Zoellick Approved As Next World Bank President: What Challenges Ahead?

June 26, 2007

Yesterday Robert Zoellick was elected by unanimous vote by the Board of the World Bank to become its next president. He now assumes The Hardest Job in the World, as we called it in a 2005 CGD report to the then-incoming president, Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Zoellick is an avid reader -- and absorbs ideas and issues like a sponge. This bodes well for the Bank and for Bank staff. Informal meetings he has had with officials around the world, activists, and Bank watchers in Washington's leading think tanks indicate Mr. Zoellick is already well on his way to understanding the issues and the challenges he faces. He has read the CGD report (and plenty of other material) and has asked for an update on the "Five Crucial Tasks" for the World Bank president set out there.

Those tasks provide a start on what to watch for in the next year from this new president. (The five tasks: (i) more engagement on global public goods; (ii) independent evaluation; (iii) reform of governance; (iv) priority-setting in the poorest countries; (v) new products, less traditional lending, and a new attitude in middle-income countries.) In her comment on his election, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul., the German Minister of Development Cooperation (see World Bank Approves Zoellick), who some say dealt the final blow to Mr. Wolfowitz's hopes of surviving at the Bank when she uninvited him from joining a World Bank forum on Africa, challenged Mr. Zoellick to ensure the Bank joins the fight not only against poverty but climate change -- the key global public good. That's an issue at least one of Zoellick's senior managers at the Bank has apparently resisted (according to the Financial Times, managing director Juan José Daboub pressured the Bank's chief scientist, Bob Watson, to remove references to climate change from a key Bank strategy document.)

I and many others who want a strong World Bank argued in the last several months that any president at the World Bank can gain from the legitimacy associated with what ought to be a more competitive, merit-based process in his or her selection (see Time For A Change At The World Bank). More than 700 people from approximately 71 countries, employed in public, private and academic settings, responded to our CGD online survey "Choosing the Next World Bank President". CGD Senior Fellow David Wheeler's working paper analyzing the survey indicates there was impressive agreement on the need for reform of that process across all nationalities. This governance issue is a bullet Mr. Zoellick ought not dodge....

In the short run of course, what will matter most is Mr. Zoellick's management style. Will he keep on the "coterie" of Wolfowitz' appointments that created so much angst and animosity among World Bank staff? Will he back his encouraging words with equally encouraging action? Will he appoint a Chief Operating Officer who actually knows the intricacies of that complex and unique organization, and understands development?

And meanwhile, how will he navigate the IDA15 negotiations, now entering their critical phase -- will he persuade the Bank's rich country supporters to come up with the $30 billion that is said to be the target figure? And how will he manage the corruption issue -- and the forthcoming report of Paul Volcker on that issue at the Bank, commissioned before he departed by Mr. Wolfowitz?

It is still a hard job. The good news is that early signs suggest that Mr. Zoellick will not shy away from its challenges.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.