World Bank: Emerging Market Contenders Snap at US Heels

The prospect of the World Bank being led by someone from outside the U.S. for the first time seemed nearer on Friday, as several African nations backed Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the job.

World Bank building in Washington, DC.
Per-Anders Pettersson | Getty Images
World Bank building in Washington, DC.

"The endorsement is in line with the belief that the appointment of the leadership of the World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund , should be merit-based, open and transparent," the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria and Angola said in a statement.

If Okonjo-Iweala defies expectations and gets the job, she will be the first African to lead the organization, as well as the first woman.

The process of deciding who will be the next World Bank president will be — like the election of the next Pope — difficult to follow unless you’re one of the privileged few in the room.

In every previous election, the U.S. president’s nominee has been a shoo-in, but this time around the emerging economies are mounting a determined challenge. Given that the Bank’s remit is to lend to developing economies, an appointment from the emerging markets might make sense. However, the U.S., as the largest contributor to the Bank, controls 16.41 percent of the votes, and the winning candidate needs 85 percent.

Nominations for the presidency close on Friday, with growing rumblings that this may be the first time a woman, or someone from outside the U.S., leads the fund.

Two key candidates for the post have emerged from the developing world: Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.

The president of the World Bank is usually American, nominated by the U.S. administration, while the managing director of the IMF is invariably European, and very often French, such as incumbent Christine Lagarde and her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Whoever wins the position, voted for by the Bank’s board of directors, will start a five-year term on July 1.

One criticism leveled at candidates in the past is that they are often people who have not served at the highest levels of government or business before taking on the role — outgoing President Robert Zoellick, for example, has an impressive resume in both politics and business but had never previously led a large-scale organization.

The appointment of a woman would mean that two of the most important jobs in the global economy are held by women. There are an increasing number of female faces at the World Bank, and half of Zoellick’s senior appointments are women.

Here we take a look at some of the names in the running:

Jim Yong Kim, new president of the World Bank.
Ramin Talaie | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jim Yong Kim, new president of the World Bank.

Jim Yong Kim: Senior administration officials say President Barack Obama is nominating Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank, according to the Associated Press. Obama is expected to announce Kim's nomination Friday. The officials requested anonymity in order to speak ahead of the president's announcement.

It's a surprise choice for the World Bank's top job. A physician by training, Kim is a prominent figure in the global health world. Officials believe his broad international experience will help counter criticism from developing countries weary of the U.S. stranglehold on the World Bank's top post.


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: The Nigerian finance minister was nominated by South Africa, Nigeria and Angola, after South Africa publicly expressed frustration with the selection process. She is already a managing director at the World Bank, where she worked for 21 years as a development economist, and is widely credited with helping the Nigerian economy emerge from corruption and securing a new deal on its international debts.

Jose Antonio Ocampo: The former Colombian finance minister has plenty of experience on the international stage, with a spell as under secretary general for economic and social affairs at the United Nations under his belt. Currently director of the Economic and Political Development Concentration at Columbia University, he’s likely to be nominated by South American powerhouse Brazil.

Agustin Carstens: The current governor of Mexico's central bank recently was Christine Lagarde’s main contender for the IMF’s top job. During an illustrious career, the economist by trade has moved between the top echelons of Mexican politics and international affairs, most notably as deputy managing director at the IMF, and is well-known as an expert on developing economies. While he has ruled himself out of the World Bank job, his name is still being thrown around.

—The AP contributed to this report