New MD back with resolve

21/10/2007 |

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says World Bank has regained its identity and core purpose

The World Bank has regained its identity and core purpose – “improving living standards and fighting poverty” by mobilising new ideas, instruments and partners – new managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala insisted yesterday. The former Nigerian finance minister has been enticed back to the bank, and shed posts she has taken on in private life, by new bank chief Robert Zoellick.

Zoellick has “mapped out an agenda and has shown the Bank Group will be different from the past, with a new approach – for example, emphasising ‘global public goods’ such as climate change”, she said in an interview with Emerging Markets.

Okonjo-Iweala returns to the institution in which she worked until entering government in 2003 after “one of the most exciting years of my life” – during which she joined ambitious Moscow-based investment bank Renaissance Capital as advisory board chair, did opinion-forming at the Brookings Institute, and worked with a range of civil society groups and with her friend Bono, the Irish rock star and poverty campaigner. Okonjo-Iweala strongly backed Zoellick’s moves to get greater private sector participation in projects – and in the ongoing 15th International Development Association replenishment, for which some $30 billion in sought.

There would be a greater focus on the sort of services the International Finance Corporation provides and also on providing risk mitigation so private investors poured more money into Africa.

“There is a lot of liquidity out there, but not enough of it is coming into Africa,” Okonjo-Iweala said. But private equity and hedge fund interest – which has extended to investments in countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea – shows “there is appetite” which could be exploited, with “the company making a profit but also doing some good in the long run.”

The Bank may thus revisit instruments such as guarantees. Traditional infrastructure lending will remain relevant, “but I’m thinking we can do more private investment even in the more riskily perceived countries.”

Okonjo-Iweala said the prospect of promoting such themes made her “very enthusiastic about this job”, as the MD responsible for the World Bank’s Africa, South Asia, and Europe and Central Asia regions, and with oversight responsibility for human resources.

With her appointment effective December 1, Okonjo-Iweala told Emerging Markets she had told Renaissance of her resignation and would be leaving all other posts – unless it is possible to stay on helping some educational groups.

She waxed lyrical on the buzz Zoellick had created around the Bank, restoring staff confidence and creating a strategic framework where “he has set out goals and really knows where he wants the Bank to go.” Zoellick “has made the staff think they matter – and you can’t make change happen without showing these highly trained people that they are valued.”

Okonjo-Iweala now joins fellow MDs Juan Jose Daboub and Graeme Wheeler, executive vice presidents Lars Thunell at IFC and Yukiko Omura at MIGA, and chief financial officer Vincenzo La Via, at the top level of World Bank Group management.

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