These Spring Meetings will probably be remembered for the capital increase – the first in 20 years – and the historic changes to the voice and representation of developing countries within the Bank. They are important milestones, and deserve to be recognized. But something much more profound is happening within the Bank, something that historians will look back on and regard as a pivotal moment in the organization’s evolution.
The key to understanding what is underway is Mr. Zoellick’s speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 14. This was probably the most important speech by a Bank president since McNamara’s Nairobi speech of 1973 – even more important, I would argue, than Mr. Wolfensohn’s 1996 speech on corruption. For the first time in many years, the Bank is at the leading edge of thinking about global trends. Mr. Zoellick’s blunt declaration that the era of the Third World is over and a new, more complex arrangement is emerging, challenges everyone at the Bank and everyone working in development to think and act differently. It sets in context why the reforms underway across many areas of the Bank are really necessary, why we need a new approach to investment lending, to knowledge, to our location and operation as a global bank.
The end of the Third World does not mean that there are no poor countries, or that all countries are equally advantaged. It means the landscape has changed so much that our thinking and behavior must shift. To think of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Malaysia as developing countries seems anachronistic. Yes they have poverty and challenges, but… “developing”? They play a regional and global role of real significance. They have civil servants, academics and businesspeople as skilled as (and many more skilled than) World Bank staff. Developing just doesn’t capture it.