Last week the Guardian reported that the Obama Administration has approached President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil about becoming the next President of the World Bank. Seems unlikely to me – for one thing it’s early, since Robert Zoellick’s term lasts another three years, and the Administration has many other fish it is frying right now. Still it’s a welcome rumor, since it signals a willingness to imagine the World Bank having as its president a non-American – and one whose primary experience is in fighting poverty rather than primarily in finance. The Guardian cited a report in the respected Brazilian business weekly magazine Exame, and also noted that our friends at Foreign Policy magazine recently reported that the Obama administration was considering either Lula or Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, to head the World Bank.
Either would be an excellent choice, but process matters, too. What this Administration should be signaling is not that it is open to a non-American leading the World Bank, but that it is ready to cede altogether its obsolete 20th century grip on the appointment process, in favor of a process that is open (let the Board or a distinguished committee suggest and vet candidates), transparent and meritocratic, without regard to nationality. That’s what President Obama signed on to in the recent G-20 Communique and that’s what 70 percent of the 700 respondents from 71 countries preferred in a 2007 CGD survey organized by David Wheeler. Who knows? Such a process might even yield an American. In the 2007 CGD survey, Stanley Fischer was second only to Kemal Dervis as the respondents’ choice for the next head of the World Bank. The governor of the Bank of Israel, Fischer is both Israeli and American, and was nominated by a group of developing countries as their choice for the head of the IMF in 2004.
For a full analysis of the survey results, including views on a variety of selection processes and the criteria that respondents felt mattered most, see Wheeler’s It's One World Out There: The Global Consensus on Selecting the World Bank's Next President.