Ricardo Santos 

For those of us considering applying for a job in development, it might be a good idea to read Jeffrey Sachs’ article in the Washington Post. As David Bosco pointed out in The Multilateralist (March 2), Jeffrey Sachs quite simply used his article to submit his CV for the job of President of the World Bank. His opening statement is mission charged:

‘My quest to help end poverty has taken me to more than 125 countries, from mega-city capitals to mountaintop villages, from rain forest settlements to nomadic desert camps. Now I hope it will take me to 18th and Pennsylvania, to the presidency of the World Bank. I am eager for this challenge.’

Nothing like showing enthusiasm towards the new job you’re applying to! It then describes how Sachs perceives the profile of the job in question followed by some paragraphs dedicated to present his vision for the World Bank.

The next step is to highlight his strengths, focusing on his track record as a ‘trusted problem solver’. working to end poverty. In what is arguably a slightly disorganized argument, Sachs then discussed the challenges faced by the World Bank for it to become – in his opinion – a better, more effective organization, and the skills-set and network he can bring to support this change.

Confidently using the future tense, Sachs follows by letting his potential interviewers know that he ‘will work with industry, governments and civil society […], ‘agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and communities’ but also ‘with engineers’ (that’s definitely a safe job at the Bank under Sachs) ‘and financiers’ to solve issues such as bringing broadband to clinics, revolutionize knowledge, disease control, education and business but also solve the world energy challenge. Last, but not the least, he ‘will work with urban planners, architects and community organizations’ to meet the challenge of the ‘developing world’s mega-cities’. It shows that a display of ambition is also a key factor for a good job application.

Finally, as with all good applications, he ends with a statement of commitment: ‘Let’s get started’. Jeff Sachs is the man for the job.

But why would anyone want to lead the World Bank? Although understating its allure, Jeff Sachs recognizes that $16 billion of net disbursements in 2011 is ‘a meaningful sum’. It might not compare with the flows of corporate or bank finance or even trade, but it clearly compares with all the other donors of international aid. According to OECD DAC statistics, World Bank disbursements are only lower than the Official Development Assistance from the United States and from the set of European Union countries if considered as a block, making it, therefore, one of the three most powerful donors, and, by far, the most powerful multinational donor agency.

As it happens, the US is also the country with the highest voting power in the World Bank (15.85%), more than double Japan, the second biggest stockholder (for more details see the IBRD voting power realignment document of 2010). Not surprisingly, since its creation the World Bank has been led exclusively by Americans.

However, in the wake of the financial crisis and the rise of emergent economies such as China (since February the second biggest economy in the world, but with only 4.42% of the votes in the Bank), India (2.91% of the votes) and Brazil (recently taking the role as the 6th largest economy, but with only 2.24% of the votes) and the advent of the G20, new voices seek to be heard in determining international affairs, including aid. Those voices seek to break the invisible rule of American leadership of the World Bank.

This brings us to the final question: to whom should a spontaneous job application be sent? The obvious answer is: to those who have the power to decide. If that’s the case, by presenting his job application in the Washington Post, Jeffrey Sachs clearly demonstrated who, in his opinion, has the power to choose the next president of the World Bank: the United States of America.

Jeffrey Sachs chose to clearly propose himself for the leadership of the world’s most powerful multilateral donor institution. He has already rallied the support of some opinion makers and now has the endorsement of the Kenyan government. But he also revealed that his approach to “development” still flows through the same halls of power that currently command the World Bank. Does this mean a promise of a change in the way the Bank will work? Maybe not…

P.S. By the way, an alternative, humorous, version of Jeffrey Sachs’ “job application” can be found here.

Ricardo Santos is a PhD candidate within Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction team at IDS.