World Bank treads new path

Published May 26, 2004

SHANGHAI, May 25: World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said that his organization was "making changes in the way we think," so that more could be done to alleviate poverty in the world.

Admitting a change of tack in terms of how to address issues in the developing world, the WB president said that the new thinking in Washington meant giving more power and importance at a local level so that Washington-prescribed policies are replaced by home countries owning the work that the WB is doing. This may also mean more autonomy to local WB offices as well as local partners. "We are doing this in Pakistan as well," he added.

Addressing a press conference prior to the opening of the global conference on "Scaling Up Poverty Reduction," being held from May 25-27 in Shanghai on Tuesday, Mr Wolfensohn said that the whole concept of "scaling up" meant taking successful programmes, policies and projects and sustaining them across different places and across time.

"This requires learning more about what works and what doesn't," the WB president said. The whole concept behind the multi-million dollar conference, which is being attended by over 600 delegates from across the world, is for the WB to showcase successful projects undertaken in the third world to tell donor countries in the developed world what progress is being made.

One of the case studies comes from Pakistan on the scaling up of rural programmes. The main showcase of the conference, however, is China, the host country.

China's ability to think ahead and replicate successful programmes, especially in poverty reduction where over 400 million people have been pulled above the poverty line, in the past decade or so.

Mr Wolfensohn said that while exploitation of the developing world by the developed world does exist, a new balance was taking shape in the world. He said that there were five billion people in developing countries and one billion in the developed world but it was the developed world that held over 80 per cent of the world's wealth.

Underlying the importance of China in world affairs, the WB president said that by 2017, China's share of world trade would equal that of the United States but soon after, China would overtake the US. By 2050, the developing world would double its growth rate and 40 per cent of the global GDP would be coming from developing countries.

On the question of corruption being an impediment to changing people's lives, the WB president said that this was an issue and that 140 companies had been blacklisted by the bank in this regard.

When it was pointed out that the two countries that have made most progress in poverty reduction and growth rates are China and Vietnam, both of which have socialist credential and market economies, and whether the WB would recommend this system to other countries, the WB president said that these were "good examples to look at."

While poverty has grown in Pakistan over the past decade, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty globally has been reduced by half, over the past 30 years.

The WB now wants to attack poverty by coming up with policies that are devised locally and, if successful, are replicated elsewhere. "We are not interested in replicating the American, British or Australian model in other countries," Mr Wolfensohn commented.

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