|HOME | PAST ISSUES | SUBSCRIPTIONS | LINKS | ADA INFO | CONTACT US | SEARCH|
magazine opens to the heartbreaking image of an emaciated child longing
for food, medicine, warmth and the promise of a future, and the page is
quickly turned. A television commercial shows the poignant picture of
an HIV-positive child who is clinging to life and the channel is quickly
changed. A conversation turns to world events, a child who has lost both
his legs to a landmine accident, and the subject is quickly dropped. We
dont want to read it. We dont want to see it. We dont
want to talk about it.
Even if we want to pretend this level of poverty, of disease, of hopelessness
doesnt exist, it doesand its not about to go away either.
Fortunately, there are people that read, see, talk and even live among
these images vowing to make a difference. To the dedicated staff of the
World Bank, these innocents, victims of grave circumstance, serve as a
poignant reminder of the work that lies ahead. To the layman, the Bank
is an institution founded to provide financial assistance to underdeveloped
countries around the world. To those who know the Bank and the breadth
of its mission, financial assistance is only the beginning. Not just the
feeding, but the education of every child in the world is a mission of
the Banksso unfathomable in its magnitude that its undertaking
has never been done before. Finding an ending to the AIDS epidemic, a
disease which currently affects 41 million people, is another of the otherwise
daunting charges set forth by the Bank. These are only three of the myriad
of challenges that the Bank has accepted in its quest to eradicate poverty
and bring peace, hope and a future to those around the world whose geography
or misfortune have left them powerless.
Founded in 1944 and comprised of 184 member countries, the World Bank
Group is one of the worlds largest sources of development assistance.
In the last year, the Bank provided $19.5 billion in loans to its client
countries and is now working in more than 100 developing economies, bringing
a mix of finance and ideas to improve living standards and eliminate the
worst forms of poverty. To help developing countries on a path of stable,
sustainable and equitable growth, the Bank works with government agencies,
non-governmental organizations and the private sector to formulate assistance
strategies. The Banks main focus is helping the poorest people and
the poorest countries. This is accomplished particularly through basic
health and education, poverty reduction, helping governments deliver quality
services, protecting the environment and supporting private business development.
In developing countries, life expectancy has increased from 55 to
65 years, the number of literate adults has doubled, the total number
of children in primary school has risen from 411 million to 681 million
and infant mortality has been reduced by 50 percent. Over the past generation,
more progress has been made in reducing poverty and raising living standards
than during any other period in history. Despite these impressive statistics,
their work is far from done and massive development challenges remain.
Of the 4.7 billion people who live in the 100 countries that are World
Bank clients, three billion live on less than $2 a day and 1.2 billion
on less than $1 a day. Nearly three million peopletwo million of
them childrenin developing countries die each year from vaccine-preventable
diseases. One hundred thirteen million children are not in school and
1.5 billion do not have clean water to drink.
Effective poverty reduction strategies and poverty-focused lending
are central to achieving the Banks objectives. The Bank is helping
countries to attract and retain private investment, and with the Banks
support, governments are reforming their overall economies and strengthening
By tradition, the World Banks president is a national of the
largest shareholder, the United States. Born in Australia in 1933 and
now a naturalized US citizen, James D. Wolfensohn is the World Bank Groups
ninth president since 1946 and only the third president in World Bank
history to serve a second five-year term. In a quest to gain firsthand
experience of the challenges facing the World Bank and its 184 member
countries, he has traveled to more than 100 countries since becoming president
During his travels, Wolfensohn has not only visited development projects
supported by the World Bank, but he has also met with the Banks
government clients as well as with representatives from business, labor,
media, non-governmental organizations, religious and womens groups,
students and teachers. In the process, he has taken the initiative in
forming new strategic partnerships between the Bank and the governments
it serves, the private sector, civil society, regional development banks
and the UN.
In 1996, together with the International Monetary Fund, Wolfensohn
initiated the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative as the first
comprehensive debt reduction program to address the needs of the worlds
poorest, most heavily indebted countries. Two years later, he led a global
review of the HIPC Initiative, to assess its progress and identify ways
to make the Initiative deeper, broader and faster. This review culminated
with an official endorsement to double the amount of relief, make more
countries eligible for assistance and speed up the process. In January
1999, Wolfensohn then introduced the Comprehensive Development Framework,
an approach that places the country front and center and focuses on building
stronger partnerships to reduce poverty. The CDF is also meant to enhance
the Strategic Compact, a major reform program in the Bank that Wolfensohn
launched to improve the institutions effectiveness in fighting poverty,
and to meet the needs of a rapidly changing global economy.
Prior to joining the Bank, Wolfensohn was an international investment
banker. His last position was as President and Chief Executive Officer
of James D. Wolfensohn Inc., his own investment firm set up in 1981 to
advise major US and international corporations. Before setting up his
own company, Wolfensohn held a series of senior positions in finance at
Salomon Brothers in New York, Schroders Ltd. in London, J. Henry Schroders
Banking Corporation in New York and Darling & Co. of Australia.
Throughout his career, Wolfensohn has also closely involved himself
in a wide range of cultural and volunteer activities, especially in the
performing arts. In 1970, he became involved in New Yorks Carnegie
Hall, first as a board member and later as Chairman of the Board, during
which time he led its successful effort to restore the landmark New York
building. He is now Chairman Emeritus of Carnegie Hall. In 1990, Wolfensohn
became Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. On January 1, 1996, he was
elected Chairman Emeritus.
Wolfensohn has been President of the International Federation of Multiple
Sclerosis Societies, Director of the Business Council for Sustainable
Development, and served both as Chairman of the Finance Committee and
as Director of the Rockefeller Foundation and of the Population Council
and as member of the Board of Rockefeller University.
Currently, in addition to serving as President of the World Bank Group,
he is Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
Wolfensohn is also an Honorary Trustee of the Brookings Institution and
a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Century Association
in New York.
He holds a BA and LLB from the University of Sydney and an MBA from
the Harvard Graduate School of Business. Before attending Harvard, he
was a lawyer for an Australian law firm, served as an Officer in the Royal
Australian Air Force and was a member of the 1956 Australian Olympic Fencing
Team. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and
a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society. He has been the recipient
of many awards for his volunteer work, including the first David Rockefeller
Prize of the Museum of Modern Art in New York for his work for culture
and the arts.
In May 1995, he was awarded an Honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth
II for his contribution to the arts and he has been decorated by the Governments
of Australia, France, Germany, Morocco and Norway.
During a recent interview with ABILITY Magazines Chet Cooper,
Wolfensohn discusses how he became involved with the International Federation
of Multiple Sclerosis Societies, where the Bank is today and how he plans
to address the issue of disability and accessibility on a global scale.
Chet Cooper: What was your relationship with Multiple Sclerosis
prior to joining the World Bank?
James D. Wolfensohn: My relationship with Multiple Sclerosis started
when Jacqueline du Pré, who was a great cellist, contracted the
disease over 20 years ago. Although Id had friends with MS before
that, I was particularly close to Jackie. My personal interest then converted
into an institutional interest when Sylvia Lawry, the founder of the Multiple
Sclerosis International Federation, asked me to become president, which
I did in the early 80s; I took on that job for five years. There
I learned both about MS and the problems associated with disabilities.
Also in the mid-80s, together with Queen Sylvia of Sweden, I ran
a conference in Bellagio, Italy on information about technical aids for
those with disabilities. She and I invited leaders from around the world
to talk about issues relating to the interchange of information on technical
assistance that could be provided to people with disabilities. We discovered,
to our surprise, a complete mess in the global community [laughs]nobody
talking to anybody, different standards and descriptions and no common
database. I think we were helpful in getting that started. Obviously since
that time Ive retained great interest because once you become aware
of the issuesyou cant forget them.
CC: When we last talked during the Conference on Disability and
Development, you posed a challenge to the Bank. How is the Bank addressing
JW: I think the important thing is that were putting together
a team to focus on the issues surrounding disability with Judith Heumannwho
I think by any measure is a leader in this fieldrunning it. We have
created an internal team, rather than simply working with outside consultants,
to essentially demonstrate our regard for the issues of disability. We
see it not as a luxury or something that is added on, but necessary because
persons with disabilities are part of the main community. I can liken
this a little to when we started to press the issue of gender discriminationat
the time, it was a male dominated institution interested only in issues
of men. That transition has happened over the last 20 or 30 years and
now this transition, which has gone more slowly, seems to be similar and
needs to be addressed in relation to the issues of disabilities. Weve
also started forming regional working groups. With Judy here you can be
certain that our activities will be both mainline inside the Bank and
also reaching out. As a matter of fact, at this moment, Judy is currently
in India looking at our operations there; this has gone beyond the idea
phase to implementation.
CC: Do you foresee a time coming when the Bank will incorporate
accessibility issues into the loan program?
JW: Yes, there are a lot of things that we can do in relation
to lending that have not been done in the past, without a huge change
in procedures. For example, we can incorporate the set of guidelines that
are currently being worked on to include having regard to accessibility
requirements, and the particular needs of persons with disabilities, as
an automatic element in any construction project. It can become just a
normal part of the effort. What Im anxious to do is to make it a
part of life, that if youre doing a projectit has to be accessible.
In many cases there is no opposition to this in our institution. Its
just that a lot of fairly simple procedures were not adequately included
at the beginning. Its mainly a question of awareness and changing
CC: Do you know of other development banks that have a program
similar to what is being initiated at the World Bank?
CC: The World Bank will then serve as a guiding light to the regional
Thats a great idea. What key component was lacking in
the development strategies?
CC: What is the difference between the World Bank and the World
JW: The World Bank is typically perceived to be the institution
which is the International Bank for Reconstruction Development and an
institution called the International Development Association, but we do
have two other principle affiliates: the International Finance Corporation,
which deals with the private sector and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee
Agency, which deals with insurance of private sector investments. So,
when you talk about the World Bank Group it includes all of those entities
plus one or two more. Basically, I am speaking for the Group. Judith has
charged me to ensure that we reach out to our private sector activities
as well as the governmental activities that are pursued by the Bank.
CC: How long have you been in your current position as President
of the World Bank?
JW: Eight years.
CC: In those eight years, what stands out as the most unique development
that you didnt forsee?
JW: I think the most unique thing thats happened in our
institution is that weve moved significantly from a sort of institutional
approach to a much more human approach. We perceive the issues of poverty
within the context of people, not just in the context of numbers. In humanizing
the institution, one of the byproducts is, of course, an immediate focus
on persons with disabilities. When you deal at the human level its
not just statistics youre looking atyoure looking at
the particular needs of individuals. The transition in the past eight
years here to take account of persons with disabilities and of vulnerable
groups such as orphans or indigenous peoplethe issue in terms of
enfranchising and giving voice to poor people in generalI would
call it a humanizing of the institution. There is now the recognition
that you cannot deal with questions of poverty unless you deal with it
through real people. My belief about persons with disabilities is that
they should not be conceived as a burden, but as an asset, and what we
should be trying to do is to educate them so that they can assist with
problem-solving. I regard people with disabilities as people who have
some limitations, but who very often have great strengths and great drive
to fully participate. Our task is to try to ensure that they have the
opportunity to contribute.
CC: What has been the most challenging aspect of your current
JW: Well I think the greatest challenge in taking on any large
organization is accomplishing change in a specified time frame. Whether
youre dealing with IBM, Daimler Benz, the U.S. government or any
organization, bringing about change takes time. The frustration is that
it takes five to seven years to turn a big organization in terms of its
direction and culture. I hadnt realized just how long it takes,
but now I realize its like turning an aircraft carrier. Once youve
turned its a pretty good thing, but turning it is a hell of a problem.
CC: And you must make sure it doesnt do a 360. [Laughs]
JW: Yes, you have to do that too. You have to make sure that it
stays on course.
CC: Are you familiar with the ABILITY House project?
JW: I dont think so.
CC: Its a program that was created in partnership with Habitat
for Humanity International. Have you worked with Habitat for Humanity?
JW: Yes, we have.
CC: Thats great to hear. We partner with Habitat for Humanity
International to build accessible housing for low-income people with disabilities.
There are two fundamental elements that distinguish an ABILITY House from
a typical Habitat for Humanity home. The plans address any specific accommodations
a person or family may need such as fully accessible restrooms, ramps,
wider hallways, raised outlets or lowered countertops. Furthermore, an
ABILITY House specifically targets the volunteer outreach to people with
disabilities for all phases of planning and construction. I was just in
Athens at the launch event for the European Year for People with Disabilities
and spoke with Anna Diamantopoulou, the European Commissioner for Employment
and Social Affairs for the European parliament; we may be working with
them and building some ABILITY Houses in Europe. Id like to encourage
World Bank to be a partner in going into these developing countries...
More info. available at worldbank
CONTINUED IN ABILITY MAGAZINE...... subscribe!
|HOME | PAST ISSUES | SUBSCRIPTIONS | LINKS | ADA INFO | CONTACT US | SEARCH|