Letter from David Malpass, World Bank Group President

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The COVID-19 pandemic presented countries with unprecedented challenges this year, requiring them to respond quickly to major disruptions in health care, economic activity, and livelihoods. The World Bank Group has been at the forefront of that response, mobilizing rapidly to deliver much-needed support to countries to provide critical supplies, reduce loss of life and economic hardship, protect hard-earned development gains, and deliver on our mission of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Our goal in all these efforts is to improve conditions, both immediate and long-term, for the poorest and most vulnerable populations.

At the onset of COVID-19, the Bank Group took broad, decisive action in delivering a fast-track facility to help countries respond quickly to this crisis. We expect to deploy up to $160 billion in the 15 months ending June 30, 2021, through new operations and the restructuring of existing ones to help countries address the wide range of needs arising from the pandemic. This will include over $50 billion of IDA resources on grant and highly concessional terms.

By May, we reached the milestone of emergency health operations in 100 countries. Our initial projects focused on limiting the pandemic’s spread and boosting the capacity of health services. We helped countries access essential medical supplies and equipment through support for procurement and logistics, including negotiations with suppliers on their behalf. Many developing countries are dependent on imports for supplies, making them highly exposed to price fluctuations and trade restrictions. Through IFC and MIGA, we provided vital working capital and trade finance for the private sector in developing countries, particularly firms in core industries, and helped financial sectors continue lending to viable local businesses.

In March, the World Bank and IMF called for official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries. In April, G20 leaders issued a historic agreement suspending official bilateral debt service payments from May 1 through the end of 2020 and called for comparable treatment by commercial creditors — a powerful example of international cooperation to help the poorest countries.

Beyond immediate health concerns, the Bank Group is supporting countries as they reopen their economies, restore jobs and services, and pave the pathway to a sustainable recovery. Many of our client countries have enhanced their transparency and attractiveness to new investment with fuller disclosure of their public sector’s financial commitments. The Bank is helping the most vulnerable countries evaluate their debt sustainability and transparency, which are both essential to good development outcomes.

The Bank Group is supporting countries’ efforts to scale up their social safety nets. This includes cash transfer operations through both in-person and digital options so that governments can efficiently deliver this critical support to their most vulnerable people. We are also engaging with governments to eliminate or redirect costly and environmentally harmful fuel subsidies and reduce trade barriers for food and medical supplies.

In fiscal 2020, IBRD’s net commitments rose to $28 billion, while disbursements remained strong. IDA’s net commitments were $30.4 billion, 39 percent higher than the previous year. The 19th replenishment of IDA was approved in March, securing a three-year $82 billion financing package for the world’s 76 poorest countries. This will increase our support to countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) and strengthen debt transparency and sustainable borrowing practices.

Over the last year, we realigned the Bank’s staff and management to drive coordinated country programs and put high-quality knowledge at the center of our operations and development policy. We are increasing our global footprint to be closer to our operations on the ground. We also strengthened our focus on Africa by creating two Bank vice presidencies, one focusing on Western and Central Africa and the other on Eastern and Southern Africa, to take effect in fiscal 2021. I appointed four new senior leaders: Anshula Kant as Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer, Mari Pangestu as Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, Hiroshi Matano as Executive Vice President of MIGA, and Axel van Trotsenburg as Managing Director of Operations on the departure of Kristalina Georgieva to head the IMF. In addition to these appointments, there were 12 vice-presidential appointments or reassignments over the last year. Together, the strong leadership team and a highly dedicated and motivated staff are striving to build the world’s most effective development institution, with a resilient and responsive business model that can help each country and region achieve better development outcomes.

At our Annual Meetings in October, we presented a new index to track learning poverty — the percentage of 10-year-olds who cannot read and understand a basic story. Reducing learning poverty will require comprehensive reforms, but the payoff — equipping children with the skills they need to succeed and achieve their potential as adults — is vital for development.

By helping countries leverage new digital technologies, we are expanding access to low-cost financial transactions, particularly for women and other vulnerable groups. Digital connectivity is one of many key steps in helping women unleash their full economic potential. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), hosted by the Bank Group, works to remove regulatory and legal barriers that women face and help them gain access to the financing, markets, and networks they need to succeed. Bank operations also focus on providing women with greater agency and voice in their communities, working to ensure that girls can learn effectively and safely in schools, and promoting quality health care for mothers and children.

We help countries strengthen their private sectors, which are central to creating jobs and boosting economic growth. In fiscal 2020, IFC’s long-term finance commitments increased to $22 billion, which includes $11 billion of its own commitments and $11 billion in mobilization, commitments from private investors, and others. In addition, IFC extended $6.5 billion in short-term finance. MIGA’s commitments totaled $4 billion, with an average project size of $84 million. Looking forward, MIGA’s product line, staffing, and upstream efforts are well suited to help in the Bank Group’s COVID-19 response, including a focus on smaller projects in IDA-eligible countries and countries affected by FCV.

None of these achievements would have been possible without our staff’s hard work and successful adjustment to home-based work during the pandemic. Working around the world and at all levels, staff continued to deliver solutions to address countries’ most urgent needs. I am deeply grateful for their dedication and flexibility, especially amid these difficult circumstances.

As people in developing countries worldwide grapple with the pandemic and deep recessions, the World Bank Group remains committed to their future, providing the support and assistance they need to overcome this crisis, and achieve a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

David Malpass

President of the World Bank Group and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors