World Bank President Robert Zoellick reiterated his call to retool the organization to better meet the new set of development challenges across the globe during a discussion Thursday night (April 3) at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School.
Zoellick, who earned his master in public policy (M.P.P.) degree from the Kennedy School in 1981, outlined the bank’s aggressive agenda at a time when many of the world’s financial markets are suffering and many developing countries are attempting to seize new opportunities for economic growth.
“What is so different [with this economic slowdown compared with previous ones] is that you have alternative poles for growth. You have China, India, and some of the world’s middle-income countries that are still growing quite strong,” he remarked in the public discussion with Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood.
Even parts of Africa, Zoellick said, could be ripe for economic expansion over the next decade or two. But he admitted that sub-Saharan countries, in particular, face immense challenges in overcoming malnutrition, government corruption, and trade impediments that threaten the prospects for long-term economic growth.
“Part of the challenge is to take the immediate demands — the emergencies — and try to deal with these in a way that also plants the seeds for building structures for the future,” he stated.
Zoellick spoke of the need to increase spending on critical infrastructure and agriculture programs, to successfully complete the Doha trade negotiations, to end the fighting in conflict states, and to enhance financial transparency in those nations where misuse of funds is rampant.
He also spoke of the opportunity for many African nations to leverage sovereign wealth funds to boost their economies. The World Bank, he said, could help make that a reality.
“What we can do is try to develop the investment platforms for these funds to look at this as a way of diversifying [these government] portfolios,” he remarked. “It is our responsibility to try and create the vehicles for this.”
Zoellick’s forum appearance was sponsored by the 14th annual International Development Conference.