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You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave

Dan Hoornweg's picture

World Bank, Washington, DCAs of January 1st, I’m officially ‘retired’ from the World Bank. This is a dozen years before I had to retire, but I wanted to move back to Ontario for love and opportunity. However, I’ve already come to the conclusion that if you care about sustainable development and cities, you can never fully leave the World Bank.

Things are about to get ‘very hairy’ as we bump up against, and in a few cases pass right through, planetary limits. Sure, sure – everyone’s familiar with the rebuttals to the ‘limits to growth’ argument, and true, humans are amazingly resourceful. We will certainly pull a few innovative planetary rabbits from our hat. But make no mistake, tomorrow’s world will be much more affluent, uncertain, less stable, and at times, down-right scary as we deal with a billion-plus people that expect to live a similar lifestyle to today’s fortunate few (the planet’s richest two billion are being joined by another two billion ‘middle class’). All this is happening while we still have more than a billion people living in absolute and debilitating poverty (the single largest source of instability in the world).

Nowhere is this rough and tumble, fast-paced and polarized world more pronounced than in cities. Cities are already driving most of our planetary changes, and in the next 40 years, the world’s cities will double. Cities generate the wealth to build a better planet; while at the same time they lead to the pollution and environmental degradation associated with urban lifestyles. Cities cause most of the big planetary challenges – climate change, biodiversity loss and soil degradation are all by-products of urbanization. Also, by concentrating people and economies, cities are particularly vulnerable to increasing risks and disruption.

This is where organizations like the World Bank play a critical role. Through more than 9,000 committed staff, capable management, more than 100 offices worldwide, and a strong base budget, the World Bank is able to quickly and credibly articulate what’s happening in the world, and at times suggest course corrections. The World Bank’s opinion is strengthened through its annual financial support to client countries, averaging about $40 billion (so too the matching criticism leveled at the Bank). In other words, it better be an organization capable of getting it as close to right as possible. For more than 50 years, the World Bank has partnered with member countries and cities like Jakarta, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Lagos to try to implement true sustainable development. Progress and mistakes abound, but by-in-large the efforts were genuine.

The World Bank and I share the same birthday, December 27th1. This year we exchanged gifts. I got an amazing career, world-class colleagues and rich experiences. I gave my appreciation, and will continue to give the institution my full support as one of the world’s leading proponents of sustainable development. I will continue to write this blog (as competition so far is minimal). And I will remain an adviser for the Bank. I will always be grateful for the time I spent with the institution and remain hopeful that organizations like the World Bank can quickly help get us on a path to a more sustainable future. I’ve moved, but like many others, I’m not leaving.


1The World Bank, along with the IMF, was conceived July 1944 in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire when 44 countries supported the Articles of Agreement. The Bank was officially launched 27 December, 1945 when the Articles of Agreement were signed by 28 member countries in Washington, DC. [http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTARCHIVES/Resources/WB_Historical_Chronology_1944_2005.pdf]

Photo: © Ryan Rayburn / World Bank