Blinkhorn addresses Bank evolution

Since its inception, the World Bank has evolved in both its goals and its structure, retired World Bank senior manager Thomas Blinkhorn said in a lecture in Spanos Auditorium on Friday afternoon. He focused on the evolution of the World Bank since its creation, as well as the challenges it faces under its new leader, former College President Jim Yong Kim.

Blinkhorn began by detailing the creation of the World Bank, originally known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. The Bank was founded with the initial goal of rebuilding Europe and Japan after World War II, and in 1949, it made its first loan toward development and infrastructure. Similar projects dominated the World Bank's agenda for many decades after, he said.

While most of the World Bank's early lending projects were successful, there were notable failures.

Blinkhorn described a project he oversaw while working at the World Bank, which aimed to trap water and build a dam on the Narmada River in India in 1989. These efforts would eventually destroy the homes of over 100,000 people living along the reservoir.

"It was a failure, but we learned a lot," he said. "It was a watershed in the history of the evolution of the World Bank. Until this point, not enough attention was paid to the implications of infrastructure projects."

After years of financing infrastructure, the World Bank expanded its mission to refine financial and governmental systems, promote education, improve health and prepare for crises, he said.

"We realized that we could spend a lot of money on dams and roads, but unless we had a system that could regulate infrastructure and make it financially sustainable, we would never succeed," Blinkhorn said.

With these expanded efforts and outside pressure from non-governmental organizations, the World Bank has become more transparent than it was in the past, he said. While previously most of the analysis and data sets compiled by the World Bank were confidential, the public can currently access many of the bank's findings for free online, he said.

The World Bank has experienced gradual change of how member nations lead and contribute to the institution, marking a major shift in its history, Blinkhorn said.

The World Bank funds its projects by selling triple-A bonds and lending the money from their sale to its borrowers, he said. Of the 187 current members, approximately 100 countries continue to borrow from the Bank. Twenty-five countries that previously borrowed from the bank, including Chile, the Philippines and Lithuania, have graduated and have become donors to the Bank, Blinkhorn said.

Accompanying the change in the makeup of its contributors, the World Bank's leadership has become increasingly more diverse. In 1944, the United States contributed more than 60 percent of the World Bank's capital with an equivalent share of voting power, therefore dominating the World Bank's governance, Blinkhorn said. Today, the United States remains the top shareholder, holding approximately 16 percent of voting power, with Japan, Germany and France close behind, he said.

"Development as a process has changed over the years and, in turn, changed the World Bank as an institution," Blinkhorn said. "Together these changes to the World Bank will lead to some very interesting challenges for President Jim Yong Kim."

Kim has clear strengths as the World Bank's president, but he will inevitably be challenged by the demands of the institution, Blinkhorn said.

"President Kim comes to the job with a lot of attributes and experiences that no previous president of the Bank has had when coming into office," Blinkhorn said. "Kim has worked in developing countries. Although his experience is limited to Haiti, Central America and Rwanda and to the narrow health sector, it is very valuable."

Kim will have to tackle climate change, population growth and new technology, but Blinkhorn said that he is hopeful for the World Bank's future.

"I don't think he has this experience," Blinkhorn said. "I think he will gain it he's a smart man, and he will have people helping him. He is passionate and a quick learner who will rise to the occasion."

Blinkhorn, a lecturer for the Dartmouth Institute for Lifelong Education, spoke as part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology and Society series.

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