World Bank logo
|President||Robert B. Zoellick|
|Main organ||Board of Directors|
|Parent organization||World Bank Group|
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes. The World Bank has a stated goal of reducing poverty. By law, all of its decisions must be guided by a commitment to promote foreign investment, international trade and facilitate capital investment.
The World Bank differs from the World Bank Group, in that the World Bank comprises only two institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA), whereas the latter incorporates these two in addition to three more: International Finance Corporation (IFC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The World Bank is one of five institutions created at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. The International Monetary Fund, a related institution, is the second. Delegates from many countries attended the Bretton Woods Conference. The most powerful countries in attendance were the United States and United Kingdom, which dominated negotiations.
Although both are based in Washington, D.C., the World Bank is, by custom, headed by an American, while the IMF is led by a European.
From its conception until 1967 the bank undertook a relatively low level of lending. Fiscal conservatism and careful screening of loan applications was common. Bank staff attempted to balance the priorities of providing loans for reconstruction and development with the need to instill confidence in the bank.
Bank president John McCloy selected France to be the first recipient of World Bank aid; two other applications from Poland and Chile were rejected. The loan was for $987 million, half the amount requested and came with strict conditions. Staff from the World Bank monitored the use of the funds, ensuring that the French government would present a balanced budget and give priority of debt repayment to the World Bank over other governments. The United States State Department told the French government that communist elements within the Cabinet needed to be removed. The French Government complied with this diktat and removed the Communist coalition government. Within hours the loan to France was approved.
The Marshall Plan of 1947 caused lending by the bank to change as many European countries received aid that competed with World Bank loans. Emphasis was shifted to non-European countries and until 1968, loans were earmarked for projects that would enable a borrower country to repay loans (such projects as ports, highway systems, and power plants).
From 1968 to 1980, the bank concentrated on meeting the basic needs of people in the developing world. The size and number of loans to borrowers was greatly increased as loan targets expanded from infrastructure into social services and other sectors.
These changes can be attributed to Robert McNamara who was appointed to the presidency in 1968 by Lyndon B. Johnson. McNamara imported a technocratic managerial style to the Bank that he had used as United States Secretary of Defense and President of the Ford Motor Company. McNamara shifted bank policy toward measures such as building schools and hospitals, improving literacy and agricultural reform. McNamara created a new system of gathering information from potential borrower nations that enabled the bank to process loan applications much faster. To finance more loans, McNamara told bank treasurer Eugene Rotberg to seek out new sources of capital outside of the northern banks that had been the primary sources of bank funding. Rotberg used the global bond market to increase the capital available to the bank. One consequence of the period of poverty alleviation lending was the rapid rise of third world debt. From 1976 to 1980 developing world debt rose at an average annual rate of 20%.
In 1980, A.W. Clausen replaced McNamara after being nominated by US President Jimmy Carter. Clausen replaced a large number of bank staffers from the McNamara era and instituted a new ideological focus in the bank. The replacement of Chief Economist Hollis B. Chenery by Anne Krueger in 1982 marked a notable policy shift at the bank. Krueger was known for her criticism of development funding as well as third world governments as rent-seeking states.
Lending to service third world debt marked the period of 1980–1989. Structural adjustment policies aimed at streamlining the economies of developing nations (at the expense of health and social services) were also a large part of World Bank policy during this period. UNICEF reported in the late 1980s that the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank were responsible for the “reduced health, nutritional and educational levels for tens of millions of children in Asia, Latin America, and Africa”.
From 1989, World Bank policy changed in response to criticism from many groups. Environmental groups and NGOs were incorporated in the lending of the bank in order to mitigate the effects of the past that prompted such harsh criticism. Bank projects “include” green concerns.
The President of the Bank, currently Robert B. Zoellick, is responsible for chairing the meetings of the Boards of Directors and for overall management of the Bank. Traditionally, the Bank President has always been a US citizen nominated by the United States, the largest shareholder in the bank. The nominee is subject to confirmation by the Board of Governors, to serve for a five-year, renewable term.
The Executive Directors, representing the Bank’s member countries, make up the Board of Directors, usually meeting twice a week to oversee activities such as the approval of loans and guarantees, new policies, the administrative budget, country assistance strategies and borrowing and financing decisions.
The Vice Presidents of the Bank are its principal managers, in charge of regions, sectors, networks and functions. There are 24 Vice-Presidents, three Senior Vice Presidents and two Executive Vice Presidents.
 List of Presidents
- Eugene Meyer 1946–1946
- John J. McCloy 1947–1949
- Eugene R. Black, Sr. 1949–1963
- George Woods 1963–1968
- Robert McNamara 1968–1981
- Alden W. Clausen 1981–1986
- Barber Conable 1986–1991
- Lewis T. Preston 1991–1995
- James Wolfensohn 1995–2005
- Paul Wolfowitz 2005–2007
- Robert B. Zoellick 2007–present
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has 187 member countries, while the International Development Association (IDA) has 168 members. Each member state of IBRD should be also a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and only members of IBRD are allowed to join other institutions within the Bank (such as IDA).
 Voting power
In 2010, voting powers at the World Bank were revised to increase the voice of developing countries, notably China. The countries with most voting power are now the United States (15.85%), Japan (6.84%), China (4.42%), Germany (4.00%), the United Kingdom (3.75%), and France (3.75%). Under the changes, known as ‘Voice Reform – Phase 2’, other countries that saw significant gains included South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Singapore, Greece, Brazil, India, and Spain. Most developed countries’ voting power was reduced, along with a few poor countries such as Nigeria. United States‘, Russia‘s and Saudi Arabia‘s voting power was unchanged.
 Poverty reduction strategies
For the poorest developing countries in the world, the bank’s assistance plans are based on poverty reduction strategies; by combining a cross-section of local groups with an extensive analysis of the country’s financial and economic situation the World Bank develops a strategy pertaining uniquely to the country in question. The government then identifies the country’s priorities and targets for the reduction of poverty, and the World Bank aligns its aid efforts correspondingly.
Forty-five countries pledged US$25.1 billion in “aid for the world’s poorest countries”, aid that goes to the World Bank International Development Association (IDA) which distributes the gifts to eighty poorer countries. While wealthier nations sometimes fund their own aid projects, including those for diseases, and although IDA is the recipient of criticism, Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, said when the gifts were announced on December 15, 2007, that IDA money “is the core funding that the poorest developing countries rely on”.
 Clean Technology Fund management
The World Bank has been assigned temporary management responsibility of the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), focused on making renewable energy cost-competitive with coal-fired power as quickly as possible, but this may not continue after UN’s Copenhagen climate change conference in December, 2009, because of the Bank’s continued investment in coal-fired power plants.
 Clean Air Initiative
Clean Air Initiative (CAI) is a World Bank initiative to advance innovative ways to improve air quality in cities through partnerships in selected regions of the world by sharing knowledge and experiences. It includes electric vehicles.
 United Nations Development Business
Based on an agreement between the United Nations and the World Bank in 1981, Development Business became the official source for World Bank Procurement Notices, Contract Awards, and Project Approvals. In 1998, the agreement was re-negotiated, and included in this agreement was a joint venture to create an electronic version of the publication via the World Wide Web. Today, Development Business is the primary publication for all major multilateral development banks, United Nations agencies, and several national governments, many of whom have made the publication of their tenders and contracts in Development Business a mandatory requirement.
The World Bank has long been criticized by non-governmental organizations, such as the indigenous rights group Survival International, and academics, including its former Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz who is equally critical of the International Monetary Fund, the US Treasury Department, US and other developed country trade negotiators. Critics argue that the so-called free market reform policies which the Bank advocates are often harmful to economic development if implemented badly, too quickly (“shock therapy“), in the wrong sequence or in weak, uncompetitive economies.
In Masters of Illusion: The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations (1996), Catherine Caufield argued that the assumptions and structure of the World Bank harms southern nations. Caufield criticized its formulaic recipes of “development”. To the World Bank, different nations and regions are indistinguishable and ready to receive the “uniform remedy of development”. She argued that to attain even modest success, Western practices are adopted and traditional economic structures and values abandoned. A second assumption is that poor countries cannot modernize without money and advice from abroad.
A number of intellectuals in developing countries have argued that the World Bank is deeply implicated in contemporary modes of donor and NGO imperialism, and that its intellectual contributions function to blame the poor for their condition.
One of the strongest criticisms of the World Bank has been the way in which it is governed. While the World Bank represents 186 countries, it is run by a small number of economically powerful countries. These countries choose the leadership and senior management of the World Bank, and so their interests dominate the bank.
The World Bank has dual roles that are contradictory: that of a political organization and that of a practical organization. As a political organization, the World Bank must meet the demands of donor and borrowing governments, private capital markets, and other international organizations. As an action-oriented organization, it must be neutral, specializing in development aid, technical assistance, and loans. The World Bank’s obligations to donor countries and private capital markets have caused it to adopt policies which dictate that poverty is best alleviated by the implementation of “market” policies.
In the 1990s, the World Bank and the IMF forged the Washington Consensus, policies which included deregulation and liberalization of markets, privatization and the downscaling of government. Though the Washington Consensus was conceived as a policy that would best promote development, it was criticized for ignoring equity, employment and how reforms like privatization were carried out. Many now agree that the Washington Consensus placed too much emphasis on the growth of GDP, and not enough on the permanence of growth or on whether growth contributed to better living standards.
Some analysis shows that the World Bank has increased poverty and been detrimental to the environment, public health and cultural diversity. Some critics also claim that the World Bank has consistently pushed a neoliberal agenda, imposing policies on developing countries which have been damaging, destructive and anti-developmental.
It has also been suggested that the World Bank is an instrument for the promotion of US or Western interests in certain regions of the world. Even South American nations have established the Bank of the South in order to reduce US influence in the region. Criticism of the bank, that the President is always a citizen of the United States, nominated by the President of the United States (though subject to the “approval” of the other member countries). There have been accusations that the decision-making structure is undemocratic as the US has a veto on some constitutional decisions with just over 16% of the shares in the bank; Decisions can only be passed with votes from countries whose shares total more than 85% of the bank’s shares. A further criticism concerns internal management and the manner in which the World Bank is said to lack accountability.
Criticism of the World Bank often takes the form of protesting as seen in recent events such as the World Bank Oslo 2002 Protests, the October Rebellion, and the Battle of Seattle. Such demonstrations have occurred all over the world, even amongst the Brazilian Kayapo people.
In 2008, a World Bank report which found that biofuels had driven food prices up 75% was not published. Officials confided that they believed it was suppressed to avoid embarrassing the then-President of the United States, George W. Bush.
Although controversial and far from proven, there is criticism that World Bank and IMF are used as a means to fulfill business (interests of large corporations to enter the natural resource markets of the country and obtain the legal guarantees that it can stay there) or political needs of the main IMF donors (mostly USA), that were previously historically obtained by more direct activity – war, economic blockade, espionage. See for example Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
 Knowledge production
The World Bank has been criticised for the manner in which it engages in “the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning” of knowledge. The Bank’s production of knowledge has become integral to the funding and justification of large capital projects. The Bank relies on “a growing network of translocal scientists, technocrats, NGOs, and empowered citizens to help generate data and construct discursive strategies”. Its capacity to produce authoritative knowledge is a response to intense scrutiny of Bank projects resulting from the successes of growing anti-Bank and alternative-development movements. “Development has relied exclusively on one knowledge system, namely, the modern Western one. The dominance of this knowledge system has dictated the marginalization and disqualification of non-Western knowledge systems”. It has been remarked that in these alternative knowledge systems, researchers and activists might find alternative rationales to guide interventionist action away from Western (Bank-produced) ways of thinking. Knowledge production has become an asset to the Bank, and “it is generated and used in highly strategic ways” to provide justifications for development.
 Structural adjustment
The effect of structural adjustment policies on poor countries has been one of the most significant criticisms of the World Bank. The 1979 energy crisis plunged many countries into economic crises. The World Bank responded with structural adjustment loans which distributed aid to struggling countries while enforcing policy changes in order to reduce inflation and fiscal imbalance. Some of these policies included encouraging production, investment and labour-intensive manufacturing, changing real exchange rates and altering the distribution of government resources. Structural adjustment policies were most effective in countries with an institutional framework that allowed these policies to be implemented easily. For some countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, economic growth regressed and inflation worsened. The alleviation of poverty was not a goal of structural adjustment loans, and the circumstances of the poor often worsened, due to a reduction in social spending and an increase in the price of food, as subsidies were lifted.
By the late 1980s, international organizations began to admit that structural adjustment policies were worsening life for the world’s poor. The World Bank changed structural adjustment loans, allowing for social spending to be maintained, and encouraging a slower change to policies such as transfer of subsidies and price rises. In 1999, the World Bank and the IMF introduced the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper approach to replace structural adjustment loans. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper approach has been interpreted as an extension of structural adjustment policies as it continues to reinforce and legitimize global inequities. Neither approach has addressed the inherent flaws within the global economy that contribute to economic and social inequities within developing countries. By reinforcing the relationship between lending and client states, many believe that the World Bank has usurped indebted countries’ power to determine their own economic policy.
 Water privatization
Sociologist Michael Goldman has argued that “Industry analysts predict that private water will soon be a capitalized market as precious, and as war-provoking, as oil”. Goldman says “These days, an indebted country cannot borrow capital from the World Bank or IMF without a domestic water privatization policy as a precondition”. The Bank is utilizing “the ‘Washington Consensus‘ model of “development” to promote water privatization. Following this model, the World Bank is forcing many countries to commodify their water resources, rather than using their expertise in the public sector to acknowledge water as a universal human right and an essential public service”. The push for water privatization development plays upon “the shocking tragedy that much of the world lacks affordable clean water”. This image creates “new opportunities in development, though it may have little to do with ultimately quenching” the needs of impoverished countries. “The problem of water scarcity for the world’s poor has been analyzed by the World Bank as one in which the public sector has failed to deliver, and has therefore prevented development from “taking off”, and the economy from modernizing. If the state cannot deliver something as basic as water and sanitation, the argument goes, it is a strong indication of a general failure of public-sector capacity”. However, “with the sale or lease of a public good comes more than simply a privatized service; alongside it comes a wide set of postcolonial institutional forces that intervene in state-citizen relations and North-South dynamics”. One notable example is the privatization of water forced upon Bolivians by the World Bank which led to multiple protests including the 2000 Cochabamba protests.
 Sovereign immunity
Despite claiming goals of “good governance and anti-corruption″ the World Bank requires sovereign immunity from countries it deals with. Sovereign immunity waives a holder from all legal liability for their actions. It is proposed that this immunity from responsibility is a “shield which [The World Bank] wants resort to, for escaping accountability and security by the people.” As the United States has veto power, it can prevent the World Bank from taking action against its interests.
 Environmental strategy
The World Bank’s ongoing work to develop a strategy on climate change and environmental threats has been criticized for (i) lacking of a proper overall vision and purpose, (ii) having a limited focus on its own role in global and regional governance, and (iii) having limited recognition of specific regional issues, e.g. issues of rights to food and land, and sustainable land use. Critics have also commented that only 1% of the World Bank’s lending goes to the environmental sector, narrowly defined.
Environmentalists are urging the Bank to stop worldwide support for the development of coal plants and other large emitters of greenhouse gas and operations that are proven to pollute or damage the environment. For instance, protesters in South Africa and abroad have criticized the 2010 decision of the World Bank’s approval for a $3.75 billion loan to build the world’s 4th largest coal-fired power plant in South Africa. The plant will greatly increase the demand for coal mining and corresponding harmful environmental effects of coal.