Jose Antonio Ocampo, one of three candidates to head up the World Bank, said Tuesday that the organization needs a “change of culture,” citing the bank’s past difficulties in collaborating with other international institutions.
Ocampo, a former Colombian finance minister, laid out his vision for the World Bank at an event hosted by the Washington Post Live and the Center for Global Development. He said the bank needs to continue its “historic” task of reducing poverty while expanding its focus to issues such as climate change.
“The World Bank has gone from poverty reduction to management of the global commons,” Ocampo said. He noted that the Bank would be a “central player” in helping low- and middle-income countries deal with global warming in the coming years through its infrastructure loans and technical assistance.
But to take on these global tasks, the bank would have to work much more closely with organizations such as the United Nations. “And in my experience,” said Ocampo, a former U.N. official, “the World Bank has not been particularly strong in this area.”
He lamented, among other things, a “sense of superiority” among bank staff.
Fielding questions from the news media, Ocampo agreed that his candidacy faced steep odds. Traditionally, the U.S. nominee gets the bid — which, in this case, is Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim. Meanwhile, the other insurgent candidate, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has garnered far more public enthusiasm than Ocampo.
Still, Ocampo said that the mere fact of his candidacy has symbolic importance.
“I’m in this race for another reason,” he said. “I consider the current system by which the World Bank president is selected incompatible with multilateralism.”
He stressed the need for a more open, transparent process and appeared to take a swipe at Kim, who has largely shied away from public appearances.
“I don’t know what my U.S. colleague thinks,” Ocampo said. “Nobody knows.”
Ocampo, 59, is a respected academic who got his PhD in economics from Yale at the age of 23 and has published widely on policies to help developing countries reduce their exposure to financial volatility. In 2008, he won the Leontief Prize for “advancing the frontiers of economic thought.”
His presentation on Tuesday was wonkish, rife with bullet points. What set him apart from the other candidates, he said, was less a grand vision and more a “different emphasis.” He wants, for instance, the World Bank to provide a forum where both developed countries and emerging economies can discuss matters such as trade and investment flows.
Ocampo also stressed that the World Bank, which lent $57 billion last year, was in danger of losing its premier role as a lender to the developing world. Citing his tenure as Colombian finance minister, he noted that securing a World Bank loan could often take years, whereas nations could get loans from Wall Street in a month.
“You may end up in a situation where the World Bank can not compete,” Ocampo warned. “And that’s a real loss,” he added, noting that the bank can provide technical expertise that the private sector cannot.
Ocampo had come to the event straight from what he called an “intense” three-hour job interview with the World Bank’s executive directors.
“There were 25 executive directors and they all had two to five questions,” he chuckled. “You can do the math.”