Will the next World Bank president have ‘official views’?

Amidst all the talk of Jeffrey Sachs’s ‘pick me!’ campaign, Larry Summer’s numerous indiscretions, and the dimming prospect of a BRIC candidate, development consultant Ben Ramalingam offers something a little different. Drawing on work by former Bank staffer and academic David Ellerman he argues that a problem with the Bank is that it has ‘official views’. These views, which the Bank pours energy and resources into coming up with, constitute the Bank’s official line on issues, and become orthodoxies that inhibit genuine learning, country and community ownership, and open dialogue:

adverse opinions and critical reasoning tend to give way to authority, rules and bureaucratic reasoning shaped by the hierarchies within the organisation. Moreover, these Official Views “short-circuit” and bypass the active learning capability of national and local actors, and substitute the authority of external agencies in its place

Ramalingam argues that any future Bank president must be asked ten questions to determine how they might move the Bank away from this approach. Here are the first three:

  1. Does the candidates track record indicate they have the ability to be a leader who facilitates as well as one who directs?
  2. Is the candidate able to let go of the notion of selling to, or controlling, others using a set of predefined strategies and results? (Can they effectively manage the uncertainty and ambiguity that ensues?)
  3. Does the candidate instinctively seek out challenges to their institution’s  ideas and policies, and see their leadership role as catalysing ‘mutual learning’? (Does the candidate routinely present their viewpoints as ‘permanently provisional’ and ‘up for debate’)

The post goes into more depth, and is well worth a read. For those who have worked/researched Bank projects and talked to local groups and stakeholders the points on participation will resonate. And the piece may also raise certain questions about what type of candidate is best suited for the role. Should we discount the heads of organisations who have also demonstrated ‘official views’ syndrome? Ramalingam doesn’t discuss the politics behind this, but aren’t ‘official views’ symptomatic of the governance structures at the Bank? Would a hand-picked American candidate, curtailed by the political imperatives of their king-makers, really be able to offer such flexibility and open dialogue? Wouldn’t a candidate with wider support have more leeway in this regard? Let’s hear your thoughts readers.

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