Poland has a lot to share

October 8, 2013

Xavier Devictor Rzeczpospolita newspaper

In countries such as Poland, we recommend making things easier for doing business in the areas that are weaker in the “Doing Business” report and strengthening development of innovations – says World Bank Manager for Poland and Baltic States.

Rz: We already know that the World Bank will remain in Poland until 2017. Why this particular date?

In any given country, the World Bank operates based on 4-year partnership strategy. In case of Poland, the previous strategy has covered the period from mid-2010 to mid-2013. Therefore, in August we prepared a plan of activities for the next 4 years, i.e. until mid-2017. This means that we have a business plan of sorts and that we will be active in Poland for at least the following 4 years. I hope we will remain in Poland even longer. How long? I cannot tell at this point, but certainly as long as we will be needed and useful.

I understand that since Poland is changing, World Bank’s strategy for our country changes as well?

Of course. Working with a highly developed country like Poland requires a lot of flexibility from us. Moreover, the strategy was prepared at a time, at which the Bank itself was changing, too. Two main priorities were defined at the World Bank level: reducing the number of those living in extreme poverty, i.e. at less than $1.25 a day, down to 3 percent of total population by 2030 and ensuring sustainable development, i.e. increasing the level of wealth in the population of 40 percent of lowest earners. While the problem of extreme poverty does not pertain to Poland, sustainable development – definitely does. In Poland, we have lasting economic development, which, however, is not accompanied by a sustainable increase in  the population’s wealth. Therefore, an incentive for the entire economy is necessary. We want to support Poland’s economic competitiveness and innovations. Besides that, our activities will focus on such areas as access to labor market, ageing society or development disparities between regions in Poland. Another aspect is quality of growth – it is connected to sustainable resources management, that is, climate policy, flood protection or energy efficient infrastructure. However, in a situation in which Polish authorities are still interested in cooperation with the World Bank, we would also like to use Poland’s experience in order to share it with other countries. That is why our strategy in Poland is also focused on using Poland’s experience from the transformation period and more. We would like to develop bilateral cooperation between Poland and the Bank.

In such case, what is most important for the World Bank in our experiences?

First and foremost, the ability to build solid institutions and getting involved in international debates.

We’ve been hearing for over five years now that Poland could and should share the experiences of the transformation  period. Why do you think that didn’t happen and why does the World Bank have to put it into a strategy?

It is not so bad. In some areas we already do have examples of such experience sharing, but we would like to bring it to the next level. For example, we had a Vietnamese delegation in Poland; they have come to learn how to organize public tenders. We also had a delegation from Kazakhstan, studying Polish experience in introducing certain state regulations. I could also name a few more examples. The point, however is to bring this cooperation to a higher level, from events organized ad hoc to actions based on a solid strategy. In this exchange of experiences, we would like to focus on countries included in the East Partnership. These countries are not interested in theory, but specifically in Polish practice. Of course, every country is different, and every system is different. Challenges vary, too. Experience is important, both of success and of failure. The point is not to copy experience, but rather to show the way of thinking.

" Working with a highly developed country like Poland requires a lot of flexibility from us "

But isn’t it the case, as was in Poland, that we were more willing to listen to ideas of people from the West, rather than our neighbors, whose authority in our eyes was usually somewhat lesser? Our experiences are very new, “raw” so to say. Does this lend us credibility that is necessary in such a situation?

This “rawness” is actually very beneficial. Of course experiences of UK, Germany, USA or Australia are excellent as a  vision. But this vision is so remote, that it is not really clear how to achieve it, what the next step should be. Poland has a socialist past, same as the countries that would like to emulate your transformation. Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia are struggling with problems similar to those Poland has encountered. That is why Poland is such a good example. Moreover, people who effected the transformation, are still active.

Do you believe Poles will be able to talk about things that didn’t go well? Because it’s probably the discussion of failures, not successes, that is the most interesting.

The most important thing will be to establish personal contacts. Later, in direct conversations, everything will be easier.

The biggest problem Poland has today is certainly unemployment. Is the World Bank able to help us deal with this challenge?

Unemployment today is not just a Polish problem, but a regional, European one. And nobody is able to resolve it overnight. In countries such as Poland, we recommend making things easier for doing business in all the areas that are weaker for Poland in the “Doing Business” report and strengthening the economic niche which is development of innovations. The strongest, so far, side of Polish economy – cheap and well educated workforce – is no longer that important. Role of innovations must gradually increase. It also seems to us that in Poland there is a mismatch between demand and supply on the labor market. Therefore, closer cooperation is necessary between businesses and universities. We also have to be aware that some actions can be implemented quickly, such as making things easier for business, and some require time, such as changes in the education system. But only a combination of both will bring sustainable results.

Is World Bank able to help us with it?

We are ready to provide financing and knowledge wherever it is necessary to support reforms conducted by Polish government. We are also ready to share our experience, wherever it may come useful.

Interview by Danuta Walewska


Xavier Devictor is responsible for Word Bank’s activities and program portfolio in Poland and the Baltic Countries. A French national, joined the World Bank in 1996 and since then has held various positions, including head of the Kosovo Country Office and working in the Office of the Vice President for the Africa Region. His last assignment before moving to Poland was Country Program Coordinator for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to this Mr. Devictor worked in the private sector in Central Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Management and Economics from Ecole Polytechnique and a Master’s degree in Management and Engineering from Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees.

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