The World Bank meetings, according to staff

President Jim Kim speaks at last week’s plenary session during the World Bank Group’s annual meeting. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank Group / CC BY-NC-ND 

Staff concerns over World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s controversial reform agenda boiled over during the bank’s annual meetings in Washington last week.

Reports from inside a hastily called town hall meeting with Kim last Tuesday suggested that employees didn’t hold back and confronted the president on perceived management challenges and a lack of transparency about the reforms and how planned budget cuts may affect staffing.

People are “being bold because they’re directly threatened,” one World Bank employee who wished to remain anonymous told Devex Friday, adding that the immediacy of many stakeholders pouring in for the multilateral institution’s annual meetings was the “traction” staff needed to take action. Kim came down “for the first time ever” without a jacket and his sleeves rolled up, the staffer suggested.

The open meeting was the bank chief’s first official response to a series of anonymous, staff-led movements and the now-infamous yellow fliers which, last week, called on the bank’s top brass to share more information about upcoming reforms and interact more directly with staff whose job security — and job location — may be affected by it.

Many bank employees left the meeting with a sense of accomplishment: We “finally pushed him a little,” the bank employee said about Kim. The World Bank president, for his part, now wants to communicate more directly with employees, he told Devex after the meeting.

Read: Jim Kim cites 'extremely good discussion' with disgruntled staff

Many employees remain skeptical, though. At issue aren’t even so much the staff cuts, but the process by which they — as well as other reforms — are determined and implemented. Concerns are growing about favoritism that benefits a select “in-crowd” of decision-makers.

“We’re severely ill with this disease,” the bank employee said. “For us, it’s endemic.”

Many staff members made it clear throughout the week that they want change — even “strategic staffing” changes — but only in conjunction with transparent, logical implementation. They want more clarity about roles and responsibilities as well as the new chain of command that took effect July 1 with the creation of new global practices. They’re eager to get a better sense of when and how it will be decided whether an employee will stay put, redeploy or become redundant. And they’re yearning to get relief from workloads that have risen dramatically for many employees due to what amounts to a hiring freeze at the bank.

That transparency, many bank employees argue, should extend to other reforms Kim and his team are considering to cut $400 million from the budget, such as the idea to buy cheaper real estate and relocate employees to areas outside of the District of Columbia. More transparency would also benefit the bank’s partners and clients.

Read: World Bank reforms and the big picture

Devex readers have weighed in as well, some expressing a hope that the bank will reduce red tape as part of its reforms, others praising leadership for reforms that were long overdue. Walter Bagehot, for instance, suggested that the reforms may push out inefficient “careerists.”

“Let them leave and prove their worth and bring doers and implementers in, not theoreticians,” he said, citing his hope that the reform will help encourage debate rather than stifling it.

Kim has promised another town hall meeting this week and, he said, “as many as we need until people feel that they're being heard.”

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About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.