© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: World Bank President Ajay Banga arrives for his first day of work at World Bank headquarters in Washington, U.S. June 2, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
By David Lawder
MANDEVILLE, Jamaica (Reuters) – World Bank President Ajay Banga wants to focus on improving the development lender so that he can earn the right to press member countries for more capital, as the new chief looks to expand its role in fighting climate change, pandemics and other crises.
Banga said in an interview he would wait to seek a capital increase until he has made progress re-focusing the bank’s development lending on more impactful projects, made it more nimble and boosted lending with its existing balance sheet.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Banga told Reuters on Tuesday on his first foreign trip, to Jamaica and Peru.
“I think a better bank is an important thing” to achieve. “And then I earn the right to come back ask for a bigger bank,” he said.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen ruled out a capital increase in March, but international development experts say that annual clean energy transition financing needs in the trillions of dollars will require more capital for the World Bank and massive funding from the private sector.
Banga said his first task in improving the 78-year-old institution is to talk to shareholders about a change to the lender’s mission statement to focus on eliminating poverty “on a livable planet” – codifying its expanded role.
The bank’s current mission statement refers to ending extreme poverty within a generation and promoting shared prosperity.
“What I mean by livable is climate, but also pandemics, and also fragility and food insecurity,” Banga said.
His first two destinations, Jamaica and Peru, both face climate threats while nearly a quarter of their populations are in poverty.
“How do you eliminate poverty if you can’t breathe, you don’t have clean water, you’re scared of COVID and you’re a refugee, and you can’t eat? I don’t understand how these are either-or. To me, they’re together.”
On Wednesday, he visited a Jamaican greenhouse farm that uses abandoned bauxite mining pits to collect rainwater for drip irrigation, allowing 20 local farmers to grow peppers and tomatoes, selling some to resorts.
After helping plant some seedlings, he said the project, launched with a World Bank-supported government grant, marries two main goals of his vision: sustainability and jobs.
“This would have been an exposed eyesore. Instead, you end up with water, fruits and vegetables. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Banga is seeking buy-in from shareholders on the new mission statement, but laid out his initial plans to start the bank’s transition. This includes promoting more inclusion of women and youth in the bank’s development work, with a strong emphasis on job creation.
He also said he would start work soon on efforts to harness more private capital, seen as essential for financing climate-related and other projects, for developing countries.
On several occasions during visits in Peru and Jamaica, Banga said the various divisions of the World Bank Group needed to work together better as “one bank,” saving countries the difficulties of dealing with them separately, and speeding its approval processes.
He wanted to measure success not by projects approved or dollars committed, but by “tangible things that are reflective of development. How many girls went to school, how many private sector dollars did we crowd in for every dollar we invested? How many people got a better job?”
Banga also said he wanted to focus the bank on “scalable, replicable” projects in numerous countries, such as Lima’s bus rapid transit system and government-run legal aid centers for women throughout Peru.