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Remembering President James D. Wolfensohn

The World Bank

On November 25th, 2020, the World Bank Group and the international development community lost a key figure in our field when former Bank Group President James D. Wolfensohn passed away. Wolfensohn arrived at the World Bank Group on June 1, 1995, and over the next ten years he upended much of the Bank’s status quo while reinvigorating staff and development partners alike. Many of the initiatives, projects, and reforms implemented under his leadership continue to inform the Bank Group’s development priorities and practices today. By the time he left the World Bank Group on May 31, 2005, Wolfensohn had left an indelible stamp on our institution.

The World Bank
World Bank Group President James D. Wolfensohn.
This exhibit highlights three significant accomplishments achieved during President Wolfensohn’s time at the World Bank Group. During a period when the development community was increasingly focused on the mounting debt burdens of the world’s poorest nations, Wolfensohn pushed staff to develop a response to the problem, culminating in the creation of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative in 1996. That same year during his speech at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings, Wolfensohn urged the Bank Group to confront what he termed the “cancer of corruption”, resulting in a dramatic increase in anti-corruption efforts in subsequent years. Lastly, the Comprehensive Development Framework, or CDF, conceived by Wolfensohn and approved by the Bank Group’s Board of Directors in March 1999, sought to provide a new approach to development finance while enhancing country ownership of development policy and actions.

While these short pieces focus on some of the more well-known and impactful events from President Wolfensohn’s tenure at the World Bank Group, they are only a sample of how the institution evolved during that time. The World Bank Group Archives provides many ways to further investigate the role President Wolfensohn played in our history. We encourage you to check out his profile page on our Past Presidents site and search our World Bank Group Historical Timeline to learn more about Wolfensohn’s time at the Bank Group. You can also browse Wolfensohn’s speeches on our Past President Speeches site or read a first-person account of his experience at the Bank Group in the transcript of his oral history interview on our Oral History site.

And finally, the Archives preserves the records of President Wolfensohn from his time at the World Bank Group and makes them available for public access according to the Bank’s Access to Information Policy. The Archives intends to publish a description of these records on its Archives Catalog website in the near future. But in the meantime, if you are interested in requesting access to President Wolfensohn’s records, submit a request through our Access to Information website.