernize their economic structures and government programs. They have to create quality jobs to match the growing expectations of their citizens. These countries have an increasing number of options for development financing, but many continue to look to the World Bank for its lending, expertise, and knowledge. In particular, they need a more flexible partner to help them address deficits in infrastructure and institutions.
Finally, growth and development have to be inclusive, ensuring that their benefits are broadly shared. Even as an unprecedented number of people in the developing world are ascending into the middle class, segments of the poorest populations are being left behind, and other segments of the middle class are at risk of falling back into poverty. As young people in Egypt and Tunisia have reminded us, even in middle-income countries, development gains have been uneven and incomplete. Demands for respect of individual rights, the rule of law, and the administration of justice go hand in hand with inclusive development, requiring institutions to be more open and accountable.
That's why the World Bank is broadening its partnerships. Informed by the lessons of the Arab Spring, the Bank is creating a Global Partnership for Social Accountability. It is providing seed money from IBRD income and leveraging resources from foundations and bilateral donors. This would be the first time the World Bank is allocating specific resources from its income to support a partnership with civil society.
We will try to do at the Bank what the most successful countries did during the last decade. We will work tirelessly, we will continue to learn what works and what does not, and we will carry out bold reforms when they are needed; and more than that, we will hold ourselves accountable to the people we serve so that we are judged by our results, not just our intentions.
I started my remarks with the achievements of the last decade. I want to conclude with the promise of the next. Developed countries have made significant contributions through aid. They must continue this engagement, given their stake in a strong and dynamic global economy. Emerging economies must increase their contributions, commensurate with their growing economic weight.
The world has unprecedented resources, knowledge, and experience to push forward the development agenda. I hope that the coming decade is defined by a great convergence. Where we reduce poverty to levels we might never have imagined; where more people join the global middle class, enjoying better living conditions and greater opportunities; and where the world commits to the critical task of leaving a healthier planet to the next generation. The time is now, the task is urgent. I look forward to the conversation.
- World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim at Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, United States, July 18, 2012: Transcript: the full address and question and answer session can be accessed here.