Which Path Will World Bank Take?

How will 'America First' affect World Bank policy?

A Trump loyalist, a former Bear Stearns economist, a skeptic of the very same organization he now leads: David Robert Malpass became the 13th president of the World Bank last month. He succeeded Jim Yong Kim, who in January announced plans to join a private investment firm.

Critics fear that Malpass’ leadership will lead to clashes between the US and other governments over the institution’s agenda. Traditionally, while the president of its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is selected by European countries, the head of the World Bank—which has 189 members—is nominated by the United States. Mr. Trump has lambasted multilateral institutions and agreements since taking office in January 2017. The World Bank’s mission of reducing poverty through development aid tends to conflict with his priorities. In addition, the organization has progressively taken a greater role in addressing other pressing global issues, from pandemics to climate change, and refugees to the threats posed by digital technology.

“Action will need to be coordinated across countries and regions” to deal with such issues, comments Masood Ahmed, president of the poverty-focused, DC-based think tank Center for Global Development (CGD), on the CGD website. Ahmed served eight years as director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department before joining CGD in January 2017.

“The world is looking for innovative ways to work with developing countries and to drive some small portion of the trillions of dollars of global capital to support sustainable development,” says Mark Plant, director of development finance and senior policy fellow at CGD. “The World Bank has all the tools needed to bring about new development and financing paradigms. It doesn’t need a revolution, but just a tilt in the right direction.”

Plant hopes that the 63-year-old Malpass, who has served under Trump in the Department of the Treasury, will rise to the occasion. “The question is whether he can and will steer the World Bank where it is needed,” Plant says, “or whether he will fall back on old development models, leaving it increasingly irrelevant.”