For the first time in history, there are multiple candidates for President of the World Bank, which has the mission of fighting global poverty by boosting economic development. The candidates face job interviews beginning April 10 in Washington. The contest pits U.S. nominee Jim Yong Kim against Colombia's Jose Antonio Ocampo, and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has long experience at the top levels of the World Bank, where she deals with national leaders and urges action to fight poverty. "This is a challenge for the world, almost one billion people are going to bed hungry," she said.
Okonjo-Iweala is currently Nigeria’s finance minister, and also served as foreign minister. Her career began after an education that included Harvard and MIT.
She has strongly impressed international economics expert Uri Dadush, a former World Bank colleague.
"Tremendous development experience in many parts of the world and has the experience of running the finance ministry, and an economics ministry in one of the more arduous environments of the world," Dadush noted. "She has been a determined campaigner against corruption.”
Making tough decisions
As finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala angered many Nigerians by cutting subsidies in a move that saved the government money but raised the cost of fuel to consumers. She argued the money would be better spent on projects that would cut Nigeria’s high unemployment rate.
Her critics say her long tenure at the bank makes it less likely that she will bring in new ideas or change the institutional culture. But one development expert says she would offer a strong blend of financial and diplomatic experience.
And Nancy Birdsall says Okonjo-Iweala has also had practice at making tough decisions. "So she has kind of been through the fire, so she has that experience of how it works at a political and macro level in developing countries," she said.
Birdsall says it is encouraging that Okonjo-Iweala is one of three candidates for World Bank president.
Until now, the head of the bank has always been an American, while a European has always led the International Monetary Fund.
Last year, Washington backed the appointment of former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to head the IMF over an emerging-market candidate. Europeans may now back the U.S. candidate for the top World Bank job. The combined voting strength of U.S. and European nations in each organization make it difficult for a candidate from another country to end the tradition of Western leadership for these institutions - which have a major impact in the developing world.