The Most Interesting World Bank Race…Ever

Today marks the beginning of the three-day interview process that will determine the next president of the World Bank. The candidates—yes, plural—have already been vetted rather thoroughly by the press, but given the date and the special significance of this year’s proceedings, we thought we’d take a moment to review that information for you here.

2012 marks the first time that there is more than one serious candidate for World Bank president, and the first time that non-Americans are being considered for the position. For years, Europeans and Americans have shared a tacit understanding that Europe would choose the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, while America would appoint the president of the World Bank. But when Robert Zoellick announced in February that he would step down as president at the end of his term, a coalition of former World Bank leaders sent an open letter calling for a candidate to be chosen in an “open, transparent, merit-based, and competitive manner.” Here, then, are the nominees:

Dr. Jim Yong Kim – Kim, who is currently the president of Dartmouth College, was nominated by President Obama in late March. He is the co-founder of Partners in Health, an NGO that makes provides treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to the world’s poorest. He is also the former director of the HIV/AIDS program at the World Health Organization.

Jose Antonio Ocampo – Ocampo was formerly the minister of finance in Colombia and is currently a professor at Columbia University. Don’t get him confused with José Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. Ocampo is viewed as a somewhat unlikely candidate since he does not enjoy the support of his home country, which has been lobbying for him to head the International Labor Organization instead.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Okonjo-Iweala, of Nigeria, is the only candidate with actual experience in development banking; she was a managing director at the World Bank and has been both finance and foreign minister in Nigeria. If chosen, she would also be the bank’s first female president.

With numerous countries, including India and Nigeria, prepared to graduate from the International Development Association (the branch of the bank that serves the world’s poorest countries), the World Bank’s role is changing, making room for candidates like Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo to be taken seriously. But even with fewer countries requiring hands-on assistance from the bank, many have questioned the wisdom of putting a man with a background in public health in the top spot.

This year, the selection process is much more of an open playing field than it’s been in the past. Selecting the top banker requires a vote of the shareholders and at 16 percent, the U.S. still has a larger share of the votes than any other single country. The EU has 29 percent of the voting shares. If the U.S. and the EU agree to vote on Kim, the possibility of non-American World Bank president this term is unlikely.