WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said on Thursday (Feb 23) that Washington is nominating former Mastercard Chief Executive Ajay Banga as a candidate to lead the World Bank, after its current head announced plans to step down early.
The development lender has just started accepting candidate nominations in a process set to run until Mar 29, with the bank saying that women contenders would be “strongly” encouraged.
The president of the World Bank is typically American, while the leader of the International Monetary Fund is customarily European.
Banga, 63, is Indian-American and currently serving as vice chairman at equity firm General Atlantic.
He was previously chief executive at Mastercard, and has also served on the boards of the American Red Cross, Kraft Foods and Dow Inc, said the White House in a statement.
Banga has “critical experience mobilising public-private resources to tackle the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate change,” said Biden in a statement.
Last week, current World Bank President David Malpass said he would step down nearly a year early, ending a tenure that has been clouded by questions over his climate stance.
Malpass, who was appointed to the post in 2019 when Donald Trump was president, would originally have ended his term in 2024.
Banga’s nomination comes amid a push for development lenders to revamp and address global problems like environmental issues more effectively.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier said that lenders’ core models, where countries borrow to make specific investments addressing developmental constraints, is “insufficient to meet the moment.”
The United States is the World Bank’s largest shareholder.
Any of the bank’s 189 members can nominate a candidate, though in 2019, Malpass was the lone nominee to take over the helm of the institution.
Speaking to reporters, a senior US administration official said: “At Mastercard and General Atlantic, Ajay has made combating climate change and mobilizing private capital to help power the green transition a priority.”
“These are experiences and priorities that will guide and drive his work in the years ahead at the World Bank,” the official added.
In a separate statement, Yellen said that she applauded Biden’s decision.
Banga “has the right leadership and management skills, experience living and working in emerging markets, and financial expertise to lead the World Bank at a critical moment in its history,” Yellen said.
She added that his record of forging partnerships between the public sector, private sector and non-profits will serve him in helping to “mobilize the private capital and press for the reforms needed to meet our shared ambitions.”
Luis Alberto Moreno, former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, told AFP that the World Bank is at a transformative moment as the global community grapples with heightened tensions and major development challenges, “the biggest of which has to do with the whole energy and climate transition”.
Carrying out a successful reform would require balance between the developed and emerging worlds, he said.
“We’re in a moment where there’s a growing disconnect between the global north and the global south. Just bringing that together takes somebody that not only has the technical skills, but the political skills,” Moreno added.
Asked about the World Bank’s encouragement for women candidates, a US official told reporters that Banga – who was born, raised and spent an early part of his career in emerging market India – had a “personal conviction and excellent track record” in promoting diversity in his work.
The World Bank has been led by men since its founding in the aftermath of World War II.