Appointments to UN Agencies - World Bank

The World Bank is comprised of a group of development institutions that provide loans and grants to developing countries. The stated goal of these loans is to alleviate poverty by creating the conditions for sustained development. The Bank is currently the largest source of development finance in the world.

The World Bank is led by a Board of Governors, made up of a representative for each of the 185 shareholder countries of the Bank. The Board of Governors serves as the policy-making body for the Bank. Because it only meets once a year, the Board of Governors elects a 24-person Board of Directors (also called Executive Directors) which meets bi-weekly.

The President of the World Bank is responsible for the overall management of the Bank, and s/he serves as the Chair of the Bank's Board of Directors. In this capacity s/he also serves as President of the International Development Association (IDA) and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the Administrative Council of the International Centre of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the institutions that make up the Bank. The president holds a five-year, renewable term.

Our Documents: Civil Society Documents | World Bank Documents | IMF Documents | Government Statements | International Organization Statements

Relationship between World Bank and UN

The World Bank has been in partnership with the United Nations since the founding of the two organizations in 1944 and 1945, respectively. The formal relationship between the two organizations was defined in a 1947 agreement that "recognizes the bank as an independent specialized agency of the UN as well as a member and observer in many UN bodies." The World Bank describes the relationship between the two organizations as "focusing on economic and social areas of mutual concern.... In addition to a shared agenda, the Bank and the UN have almost the same membership."

Selection Process of World Bank President

There is a long-standing, informal agreement dating from the establishment of the World Bank in 1944 that its president will be a United States national, while the managing director of the International Monetary Fund will be a European national. (The Wall Street-related origin of this agreement is explained here.) Therefore, the past ten Bank presidents have been American. There has never been a female Bank president.

For the selection of the President, the Board of Directors must approve the nominee by a supermajority of 85%. The voting power of each member is based on its share of contributions to the Bank, which is expressed as a percentage of the total of votes held by all of the shareholders. The US is the largest shareholder in the Bank with 16.41% of the votes. The voting weight of the US gives it the ability to block a supermajority decision.

Recent Developments

On May 17, 2007 the World Bank announced that then-President Paul Wolfowitz would resign, effective June 30. In the midst of high-profile charges that Wolfowitz abused powers of office and pressure for his resignation, broader doubts about the Bank were voiced widely - both about the overall effectiveness of the Bank and the standing tradition by which the U.S. president chooses the Bank's head.

Several member governments (Australia, Brazil, Norway and South Africa) called instead for an open, merit-based, competitive process. In the U.S., legislative leaders sent a letter to President Bush asking him to consider non-American candidates in order to send an "unambiguous signal of the commitment of the United States to the Bank's core anti-poverty mission" and to multilateral agencies.

The Bank's Executive Directors - some of whom represent countries which oppose the current selection procedure - recently announced the Bank's written policy that any country can propose a candidate. The U.S. nominated Robert Zoellick, former US Trade Representative, on May 30. The Bank Board then stated that it would continue to accept nominations until June 15, 2007.

The Executive Directors also issued a profile of fundamental qualities for nominees. On May 29, they said that essential qualifications for the next World Bank President would include:

  • A proven track record of leadership;
  • Experience managing large, international organizations, a familiarity with the public sector and a willingness to tackle governance reform;
  • A firm commitment to development;
  • A commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation, and
  • Political objectivity and independence.

The U.S. administration promised to consult more widely as it selected a presidential nominee and hinted that it may accept a non-American candidate. It is unclear to what extent any wider consultations took place, but the historical opaque processes (neither revealing criteria for the decision nor publicizing a shortlist with candidate qualifications) were upheld.

However, most shareholder governments reportedly did not desire another confrontation with the U.S. administration so soon after the Wolfowitz resignation, and they acquiesced to tradition at least once more. Additionally, Zoellick is considered very well-qualified for the position, which lessened the urgency of reforming the U.S.-driven selection process, and may have contributed to countries' decisions not to put forward other nominees.

On June 15, Robert Zoellick was announced as the sole nominee for the Bank's Presidency. The 24-member Board of Directors, representing the shareholder governments of the Bank, then questioned him in a four-hour informal meeting. It was reported by media sources that the Board questioned him thoroughly as part of an effort by some member countries to set a precedent for a merit-based process, possibly laying groundwork for a future competitive selection - one in which the U.S. is not the only nominator.

The Directors of the Bank unanimously approved Robert Zoellick as the next Bank President on 25 June in a meeting many regarded as a formality. He took office on July 1, 2007, allowing a one-week overlap with outgoing president Paul Wolfowitz.

Coming Up 

Zoellick's term is five years, which allows for reform to the selection process to be discussed during his term. Bank observers expect that the selection process for the next president will not be a U.S. prerogative. A Brookings Institution expert said, "Change is afoot and it is very clear that it will be hard to do this again when Zoellick's term is over." Norway said, "We will work with other governments to make such a procedure for future presidential appointments of the World Bank." European control of the IMF appointment should end at the same time, in Norway's view.

In the view of a Bank Board official, "the challenge [for ending the US monopoly] will be to keep the issue in people's consciousness and approach some presentable open but well-governed process in good time before the end of this current presidency."

Related UNElections Monitors