At the World Bank, Ajay Banga, a seasoned manager to reform the institution

Ajay Banga, in Nairobi, March 8, 2023.

A page turns at the World Bank. By appointing Ajay Banga, an American of Indian origin, as its head, Wednesday May 3, the member countries of the board of directors have entrusted it with a delicate mission: to increase the financing capacities of the largest multilateral development bank in the world, while strengthening its role in the fight against climate change.

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This new direction is far from unanimous. Several low-income countries are worried that it will come at the expense of the fight against poverty, at a time when low- and middle-income economies are suffocated by the burden of debt. “The expectations and the pressure on the institution are enormous, says Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which is also an opportunity for her to demonstrate that she can evolve and transform. »

The new leader, aged 63, is neither an economist nor a senior civil servant from the American administration, as were several of his predecessors, but a manager experienced in the art of business transformation.

“Bringing together shareholder and customer countries”

On leaving the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, in western India, he began a career at Nestlé, then went to PepsiCo, before joining the bank Citigroup and, finally, being appointed to the head of Mastercard, a payment card company that he is transforming into a solution provider “connectivity”.

He is also a member, between 2013 and 2021, of the board of directors of the American giant Dow Chemical, former owner of the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, whose gas leak in December 1984 killed thousands of inhabitants. A company still accused of escaping its responsibilities, while chemical residues infiltrate groundwater and poison the inhabitants, causing cancer, respiratory and neurological disorders, or birth defects.

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Of American nationality as is each president of the World Bank, Ajay Banga is the only one, with Jim Yong Kim (2012-2019), who is of foreign origin. “His profile will no doubt enable him to bring the World Bank’s shareholder and client countries closer together, which is important for the survival and legitimacy of the institution”believes Clémence Landers, researcher at the Center for Global Development think tank, located in Washington. “It is an appointment that also allows the United States, the largest shareholder of the World Bank, to get closer to India”adds Caroline Freund, dean of the School of Global Policy and Strategy, at the University of California at San Diego, and former official at the World Bank.

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