Private sector to play larger role in World Bank

19/10/2007 | Jon Marks, Philip Alexander

Zoellick seeks new friends to fast track IDA 15 and Bank reforms

Private donors could buy into the International Development Association, new World Bank president Robert Zoellick suggested yesterday. He made clear to reporters in Washington that closer cooperation with the private sector will be a key theme, as the World Bank group seeks financing for the 15th International Development Association replenishment (IDA-15). The idea of private donors joining the fund “is at a very early stage,” Zoellick said, but it is gaining momentum “after a couple of companies approached us”.

“This needs to go through the board process”, Zoellick said, but he did not anticipate major problems for this “good statement of confidence in what we are doing”. Zoellick name-checked the Gates Foundation several times, as an example of an evolving partnership, “which not only brings money but some very interesting ideas as well”. He mentioned a current project involving the Bank, Gates and Vodaphone Kenya.

In addition, IFC is providing half the WBG’s record $3.5 billion contribution to IDA 15 – more than double the $1.5 billion pledged by the Bank in 2005. Lars Thunell, the IFC’s chief executive, told Emerging Markets in an interview that the corporation had decided to support the success of IDA-15 to show that “we put our money where our mouth is,” having long emphasized the importance of IDA activities to enable private sector activity. He added that the contribution formed part of a larger agreement to intensify cooperation between the IFC and the World Bank on initiatives that would help generate economic growth.

Coordination was especially helpful in the “high risk opening phase” of activities such as mining, where significant transport infrastructure investment from the World Bank might be needed before a private investment in extraction could become financially viable. Thunell said that “differences in culture” between the two branches of the group should continue, even though “we have the same ultimate customers, namely the poor, and the same mission.”

“The World Bank’s work with governments involves a different set of skills and a different project cycle,” he explained.

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