President Joe Biden’s nomination of Ajay Banga for the position of World Bank President is a signal of America’s appreciation of the private sector’s contribution to global policy formulation and impactful execution.
Ajay Banga’s professional experience and personal upbringing have exceptionally prepared him for this role. The World Bank’s mission centres on two goals: ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.
In these two overarching goals, the destiny of the majority of the world’s population at the bottom of the pyramid is given intentional focus.
What is required is a mindset that combines policy formulation with execution leadership, and deep knowledge of the realities that characterise the daily lives of the majority of people living in developing countries.
These include food insecurity, climate change and the attendant challenges of prolonged droughts, stagnating economies characterised by financial exclusion, unemployment, high costs of living, resource-triggered conflicts, displacement of communities in search of peace, access to quality education, clean energy and affordable healthcare, all of which mark the daily struggles for more than half the world’s population.
I had the privilege of meeting Ajay in 2013 during his tour of duty to South Africa, Kenya and Egypt in his role as President and CEO of Mastercard.
Since then, my subsequent interactions with him have revealed his values; a strong commitment to human improvement and inclusion and ensuring that no one is left behind.
He believes that every human being and every household deserves to live a dignified and happy life.
His empathetic heart as a leader will be instrumental in putting the well-being of societies at the centre of his development strategy at the World Bank.
Furthermore, the nomination of Ajay at a time when the world is resetting is timely.
The World Bank was founded in 1944 with the aim of extending loans to help rebuild countries devastated by World War II.
Today, the World is resetting and rebuilding back after the ravaging impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic that morphed from a global health crisis to a global socioeconomic crisis.
The World Bank needs a fresh perspective, with fresh solutions to drive the reconstruction of the developing economies, which have carried the greatest burden of the pandemic and the resource impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
We are witnessing another 1944 moment, and the choice of the leader to deliver the modern reconstruction with innovation, resourcefulness and pragmatism will determine the speed and the success of the World Bank agenda.
Ajay extraordinarily fits this bill for several reasons.
First, a leader is the sum total of his upbringing and experiences.
His foundational years in India, a developing country, and his career in both the public and private sectors that saw him roll up his sleeves to deliver financial inclusion and microfinance access to billions of people gives him first-hand knowledge of the needs and aspirations of communities and economies in emerging markets.
Second, his tour of duty on the global scene, including most recently as CEO of Mastercard for more than 11 years — a global financial institution known for its commitment to technology-driven financial inclusion to leapfrog financial access, particularly in the Global South — prepared him well for this role.
He left an indelible mark in Africa where he championed the democratisation of technology usage in the dignified delivery of social safety net payments among the elderly, vulnerable, and displaced communities.
Financial institutions like Equity Group, who have the opportunity to partner with Mastercard, benefitted from Ajay’s disruptive and progressive mindset, his commitment to making positive and sustainable change, and his dedication to improving lives and livelihoods while ensuring no one is left behind.
Ajay championed disruptive payment solutions such as “digital food” while working collaboratively with financial institutions, governments and development agencies.
Vulnerable communities were equipped with digital solutions such as multi-wallet digital cards to access money for food, thus creating efficiency and transparency in food distribution, while also empowering individuals with dignity in life.
He championed climate change programmes and contributed significantly to the success of Mastercard as a public company.
By transitioning from the global private sector to the global development sector, Ajay will bring a wealth of first-hand knowledge to the challenges that the World Bank faces in securing an equitable future for all human beings.
He understands the obstacles and opportunities that governments in developing economies face including inflation, poor balance of trade and the attendant debt burdens, trade barriers, the paradox of extensive natural resources such as agriculture, minerals, and labour force, high levels of poverty, disease, conflicts, fragility and the opportunities and the promise these countries – and continents – carry.
Yet these developing economies are home to nearly half of the world’s poor population and are also the fastest growing future populations on Earth where the average age is currently 18.
His service in multiple private sector companies and philanthropic institutions, and his commitment to trade and socioeconomic development on a global scale, give him the foothold and network to leverage in taking the World Bank forward.
Ajay carries deep conviction and demonstrates dedication towards socio-economic empowerment.
Given the World Bank platform, he will deepen and broaden pathways that empower communities, to drive equitable socioeconomic development through small and medium enterprises and create possibilities for wealth creation among the poor.
He will awaken the potential of emerging markets through practical solutions that will unlock their latent potential.
He will also get the opportunity to influence the next generation of leaders to embrace and champion fairness and inclusion across the world.
The challenge of driving a development institution like the World Bank at a time when the world is reconstructing all over again requires a leader who is agile, connected with communities, empathetic and bold, yet centred on human principles of equality and justice and someone who is not new to the socioeconomic challenges of the developing world.
Ajay Banga fits the bill of that leader.
Dr Mwangi is Group CEO and Managing Director, Equity Group Holdings Plc