GlobalAtlanta interviewed John Donaldson, the World Bank’s senior external affairs counselor and adviser for the Africa region. Mr. Donaldson was in Atlanta recently as part of a weeklong program arranged by Emory University’s Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning.
The World Bank, a Bretton-Woods institution formed at the end of WWII, is among the world’s largest providers of development assistance, such as environmental protection and health care management, to developing nations. Made up of 184 member countries, including the U.S., which are jointly responsible for the institution’s funding and financial management, the World Bank centers its efforts on reaching the Millennium Development Goals, agreed to by UN members in 2000 and aimed at sustainable poverty reduction.
GlobalAtlanta: What are your views on sub-Saharan Africa?
Mr. Donaldson: If I had a million dollars to spare, I would put it in Africa. The returns there are as high as 30 percent. What many people don’t realize is that investments in Africa can be achieved safely and profitably. Yes, it’s an alien environment to many Americans, but so is Asia where many people lost their shirts. It’s all a matter of being able to assess the risk. A former vice president of the World Bank, Edward Jaycox started a 400 million dollar fund, the AIG African Infrastructure Fund, in Africa on a purely commercial basis and realizes annual yields of 30 percent.
GlobalAtlanta: Is the World Bank an organization that America should be involved with?
Mr. Donaldson: How we approach the next 25 years will determine whether our children live in a safe world. The World Bank also deals with broader issues that are critical to the world economy. While globalization has been around for hundreds of years, it is only in recent times that its effects have been so widespread. Financial forces across the world can rip through U.S. stock markets, or your competitor can be 12 time zones away. Questions that we ask ourselves include those related to human migration.
In the U.S. for example we bring in nurses from other countries because of a lack of nurses over here, which then creates a critical shortage in the countries where they were trained. On the other hand a 100 billion dollars is sent every year back home as remittances from individuals versus 60 billion dollars that is sent as development money. How do we regulate and protect the rights of people and where do we draw the line between human rights and sovereign rights?
Global Atlanta: The International Monetary Fund has come under increasing criticism in recent years over its handling of the various global financial crises. As its sister institution, how has this situation affected the World Bank and consequently, what has been the World Bank’s response to it?
Mr. Donaldson: The IMF is like a firefighter. When a country experiences a sudden financial crisis, the IMF comes in and deals with the emergency, [thereby] stabilizing the country and reducing its volatility. For the IMF, a year is a long time. The World Bank comes in after the fire, to rebuild the house. Rebuilding a nation’s infrastructure is a process that takes decades. Our roles are complementary with some overlap. The World Bank learns from experience. We are interested in hearing different views, and we are a stronger institution today because of the informed constructive criticism that we’ve received from the outside. I’m concerned when I hear criticism from information that is a decade old. We’d like people to bring these things to us. We are doing things differently now. We are addressing structural needs as opposed to being a silo. We are dealing with the long term and there is criticism we have agreed with. So yes, we are working differently now.
GlobalAtlanta: How can companies in Atlanta benefit from the World Bank’s activities in Africa?
Mr. Donaldson: Firstly, companies and organizations in Atlanta are already involved internationally. Like CARE for example, and Emory and Georgia State University. They too face the same challenges that we do in the 21st century. We consider them fellow travelers.
In addition, countries wanting to do business in Africa have access to the tremendous wealth of country data available on the World Bank website [www.worldbank.org]. Our “Doing Business in…” series [http://rru.worldbank.org] provides detailed and practical information on a per country basis, ranging from the time it takes to start a business, to hiring and firing legislation, to local rules and regulations.
We also have a U.S. Executive Director, Carole Brokins [email@example.com] who explains the activities of the World Bank to U.S. companies.