Boosting Shared Prosperity is Key to Tackling Inequality, says World Bank Group President

October 1, 2014

For the first time in the history of the World Bank Group, we have set a goal that aims to reduce global inequality.” — World Bank Group President Kim

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2014World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today called for economic growth that creates more just societies, and he defined the institution’s goal of boosting shared prosperity as the World Bank Group’s way of tackling the global challenge of inequality.

Speaking at Howard University in Washington DC on the eve of the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings, Kim explained how under his leadership, the World Bank Group has set two twin goals: ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity among the poorest 40 percent in developing countries. Kim today told attending students and faculty what the second goal – boosting shared prosperity – means in the fight against inequality, and how to make progress in achieving it.

“We are working to ensure that the growth of the global economy will improve the lives of all members of society not only a fortunate few,” said Kim. “To accomplish this, the World Bank Group aims to achieve specific income-related and social goals: We want to raise the earnings of the lowest 40 percent of income earners in developing countries and improve their access to life’s essentials, including food, health care, education and jobs.”

Citing a report from Oxfam International which stated that the world’s richest 85 people have as much combined wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion, Kim said that boosting shared prosperity is also important to the pursuit of justice. 

“Think about that: A group far smaller than the number of people in this room possesses more wealth than half the world’s population. With so many Africans, as well as Asians, and Latin Americans, living in extreme poverty, this state of affairs is a stain on our collective conscience. Protecting an individual’s ability to reap financial reward for hard work and success is extremely important. It creates motivation; it drives innovation; and it permits people to help others. At the same time, what does it mean that so much of the world’s enormous wealth has accrued to so few?,” asked Kim.

Kim noted that inequality in societies is a greater issue than income, and he pointed to the Ebola crisis as a failure to share knowledge and infrastructure equitably with countries in Africa.

“For the first time in the history of the World Bank Group, we have set a goal that aims to reduce global inequality,” said Kim. “As the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa shows, the importance of this objective could not be more clear. The battle against the infection is a fight on many fronts – human lives and health foremost among them. But it is also a fight against inequality. The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high and middle income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make both accessible to low income people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. So now, thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.”

Kim stated that increasing individual incomes, while important, is only part of the equation for boosting shared prosperity. “We need economic growth to deliver benefits that create more just societies. So, in addition to changes in income, boosting shared prosperity also focuses on improving gender equity and low income people’s access to food, shelter, clean water, sanitation health care, education and job opportunities.”

“Boosting shared prosperity is the World Bank Group’s way of tackling the challenge of inequality,” said Kim.

In his speech at Howard, a historically black university, Kim stated that the commitment to equality is evident in the Bank Group’s diversity efforts.

“The Bank is probably one of the most diverse institutions in Washington. Our employees are citizens of over 100 countries and speak almost as many languages,” said Kim. “We have made progress in expanding the diversity of the World Bank Group, but we can do better. For example, for years, we have fallen short in recruiting African Americans to our ranks. That is changing. We have asked some of the most thoughtful national leaders on diversity to help us build a broad and sustained outreach to highly qualified African American candidates. We have also begun a process to establish concrete targets that will result in senior managers hiring more diverse staff. I expect to see the results of our determined activity this coming year.”

Kim noted that Howard and the World Bank Group are in discussions about creating internships for doctoral candidates in economics to work with our Development Economics Vice President’s office.

“These internships would allow the doctoral students a chance to immerse themselves in development policies and programs affecting countries around the world. I hope that this program and my presence encourage many of you to prepare your resumes. Twenty-nine Howard graduates currently work at the Bank. We are always looking for the best and the brightest, and we have found many of them here.”

Kim noted that Dr. Martin Luther King was not only a civil rights leader but a leader in the global fight against poverty.

“Four days before his death, Dr. King gave one of his final sermons. Standing only a few miles from here at Washington’s National Cathedral, he called poverty a ‘monstrous octopus’ that ‘spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world.’ He said that he had seen it in Latin America, Africa and Asia, in addition to Mississippi, New Jersey and New York. He spoke of the challenge ‘to rid our nation and the world of poverty.’”

In closing, Kim asked the assembled students and faculty to take on the Bank Group’s twin goals:

“Please join this mission. Help make your generation the generation that ends extreme poverty and reduces inequality all over the world.”

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