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About The World Bank

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  • What is the World Bank, and what does it do?
  • The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. We help governments in developing countries reduce poverty by providing them with money and technical expertise they need for a wide range of projects—such as education, health, infrastructure, communications, government reforms, and for many other purposes. For more information about the Bank, what we do and how we do it, please go to the About Us section of our website.

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  • What is the difference between the Bank and the World Bank Group?

  • Who owns the World Bank?
  • The Bank is like a cooperative in which 187 member countries are shareholders. For a complete list of our members and when they joined, see the Members page in the About Us section of our website.

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  • How does a country become a member of the World Bank?

  • Who runs the Bank? What are the Boards of Governors and Executive Directors, and how are they selected?
  • The Board of Executive Directors and the president of the Bank—who serves as chairman of the board—are responsible for the conduct of the general operations of the Bank, oversee the work of the Bank on a daily basis, and perform their duties under powers delegated to them by the Board of Governors. The directors meet twice a week in Washington, D.C., to approve new loans and review bank operations and policies.
    The Board of Governors is made up of shareholders—187 member countries—who are the ultimate policymakers at the Bank. Generally, the governors are member countries' ministers of finance or ministers of development. They meet once a year at the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund to set the overall policies of the institution, review country membership and perform other tasks. Because the governors meet only annually, they delegate specific duties to the 24 Executive Directors, who work on-site at the Bank.

    According to the Articles of Agreement, the five largest shareholders, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, each appoint an executive director, while other member countries are represented by 19 executive directors who represent constituencies in several countries. Each of the directors is elected by a country or group of countries every two years. It is customary for election rules to ensure that a wide geographical balance is maintained on the board.

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  • Who is the president of the Bank, and how is the president elected?
  • Robert B. Zoellick is the 11th president of the Bank. He is chairman of the Bank's Board of Executive Directors and is also president of the five interrelated organizations that make up the World Bank Group. The president is selected by the Executive Directors for a five-year, renewable term. To learn more about the Bank's past presidents, go to the Archives.

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  • What is the World Bank Inspection Panel?
  • It is an independent panel that was established in September 1993 to help ensure that our operations adhere to our operational policies and procedures. The panel allows people who think they may have been adversely affected by a Bank-supported project or projects to ask for an investigation, which is called a request for inspection.

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  • How many people work for the Bank, and where do they come from?
  • Some 10,000 development professionals from nearly every country in the world work at the Bank in Washington, D.C., or in our more than 100 Country Offices. We are economists, educators, environmental scientists, financial analysts, anthropologists, engineers and many others. Approximately 3,000 of us work in country offices in the developing world. We apply our skills and the Bank's resources to bridge the economic divide between poor and rich countries, to turn rich country resources into poor country growth, and to achieve sustainable poverty reduction.

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  • How can I contact the Bank staff?
  • The Contact Us web page provides you with this information. The general formula for a Bank email address is the first letter of the first name immediately followed by the family name, followed by @worldbank.org.

    You can also find a World Bank expert by topic of expertise and by language spoken. Since only a portion of the knowledge and expertise of the Bank's staff is found on these pages, contact Media Relations to locate an expert on a subject that is not specifically listed.

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  • How do I organize a visit to the Bank's headquarters?
  • We offer briefings to visiting groups of 15 people or more on selected Tuesday and Thursday mornings throughout the year. Visitors receive an overview of Bank history, our mission, and development challenges, followed by a question and answer session. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and groups are combined, whenever possible. At least a month's notice of a proposed visit is required for groups of 50 or more, and they may be accommodated separately. All briefing requests should be submitted in writing to Angelica Silvero at msilvero@worldbank.org.

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  • What is the Bank's policy on sharing information with the public?
  • We believe that sharing information is essential for sustainable development, so we seek out opportunities to talk about our work with the widest possible audience. Access to information stimulates public debate, broadens understanding of development issues, and enhances transparency and accountability in the development process. It also strengthens public support for development efforts, resulting in improvements in the quality of our assistance. Therefore, it is our policy to be open about our activities.

    To that end, we've expanded the information that we make available to the public and have streamlined access to it. Project Documents, including environmental and social assessments, are available throughout the Project Cycle, as well as our operations results, research and reviews. Approval is often withheld for projects, when project documents are not posted according to disclosure requirements. To facilitate timely public access to this information, we have established the World Bank's InfoShop, which is located in Washington, D.C. In addition, information is disseminated globally through the Public Information Centers (PIC). PIC staff members develop proactive outreach programs within their countries.

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  • Where does the Bank get its money?
  • We raise money in several different ways to support the low-interest and no-interest loans (credits) and grants that the World Bank (IBRD and IDA) offers to developing and poor countries.

    IBRD lending to developing countries is primarily financed by selling AAA-rated bonds in the world's financial markets. IBRD bonds are purchased by a wide range of private and institutional investors in North America, Europe, and Asia. While IBRD earns a small margin on this lending, the greater proportion of income comes from lending out our own capital. This capital consists of reserves built up over the years and money paid in from the bank's 187 member country shareholders. IBRD income also pays for World Bank operating expenses and has contributed to IDA and debt relief. We maintain strict financial discipline to maintain the AAA status of our bonds and continue to extend financing to developing countries.

    Shareholder support is also very important for the Bank. This is reflected in the capital backing we have received from shareholders in meeting their debt service obligations to IBRD. We also have US$178 billion in what is known as "callable capital," which could be drawn from our shareholders as backing, should it ever be needed to meet IBRD obligations for borrowings (bonds) or guarantees. We have never had to call on this resource. For more information on the Bank's bonds and notes, go to the World Bank Debt Securities.

    IDA, the world's largest source of interest-free loans and grant assistance to the poorest countries, is replenished every three years by 40 donor countries. Additional funds are regenerated through repayments of loan principal on 35-to-40-year, no-interest loans, which are then available for re-lending. IDA accounts for nearly 40 percent of our lending.

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  • Does the Bank make a profit and, if so, what is done with it?
  • We often do have a surplus at the end of the fiscal year, which is earned from the interest rates charged on some loans and from fees charged for some of our services. Some of the surplus goes to IDA—the part of the bank that provides grants and interest free loans to the world's poorest countries. The rest of the surplus is either used for debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries, added to financial reserves, or helps us respond to unforeseen humanitarian crises.

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  • Why is there still so much poverty after 60 years of the Bank's existence? Doesn't that show you have failed in your mission to free the world of poverty?
  • For the Bank, the bottom line is that there has been progress, but there has not been enough. We continue to do all we can to make sure successful projects and approaches are shared more widely so there's a greater impact on poverty reduction. At the same time, we've learned from past mistakes and constantly work to improve our policies and programs. While poverty still exists, much progress has been made:

    • During the past 40 years, life expectancy in developing countries has risen by 20 years—about as much as was achieved in all of human history prior to the mid-20th century.
    • During the past 30 years, adult illiteracy in the developing world has been nearly halved to 25 percent.
    • During the past 20 years, the absolute number of people living on less than US$1 a day has begun to fall for the first time, even as the world's population has grown by 1.6 billion people.
    • During the last decade, growth in the developing world has outpaced that in developed countries, helping to provide jobs and boost revenues poor countries' governments need to provide essential services.

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  • Why is there so much criticism of the Bank, and why did protests against the Bank occur?
  • Our role in development and in the wider globalization of the world's economy has often been misunderstood. On one hand, this occurred because we did not explain the Bank's mission or our work very well. On the other, critics tried to blame the bank for any or all of the perceived problems associated with globalization—the growing integration of economies and societies around the world resulting from increased flows of goods, services, capital, technology, and ideas—an economic force that the Bank does not control. Also, protests drew worldwide attention to the problem of extremely high multilateral debt levels carried by very poor countries, which high-income countries ultimately agreed were unsustainable and stifled the ability of poor countries to both pay those debts and combat poverty. This led the Bank and International Monetary Fund to form the Debt Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and to further financial pledges by high-income countries to assist the Bank to carry out debt-relief efforts for heavily indebted poor countries.

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Updated: April 2011




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