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Nigerian World Bank hopeful promises change

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 29, 2012 -- Updated 0111 GMT (0911 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Africa's choice for the top job at the World Bank
  • The Harvard-educated economist says she would make the bank nimbler and more responsive
  • President Obama has nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College
  • The World Bank president has always been an American

(CNN) -- The Nigerian contender to head the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said Wednesday she is ready to lead from day one and would make it a nimbler, more responsive organization.

Okonjo-Iweala told CNN's Richard Quest she was the best candidate for the job because of her 25 years working at the bank and her time as Nigerian finance minister.

This has given her experience on both sides of the table, she said, and means she could hit the ground running.

"You don't want to spend six months, a year, learning how the institution functions before you can lead -- I can lead from the word go," she said, speaking from Delhi, India.

President Barack Obama on Friday presented Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College, as the U.S. nominee for the role.

While the World Bank's influence is felt most directly in the developing world, an American has always headed the bank.

The organization expects to pick the new president by its spring meeting in the week of April 16.

Okonjo-Iweala said she welcomed the competition posed by Kim, whose background is in medicine, not economics or business as has been the case with most previous World Bank presidents.

"I am not daunted ... because the shareholders of the World Bank promised a fair, merit-based, open and competitive process," she said.

Okonjo-Iweala, a Harvard-educated economist and former senior World Bank official, said her role as head of the Nigerian finance ministry had provided a valuable practical grounding.

"This is not theory you are dealing with, it's fact, it's experience, it's real world, 'how do we make a policy decision that will help millions of poor people today?' -- so that gives me a lot," she said.

She said her chief aim if picked to lead the bank would be to make it a faster and nimbler organization, able to respond swiftly to problems in developing countries.

The bank should also focus on promoting growth in developing nations to create jobs, especially for young people, she said.

"I've never met a poor person who didn't want the dignity of a job -- if they have a job, they can take care of their health problems, their education problems," she said.

As World Bank leader, she would also give the emerging market nations a voice on the global stage, Okonjo-Iweala said, and reflect a changing world where those countries are increasingly contributing to growth.

She was nominated by South Africa and has the support of other African nations.

Antonio Ocampo, formerly the finance minister of Colombia, has also been nominated.

Kim, a Korean American, has previously served as a senior official at the World Health Organization.

The World Bank was created along with the International Monetary Fund in 1944 to help the Allied powers shape the post-World War II economic order. It now includes 187 member states, offering loans and grants as well as technical expertise for development projects around the world.

Under a tacit agreement in place since their inception, an American has always led the World Bank while a European has been in charge of the IMF.

The World Bank and the IMF get funding from their members, also known as shareholders, and it is this funding that is the basis for voting power on the organizations' boards.

The board will vote on the new leader for the bank, but it is widely assumed that the U.S. nominee will be the one confirmed by the full body.

As the largest contributor to the World Bank and the IMF, the United States has the most voting shares on their boards at roughly 16%. The United States and Europe together have roughly half these shares, and have long been able to impose their will in matters of leadership.

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