World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim speaks during a discussion on poverty and inequality in developing nations. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND 

This week’s annual meeting of the World Bank Group is charged with controversy; staff protests over planned reforms and budget cuts have already grabbed headlines. What does it all mean for the world’s poor?

At an “improvised” town hall meeting on Tuesday, World Bank employees were able to raise questions and air concerns about President Jim Kim’s ambitious plan to promote shared prosperity and end extreme poverty globally by 2030, which include a $400 million budget cut that will necessitate staff reductions.

Kim has urged patience as the work of newly established global practices ramps up and changes to procurement, country engagement and safeguard policies are being crafted.

In response to initial Devex coverage of Tuesday’s impromptu meeting, former World Bank Director Rakesh Asthana suggested that recipients of World Bank funding are left in the dark when it comes to the institution’s reforms.

“The customers are asking what does it mean for us?” wrote Asthana. “They have been looking forward to new instruments, more long term financing, easing of procurement rules and safeguards and do not have a clear picture… The clients are left underwhelmed by this reform.”

That sentiment echoes through the bank’s Washington headquarters this week, which hosts not just the annual meeting of World Bank Group members but also dozens of side events hosted by civil society partners.

A World Bank employee who wished to remain anonymous told Devex on Wednesday that colleagues are frustrated with the duration of internal budget discussions. There’s a desire to make a clear distinction between the internal structural reforms and those reforms that affect the work being done on the ground, the bank employee said, lamenting the tendency to mesh the two sets of changes together and expressing hope that the bank will soon get down to business.

So what can World Bank partners expect in the coming months?

There are still more questions than answers, but the annual meetings have shed some light on key procurement changes that recipient countries and aid implementers should be aware of.

Christopher Browne, chief procurement officer at the World Bank, spoke to a room full of development professionals on Wednesday morning and outlined some of the reforms his team is working to develop and implement next year.

Notable among the proposed changes is an openness to “alternative procurement arrangements.” It means that if a recipient country or client is working with multiple donors, the Bank may soon delegate procurement leadership to another multilateral bank or entity. This might occur if a recipient country has an established relationship with a different bank or donor, or if it’s agreed that alternative procurement policies would prove more effective for the project at hand.

This sort of collaboration between the World Bank and other donors rarely occurs now because of the bank’s strict collaboration policies, Browne said.

“It’s a long torturous horrible process and therefore people do it very rarely,” he suggested, adding that newfound openness to alternative procurement policies would give clients more choice and could mean getting projects out faster.

The reform would also give the world’s largest multilateral donor a chance to collaborate more closely with other major donors and investors — welcome news to Jun Jin, chief procurement counselor at the U.S. Agency for International Development, who attended the event.

“We ought to have a lot more robust collaboration with the bank… both on assessments and on implementation… reducing burdens on our partner countries so they don’t have to negotiate these special arrangements every single time they get donors,” Jin told Devex.

How the World Bank will ensure compliance and judge the effectiveness of procurement policies remains to be seen.

“The devil’s in the detail in terms of the appraisal methodology,” Browne acknowledged.

Other key procurement reforms include a push to “centrally monitor procurement-related complaints” and “expand use of non-price attributes in making contract award decisions.”

Stay glued to Devex for more coverage of the World Bank Group’s annual meetings, and follow @devex on Twitter.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.