Earlier today I sent a message to all our staff across the World Bank Group to mark the end of our Financial Year and acknowledge the extraordinary efforts they have made in responding to the COVID-19 crisis in support of the countries where we work and their people. For those following the work of our organization, I sent the following message:
Following our all-staff town hall this morning, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your hard work and dedication over the last fiscal year. The last few months have posed some of the greatest challenges to ever face our client countries – the health and economic crises triggered by the COVID-19 global pandemic, a locust outbreak in East Africa leaving millions facing starvation, mounting debt burdens, widening inequality, and, in the last few weeks, the positive development of heightened attention to racism in our societies. Our mission, focused on alleviating poverty and supporting country efforts to improve incomes and living standards for all, has never been more urgent.
The COVID-19 crisis threatens to reverse much of the development progress made in recent years and throw hundreds of millions of people back into poverty. It has required countries to respond rapidly and decisively to major disruptions of their healthcare systems, their economies and the livelihoods of their citizens. I have been inspired by the World Bank Group’s response – mobilizing fast to deliver urgent support to countries to minimize loss of life, mitigate severe economic hardship, protect hard-earned development gains, and protect the poorest and most vulnerable. Our work has continued in challenging circumstances with most of us working from home and balancing family and other demands at this difficult time.
By May, we reached a significant milestone of emergency projects in 100 countries covering 70 percent of the world’s population. Through IFC and MIGA, we provided vital support for the private sector in developing countries, particularly firms in vulnerable industries, and we helped ensure that their financial sectors could continue lending to local businesses.
We were joined by the IMF in our call for bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries. In April, leaders of the G20 nations agreed to participate in debt relief through the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) and suspension of bilateral debt service payments starting May 1. The DSSI paves the way for long-overdue action to increase debt sustainability and transparency. Thanks to the hard work of many across the Bank Group, we were able to contribute to a sea change in debt transparency over the fiscal year with the launch of a website showing the creditor country composition of projected annual debt service payments for all 73 countries eligible for relief under the initiative. Transparency of all government financial commitments and investments is a key step in creating an attractive investment climate and could make substantial progress this year to deliver better outcomes for people in developing countries.
Beyond the immediate health crisis, we are focused on helping countries reopen their economies, restore jobs and services, and pave the pathway to a low-carbon and resilient recovery. We are helping countries scale up their social safety nets. This includes cash transfer operations through both in-person and digital options to ensure that governments are able to efficiently deliver this critical support for their most vulnerable people. We are also engaging with governments to eliminate or redirect costly and climate-harmful fuel subsidies and reduce barriers to food and medical supplies.
The 19th replenishment of IDA, in December 2019, secured an $82 billion financing package for the world’s 76 poorest countries. Under IDA19, we are increasing our support to countries affected by fragility, violence, and conflict.
To support our mission, we have ambitious commitments to increase our global footprint and be closer to our clients and operations on the ground. Our first World Bank Group FCV Strategy, launched in February 2020, builds on the Bank Group’s decades of experience in fragile contexts and reflects feedback from thousands of stakeholders across nearly 100 countries. We expect to exceed our climate co-benefit target for the third fiscal year in a row. We established a new global target to reduce learning poverty by at least half by 2030 to help ensure that children are equipped with the skills they need to succeed and achieve their potential as adults. With 1.5 billion missing school as a result of the COVID crisis, it is vital we stay on track.
By helping countries leverage new digital technologies, we are expanding access to financial services, particularly for women and other vulnerable groups; and helping governments deliver services more efficiently, including through transformational social protection programs. We are helping women unleash their full economic potential. In February, I delivered the opening remarks for the We-Fi regional summit in Dubai. This initiative, hosted by the World Bank Group, works to remove regulatory and legal barriers that women face and help them gain access to the financing, markets, and networks they need for success. Bank Group operations also focus on providing women with greater agency and voice in their communities, ensuring girls can learn effectively in schools, and promoting quality health care for mothers and children.
Over the last year, we have made progress in helping countries strengthen their private sectors, a key step to creating jobs and economic growth. IFC moved forward with its capital increase and launched its pandemic response package to help clients preserve employment and continue operations amid the crisis. MIGA also responded quickly, redirecting its efforts toward the purchase of urgent medical equipment, the provision of working capital for small and medium enterprises, corporations and individuals, and support for the short-term funding needs of governments. This was under the leadership of MIGA’s new Executive Vice President, Hiroshi Matano, who we welcomed in November 2019.
ICSID rounded out a strong response across the World Bank Group, moving almost overnight into full “remote operations” for case hearings and filings when home-based work began. It has deservedly been receiving fantastic feedback from users welcoming its support for solutions to investment disputes. An immense amount of work over the last year has also gone into reforming its procedural rules, which should be ready for a vote in the coming months.
Our realignment, that comes into effect today, aims to put high quality knowledge at the center of our operations and drive our work on development policy, and I am excited to work with our exceptionally strong leadership team on our shared agenda. This year brought new leaders to the World Bank Group, further strengthening our organization at the most senior levels: Anshula Kant as Managing Director & Chief Financial Officer, Mari Pangestu as Managing Director of Development Policy & Partnerships, Hiroshi Matano heading MIGA, and of course Axel van Trotsenburg as Managing Director of Operations on the departure of Kristalina Georgieva to the IMF. In addition to the above, there were 12 Vice-Presidential appointments over the last year (8 appointments and 4 rotations): Carmen Reinhart (Chief Economist), Mouhamadou Diagne (Integrity), Annette Dixon (Human Resources), Anna Bjerde (Europe and Central Asia), Ousmane Diagana (Western and Central Africa), Hafez Ghanem (East and Southern Africa), Felipe Jaramillo (Latin America and the Caribbean), Mamta Murthi (Human Development), Juergen Voegele (Sustainable Development), Chris Stephens (IFC General Counsel), Alfonso García Mora (IFC, Asia and the Pacific), and Ethiopis Tafara (MIGA Chief Risk, Legal and Administrative Officer).
In the first half of the year I was able to undertake a number of trips to both donor and client countries including Japan for the G20, the UK-Africa Investment Summit, France for the G7, Germany, Canada, India, Pakistan, Ukraine, China, Mexico, Bahrain and the UAE. Over the last few months, like most of you, I have been working from home but able to continue my work and my meetings with many Government leaders and partners virtually.
None of our achievements over the last twelve months would have been possible without you, our passionate and dedicated staff. Under normal circumstances, your collective efforts this year would have been remarkable. They are even more so considering that your accomplishments were done while also adapting to the challenges of home-based work. As I said in the town hall, we can expect the vast majority of staff to continue working from home through September at least.
I am deeply grateful for your dedication, your ingenuity and your flexibility amid these difficult circumstances. Not only have you come together in service of our clients but I see many ways in which you have come together to help each other, and it is it why I am confident we as a community will make progress on the challenge of addressing racism, and supporting colleagues through the inevitable mental and stress-related issues caused by our current situation. You can rely on me and the rest of the leadership team to find additional ways to support you.
As countries continue to grapple with impacts of the pandemic, we remain committed to providing the support and assistance countries need to overcome this crisis and achieve a sustainable and inclusive recovery for the benefit of all their people.