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90th Birthday, Robert S. McNamara, World Bank Group President, 1968-1981

Document of the Month

Robert McNamara's visit to Liberia, 1973

In honor of Robert S. McNamara who celebrates his 90th birthday on June 9th, 2006 the World Bank Group Archives is highlighting some of his contributions to development.

As World Bank Group President, Robert McNamara reshaped the institution by changing its focus to fighting “absolute poverty”, and addressing the problems of economic disparities throughout the world. By the end of McNamara's second term Bank lending had increased from $1 billion annually to $12 billion. The Bank also became a potent intellectual force for development.

During his 13 years as World Bank President, Robert McNamara:

Document of the Month

Robert McNamara welcomed in Korea, 1970

-- introduced the five-year lending plan, which proposed that the Bank double the volume of lending during the next five years. According to this plan the lending to Latin America and Africa would substantially increase, lending for education would triple, and lending for agriculture would quadruple.

-- increased World Bank professional staff from 1,600 to 5,700

-- implemented a major reorganization of the World Bank in 1972. Responsibility for lending was placed in the hands of regional vice presidents, who had control over resources required to meet agreed target outcomes.

Document of the Month

Mr. and Mrs. McNamara during their trip to Korea, 1972

-- expanded the geographical range of the Bank’s lending, and the Bank became engaged in more countries that needed help.

-- instituted the practice of creating the Country Program Papers to implement an overall development strategy for member countries.

-- appointed Lester B. Pearson to form a commission to review the previous 20 years of development assistance, assess the results, and make recommendations for the future. The report “Partners in Development” produced by the Commission in 1969 was successful in energizing donor support and facilitated the third IDA replenishment, which doubled IDA resources.

-- searched for new ways to mobilize resources for development. In 1975 McNamara introduced the “third window” lending (using OPEC and other contributions to an Interest Subsidy Fund).

Document of the Month

Robert McNamara's visit to Japan, 1971

-- proposed that the Bank take the lead in mobilizing international funds for an onchocerciasis (riverblindness) control program. The Executive Directors approved the plan, and the Bank convened the first meeting of the Onchocersiasis Control Program (OCP) in June. The first OCP funds became available in March 1974

-- pushed the Bank to be more inquisitive about development issues. The collection and processing of data became an important part of the quest for better understanding and more effective solutions.

-- emphasized the need for projects supporting education and family planning. He also launched an attack on urban poverty.

-- introduced the second five-year plan in Nairobi in 1973 with rural development as its centerpiece. To raise the productivity of the rural poor, the Bank increased lending to agriculture by over 40 percent. The integrated rural development project became the prototype for this assistance.

The backbone of his presidential tenure was to assist those in “absolute poverty,” a term introduced by Robert McNamara himself.

Document of the Month

Mr. and Mrs. McNamara visited the Kingdom of Nepal, 1972

Biography of Robert McNamara - 5th President of the World Bank Group, 1968 - 1981

Robert S. McNamara at the World Bank Group: a chronology of significant events (PDF, 23.5 KB)

Pages from World Bank History: Bank pays tribute to Robert McNamara

Address to the Board of Governors by Robert McNamara, President, World Bank Group, September 24, 1973

Pages from World Bank History: The Fight Against Riverblindness

Previously Featured Documents/Photos

This feature is produced by the World Bank Group Archives to highlight the World Bank's contributions to development.

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