At World Bank, Blue Ribbons Became Attire Of Their Ire

By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007

Could it have been the blue ribbons?

For an institution such as the World Bank, where diversity in food and dress and language is creed, it's hard to think that any two people could embrace wearing the same accessory on the same day. Then again, never underestimate the ability of soon-to-be-former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to provoke mass hostility.

For nearly a month now, thousands of bank employees have been livid, after the disclosure that Wolfowitz had arranged for a hefty raise for girlfriend Shaha Riza, when she was sent from the bank to the State Department. The ribbons were initially intended to show support for good governance in the World Bank and beyond. Since most staffers saw Wolfowitz's role in Iraq policy as governance gone horribly bad, the ribbons became a symbol of anger, a silent demand for the big boss's resignation.

Style filters down, babe.

"The ribbons were intended to be a constructive act by the staff to show support for a common goal, which is good governance," says Alison Cave, head of the World Bank Staff Association. "And if they believed that good governance in the World Bank means Wolfowitz should leave, so be it."

The ribbons bloomed in mid-April. Trying to address the burgeoning collective venom, someone, according to former staff association chairman Morallina Fanwar George, suggested in an e-mail that they wear ribbons to show their concern for the bank's future. Blue, she said, was chosen because it symbolized wisdom and honesty. Plus, it's pretty.

On April 18, staffers put their plan into action. Some volunteered to buy up all the rolls of blue ribbon from a nearby fabric store. Others hurried out to CVS for safety pins. By that afternoon, according to George, they'd made 1,000 folded ribbons. At the end of the day, all had been snatched up.

Things really started moving the following day. On her way to work, George stopped by a florist, asking him if he had more matching blue ribbon. After he said yes, he sent out his workers to a warehouse, nearly cleaning out the supply. In the conference room of the staff association, people cut and assembled in 15-minute shifts. The rank and file came on coffee breaks, lunch breaks, any free time they had. Soon after, volunteers (including retired World Bank employees) were handing out ribbons in the common areas. A fashion trend was born.

George says that perhaps the arts-and-crafts exercise helped provide a creative outlet for the growing anger.

"The staff needed a challenge," she says. "They needed something productive." (Later, Wolfowitz himself was seen wearing a blue ribbon around the office, which he claimed -- wait for it -- was a symbol of malaria awareness.) By close of business yesterday, the blue ribbons had become a new symbol -- of victory.

One employee declined to give her name but, with some hesitation, showed off the ribbon she had made herself. Constructed from cloth, with an earring at the center, it was more sturdy, she said, than the ones made by the staff association.

"I'm thinking about adding it to my permanent wardrobe," she said.

Alas, like all fashion trends -- parachute pants, down vests, shoulder pads -- the blue ribbon might have seen its last days for now. As with Wolfowitz, the ribbon might be relegated to the dustbin of history. Even yesterday afternoon, just hours before Wolfowitz's resignation was announced, there were those who were moving on.

"They were really big in April," said another woman staffer of the badges of the Blue Revolution. "Now it seems a little passe."

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