By Jim Yong Kim
At this moment, more than a billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. That is a stain on our moral conscience. We must help lift people out of poverty without delay, without prejudice, no matter the circumstance, no matter the locale.
Just six months ago, the World Bank Group endorsed two goals: the first is to end extreme poverty by 2030; the second is to boost shared prosperity for the bottom 40 percent of the population in countries.
Reaching our first goal – ending extreme poverty by 2030 – will be historic and extraordinarily difficult. We are making progress, but nothing is assured in the battle against poverty, and it will get much tougher the closer we get to the goal. Global growth could slow. Investors could become even more skittish. Long-term financing for much needed infrastructure – already scarce – could dry up.
The second goal, boosting shared prosperity, is directly relevant to all countries in the world, from the Middle East to Africa to Asia and to Latin America. The protests during the Arab Spring, and the more recent ones in Turkey, Brazil, and South Africa were rooted in the universal desire to participate in the global middle class.
Social media has created an enormous “virtual middle class,” as Thomas Friedman has called it, who will continue to knock on, and then break down, the door of opportunity. We should pay much more attention to whether growth reaches all the population, and not just the elite.
At the World Bank Group, our two goals to end poverty and boost shared prosperity require a strategy that forces us to be selective – first, choosing our priorities and then, abandoning those activities that are not. We won’t continue working in areas in which others are better or just to meet lending volume targets. We will become a solutions bank with results for the poor as our central benchmark.
So what are our principles? We will have a relentless focus on our two goals. We will work with partners – we cannot do it alone. We will be bold. We will take risks –smart risks. And by that, I mean we will invest in projects that can help transform the development of a country or a region – even if it means we might fail.
And we will look to create innovative financial tools that can open up new opportunities for long-term financing that countries desperately need.
Three elements of the new strategy are worth highlighting.
First, we will partner with the private sector to fight poverty and create good jobs for the poor. Ecom, a client of the IFC, our private sector arm, connects cocoa, coffee and cotton farmers in over 30 countries to global markets. Last year, Ecom helped more than 134,000 farmers and thousands more through farmer organisations.
Second, we will increase our commitment to fragile and conflict-affected states. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and I recently visited the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Crowds of people, most of them women, lined the roads from the UN base to a local hospital. I’ll never forget one woman’s sign. It simply said: Stop the rape.
In Africa’s Great Lakes region, we are moving with urgency. We quickly put together an additional $1 billion assistance package to help the region, especially the eastern part of the Congo.
I pledge to significantly increase our support to fragile and conflict-affected states. I hope to increase the share of IDA core financing – the Bank’s fund for the poorest – to fragile states by about 50 per cent in the next three years. IFC also will commit to increasing its support for fragile states by 50 per cent over the next three years.
Third, we will be as ambitious as possible on issues that are of global importance, including investing in women and girls and combatting climate change. Our response to climate change, for instance, must be bold enough to match the scope of the problem.
If we want to end extreme poverty, we have to build resilient communities and mitigate shocks like climate disasters so that poor people can make gains in their lives—and keep those gains for the long term.
Just three days ago, 60,000 people gathered in Central Park in New York for the Global Citizens Festival, to call for the end of poverty. I ask everyone reading this – join our movement right now: log on to the Global Poverty Project website — www.zeropoverty2030.org, — and sign a petition to end poverty in a generation.
This is the defining moral issue of our time. We cannot let over a billion people suffer in extreme poverty when we have the tools and the resources to change their lives for the better.
For some problems like climate change, time is of the essence, but to quote Martin Luther King Jr, “the time is always ripe to do right.” Now’s the time and we are the people. Let’s make it happen.
Jim Yong Kim is President of the World Bank Group