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Speeches & Transcripts May 9, 2017

Zeitgeist Minds 2017: Harnessing the Power of a Borderless World to Do Good and Well

First, let me express my profound gratitude to Google for organizing such a phenomenal program and say how honored I am to be amongst so many accomplished people, who care for the world, have given so much and already have incredible legacies.   

Having listened to an amazing range of views, insights, and perspectives over the last day and a half, I must admit that I am torn as to what to focus my remarks on.  

- Should I give you my ‘Big Picture’ as the World Bank Treasurer, worrying about how my team and I can earn reasonable returns for the USD 170 billion assets that we manage, given the difficult market environment  

- a staff of the World Bank, a global development institution that has accompanied many countries and the global economy in their twists and turns since its founding in 1944,   

- an eternal optimist in the mist of the many challenges that the world faces, or

- as a citizen of the world worrying about the legacy that we will bequeath our children and grandchildren,  

I have decided to attempt to focus on all the above and will organize my remarks around the theme – ‘Harnessing the Power of a Borderless World to Do Good and Do Well’. 

I consider myself very fortunate to be amongst you today given that I could easily have been Nnenna, another 52 year old woman from my home town, Item, in Nigeria who still walks 2 kilometres daily not for exercise but to fetch water from a stream in order to help her children fend for her grandchildren.   

Every year, women around the world still spend 73 billion hours per day fetching water.  Addressing this issue and the myriads that prevent women from achieving their potential - in other words, closing the gender gap- can increase the world GDP by up to USD 28 trillion by 2025, according to McKinsey.  I believe that a borderless world can make this happen. 

So, how do I define a borderless world? 

A borderless world is one where there are equal opportunities no matter your gender, your origin, where you live and who your parents are.   

It is a world that recognizes that wars, famine, disease and climate risk in one location affects us all and that insecurity in one place is insecurity everywhere.   

It is a world where there are no physical or mental walls and where your neighbors are the 7.5 billion people that live on planet earth.   

It is a world where your community comprises the 3.5 billion people that that have access to internet, and your customers are the 5 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world. 

This ‘borderless’ mindset allows companies and individuals to do well and do good – that is when you earn a reasonable return on your investments and leave a compelling legacy. 

It is such a mindset that has enabled the many disruptions that many of you have championed. It is why 25% of Kenya’s GDP now passes through M-PESA, Kenya’s widely acclaimed mobile-money initiative.  It is why the new world of commerce and capital opened up by the first national I.D. system created for more than a billion Indian citizens is heartwarming. It has literally put some of the world’s poorest people on the map.  

Just as technology fosters a borderless world so too does finance. I did not learn this important fact 32 years ago when I started my career at an investment banking boutique in Nigeria, but , much earlier, as a child at dinner with my parents and my two sisters.  This is because my father made my sisters and I take turns, to read out, aloud, annual reports of companies listed on the Nigerian stock market, that he had invested in.  Both he and my Mum earned very little as civil servants but were able to pay for our education from dividends earned from their investments.  

Much of my career has subsequently been spent observing how finance and particularly capital markets, are forces for good. Notably, as a regulator of the Nigerian capital markets I saw firsthand, the transformative power of capital markets, particularly as enablers of socio-economic development. The Nigerian capital markets enabled Nigeria to fund its huge infrastructure needs, and facilitated the reform of its pension sector from unfunded liabilities of USD 12 billion to assets that are growing by 30% every year.  It fostered a meritocracy, good governance, innovation, entrepreneurship and created jobs.

As a pioneer Board member of the International Financing Facility for Immunization, an initiative that was sponsored by the UK, France, and other countries, I was privileged to contribute to IFFIm’s efforts to leverage the capital markets to ensure that vaccines are available to the 70 poorest countries in the world. The initiative also enabled pharmaceutical companies to make the investments required for the profitable production of the required vaccines.  

As a World Bank staff, I see the power of finance every day and especially as we raise low cost funds from the international capital markets and develop innovative financial instruments to finance agriculture, education, health and infrastructure projects in the public and private sector, fostering inclusive economic growth.

Over the years we have provided opportunities for the private sector to partner with us. We have used our global expertise to ensure the right sector reforms, conducive operating environments and garnered much-needed support from the governments in the many countries where we operate.

From working with Alibaba to create new markets for digital financial services, to helping what was a small provincial bank in China become the global financial services power house that Industrial Bank of China is, to ensuring that the Jordanian airport is a profitable private sector venture that also earns government revenues, to enabling Indian communities  and families who lost their homes in a Tsunami, to rebuild them, open bank accounts and set up small businesses using their home as collateral, to assisting Zambia scale of solar energy program by reducing the cost per kilowatt hour to 6 to 8 cents, and one of the lowest cost in the world  

We also started recently started supporting philanthropic organizations to scale up their interventions  

We believe that we can encourage private sector to take full advantage of all these profitable opportunities so that we can focus more on de-risking fragile countries and tackling the most daunting challenges of our time - climate risk, pandemics, and forced displacement. 

For example, even though we are not a humanitarian agency, the global community asked us to bring our experience of innovative finance to help with the refugee crisis.  Through our global concessional financing facility, we have been able to assist Jordan and Lebanon with funding for their public services and infrastructure. 

We have also set up a pandemic emergency facility, essentially creating a pandemic risk market. This standby facility which will be funded from the CAT bond and the reinsurance markets will ensure that the delays experienced when Ebola struck in 2014 are eliminated.  As you know, the delays cost lives and rolled back development gains.  

Our mission is a world free of poverty.  Our twin goals are to end extreme poverty and to boost shared prosperity.  While great progress has been made including lifting over 1 billion people out of extreme poverty since 1990, more still needs to be done. 

A major lesson we have learnt over time is that it is impossible for the public sector to tackle these challenges alone.  We have therefore revised our approach, to focus more on being your partner, your guarantor as our 70 year track record and ownership structure means that we are essentially able to de-risk countries and projects, where others cannot.  We believe this new approach is critical to facilitating a borderless world. 

We have had some notable successes.

Let me pause and tell you about one such country: It had been devastated by a long war. It had been occupied by one of its neighbors. Many young people had died.   After the war, half of this country’s rail infrastructure was out of service. There were endless strikes. Food was scarce.  Ministers were accused of giving ration tickets to friends. On top of all this, there was hyperinflation and a flourishing black market. Infant mortality had risen 40% in just three years. Can anyone guess what country this was? 

This was the state of France when on 9th May, 1947, (seventy years ago to the day), the World Bank made its first ever loan to assist France with navigating the post war era.   Similarly, 56 years ago, the World Bank approved a loan to Japan for its bullet train and from 1963 to 1975, approved several loans to Singapore that together laid the foundation for Singapore’s success

While France, Japan and Singapore have been replaced by new low and middle-income countries, I am optimistic that these new countries will be future success stories.

Amid the gloom and doom, I am optimistic about the possibilities and the opportunities that the world has to offer.  I am also optimistic because of the great minds that I have met at Zeitgeist.  

There has never been a better time … or a more important time … for the private sector to play a leading role in global development. Your capital, combined with our expertise, can help end extreme poverty while creating shared prosperity in our lifetime.

I invite you tech geniuses, activists, CEOs, celebrities, innovators, academics, entrepreneurs, managers and champions of positive change to work with us and to work together with like-minded people to make a borderless world a reality. Thank you.