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FEATURE STORY June 22, 2020

Meet Mari Pangestu: World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships


Mari Pangestu took up her new role as the World Bank Managing Director for Development Policy and Partnerships in March 2020. With over three decades of experience in academia, the government and in a think tank, Mari’s expertise as a strategic policymaker and thought leader will be essential in furthering a unified approach with partners to meet common development goals. Meaningful stakeholder engagement, particularly with civil society on the ground, has been a key facet of Mari’s varied career. Read more about her career, professional vision, organizational priorities, and personal life lessons in the interview below.

Please tell us something about yourself, and your professional trajectory before joining the Bank.

I would like to think my career has been exciting; I have had an opportunity to work across a variety of sectors, including academia, international organizations, and government in areas related to international trade, investment, and development. I’m excited to join the World Bank and bring this experience to making an impact on the lives of the poor globally. Nearly thirty years ago, I had wanted to join the World Bank after completing my graduate studies in Australia and California. But my father insisted I serve my nation first. So back I went to Indonesia. I started out in academia and did research and advocacy for an independent think tank, this sparked a love for learning I have to this day. I served in the government for a decade, holding the positions of Minister for Trade, and Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy. I have also served on the board of several initiatives. In our work, our effort was to stay objective and advocate for reforms across the board, not just economic – also for promoting good governance, sustainable development, and social change. This experience gave me an appreciation of advocacy and partnership as a collaborative effort to bring about policy change. I look forward to using this experience to build strong linkages with all partners, especially civil society, in my current role.

You joined the Bank at a critical moment. Can you tell us a bit about joining the Bank during COVID-19?

It has certainly been an experience! I was just easing into a new job and a new city when we started working from home and adjusting to virtual engagements. But while it’s been an accelerated learning curve for me, I also think it’s allowed me to see the Bank at its best. Different parts of the World Bank Group quickly pulled together and worked hard collaboratively and cooperatively to come up with the fast track facility. It was challenging to step right into the middle of this global crisis, but the hands-on experience and collaboration across countries and institutions has been inspiring. This experience forced me to learn very quickly about the Bank’s process of providing support to developing countries, including the poorest and most vulnerable. It is humbling to realize our prompt response will immediately help protect lives and economies while also helping them build a better future.

How do you see both elements of your role, the knowledge agenda and partnerships, working together?

On the one hand, my job relates to how collective knowledge and expertise can contribute to policy design that addresses key development challenges and the global agenda so as to ensure that developing countries’ interests are represented. My research background gave me an appreciation for the importance of well-researched policy. Then, from my 10 years in government, I learned about how we move from well-researched policy to implementation, and the importance of using evidence to make informed decisions and understand the trade-offs of different policy options. To be effective, I believe the Bank needs to envision big ideas in terms of data and research, that will not only be helpful to substantiate the work we carry out, but also to stimulate discussion with our partners. To have an impact on poverty and on people, we need to have accurate information and insights from the field, which of course brings me to the other element of my job: forging partnerships with stakeholders. In a way, I see these two things – informed policy, and fostering greater collaboration and partnerships – as two important pieces of the same puzzle. that bring added value to our overall work to deliver positive country impacts and outcomes. Our partnerships will also be invaluable to shape and feed into the knowledge agenda, for the knowledge base can only be strengthened through diverse voices, facts, and opinions. Right now, the current crisis makes clear just how important it is to have these two elements. We will need more cooperation, and more evidence-based policymaking, if we are to succeed. 

"I feel wonderfully motivated when I see the up-and-coming professionals today – they have so much innovation, talent, enthusiasm, and most importantly, a world of opportunities at their feet."
Mari Pangestu
World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships

What added value do you see in partnerships, especially with civil society?

I’m delighted with the “partnerships” in my title because I believe through partnerships we will be able to get the job done. Working at a policy think tank allowed me to interact with policymakers, as well as a variety of stakeholders, including civil society. Through this experience, I gained an appreciation of the role of civil society, as both practitioners providing vital services on the ground, and as advocates promoting policies and programs that are responsive to the needs of the most marginalized. We may differ in our views from time to time. But Since joining the Bank, I have enjoyed engaging with our civil society partners. We have discussed ways to join forces and address the crisis brought about by COVID-19. Our conversations on debt, climate change, stakeholder engagement, women’s safety, human capital, and a sustainable action plan have been thought-provoking and have added immensely to my personal and professional approaches. I am looking forward to continuing these conversations. I am hoping to provide another opportunity to dialogue with global civil society in July – which I understand the CSO team will be reaching out about. Stay tuned!

Turning to post-COVID-19 recovery, what issues do we need to prioritize, to ensure better conditions for people and the planet?

The second pillar is protecting livelihoods and human capital – keeping people safe, healthy, and productive. That will also mean boosting up health infrastructure and services, access to education, and food security, keeping in mind special social safety nets to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. It will include reviving economies by bolstering the private sector and supporting livelihoods as well as employment opportunities, targeting small and medium enterprises. Then, as we move into medium-term response, the third pillar will be protecting the future – creating a stable and sustainable recovery plan that has environment and climate change solutions at its center. We need to promote a greener, more resilient, and inclusive recovery. A lot of work needs to be done in each of these pillars to ensure that policies that go to the countries and the actions of the country align to give us the outcomes that we would all like to see. Working collectively, I believe we can and should implement the recovery plan.

Your achievements are a source of inspiration, particularly to young women professionals. What is one piece of advice you would give them as they embark on their careers?

I feel wonderfully motivated when I see the up-and-coming professionals today – they have so much innovation, talent, enthusiasm, and most importantly, a world of opportunities at their feet, including a much improved climate for women to get ahead. My advice to them would be to focus on the quality of their output and their professional relationshipsThis includes joining and being active in professional organizations and committees, finding mentors and opportunities to meet a diverse range of people, including moving out of your comfort zone. Everyone has their own style, but making your voice heard is important and to be credible this has to be well informed as well as expressed in a way that is fit for the audience and purpose. Finally, while it’s a cliché to say its key to have work-life balance – I would say that support from my family has been key to me being able to do my job well.