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Speeches & Transcripts September 27, 2017

Keynote Address by Kristalina Georgieva at the Opening Plenary of the CCIC Annual Conference

It is always a pleasure to be with you but it is particularly a great honor to be with you this year for Canada’s 150th Anniversary.

In a relatively short history compared to Bulgaria, the country I come from (we were born as a country in AD689), you have achieved so much and you have given hope to so many with the work you do.

I would like to start with words from your Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. She recently spoke to your parliament opening with a question: Is Canada an essential country at this time in the life of our planet? And she gave a beautiful answer that if you sum it in one word is YES.

And what I want to do today is reinforce this answer from the perspective of a development organization.

We are at a time in history when we need more Canada in this world.

First, we need your compassion.

We have been successful as a world community to improve together the lives of billions of people.

In 1981, 42 percent of the population of our planet was destitute. Out of 4.5 billion people, 1.9 billion lived in poverty.

Today we can proudly say that the number of people in extreme poverty has shrunk to 800 million people, which is around ten per cent of the world’s population. At the same time, the population of the world has gone up to 7.3 billion.

So there are 4 billion people that are not poor with us today.

But if you are one of the 800 million that lives in poverty today, is that good enough? Clearly the answer is no.

So I don’t want to talk about our success, but about what lies ahead. And concentrate your and our attention on the places where extreme poverty is going up. In 12 countries the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has jumped over the last decade. In 18 countries, the number of people in extreme poverty has grown by more than 500,000.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: why and what is it that we can do about it?

There are four reasons why poverty is on the rise:

The first, and the most dramatic and most shameful for us as a world community, is wars. Conflicts are tearing communities apart.

In Syria which used to be a middle income country six out of 10 people live in poverty. 5.1 million Syrians are out of their country.

In South Sudan, the newest country to be born, the percentage of people in extreme poverty jumped from 45 percent to 71 per cent because of war.

When we look at the face of conflict, it has become uglier. In so many places, those who fight have no interest whatsoever to become governments. They aspire to create fear, havoc and desperation for and among their own people and the rest of us.

Eighty per cent of people in humanitarian emergencies, which is around 126million people, are destitute because of conflict.

The second reason why poverty is on the rise is mismanagement. Governments are not the solution, they are the problem.

Zimbabwe is one country where there is no reason for people to live in poverty. In many countries decisions taken by the governments have not been good. Other countries rely excessively on their extractives, like Cameroon or Zambia, where you have a drop in oil prices or minerals and they go from being well-off to becoming poor.

In places like Haiti, generations of poor leaders have driven people into misery. When I was the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid I went to Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake. I went around and after being there for one day and thinking how horrible the earthquake was, it was not Haiti’s biggest problem. When I asked people there what we should do, every single one of them told me, in one way or another, ‘Don’t give any money to the government.’

When institutions are failing people day in and day out, this is not something we can turn a blind eye to.

The third reason why extreme poverty is growing is population growth. I was actually amazed when I looked at the numbers. Some countries are overwhelmed by population growth.

On a trip to Africa, I was speaking to an audience about ways to deal with problems and escape poverty. I was looking for a nice way to talk about population growth and here’s what I told them.

In 1960, my country Bulgaria and Kenya were next to each on the population table of the world. Kenya had 8.1 million people and Bulgaria had 7.9 million.Today, Bulgaria has 7.2 million people so we have a demographic problem of our own. Kenya has 44 million people.

I said something very simple to the audience: I cannot imagine my country coping with 44 million people. Why is it that we shy away from talking about family planning? When country after country – whether it is Niger or Mali or Yemen, striving to grow and they get three percent population growth, where does that lead the country?

I am grateful for our collaboration on the global financing facility. We have to build this up because it is a major factor that deprives people of the chance to have better opportunities.

The fourth reason why poverty is on the rise is natural disasters.

We saw it in the Caribbean recently. They can wipe out the achievements of the country in a flash. Dominica just lost 200 percent of GDP because of Hurricane Maria.

When we look at the impact of natural disasters who is to say that rich countries won’t be dropping dramatically down in their prosperity because of climate change?

So what can we do?

We, at the Bank, believe that we have to speak loud and clear about the fact that in this rich world of ours ($78 trillion) there ought to be a way to tap into reasons why people are destitute.

We believe that we have to concentrate our attention and financial resources where people are left furthest behind.

We have raised our funding for the poor through the International Development Association (IDA). Every three years we ask for money for those in need. This time around we got a record high $75 billion. The previous replenishment was $50 billion.

I want to thank Canada for being the sixth largest donor to IDA.

But this money would only make a difference if we focus on communities and countries and rebuild them from the bottom and then build from the top.

It is not so difficult. How do they become rich?

Sweden, Finland and South Korea used to be poor.

What makes countries leap up? Educating their people, making sure there is infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and making sure there are institutions, rule of law that make the countries function.

We have to work together to achieve this where it does not exist today. We also have to recognize that that our world is richer but more fragile.

Crises are more frequent and more severe. In the 1970’s, there would be a crisis and we’d all mobilize to fight it and it would go away.

Now crises overlap one another, with conflicts, natural disasters, political crises, and financial crises.

We have to be more resilient. Building resilience for those who are most destitute ought to be a priority. We have to act early and we have to target the most vulnerable.

The most important message I want to leave with you is that we have to be there throughout, when the problems begin, during and when they are resolved and we still have to be there afterwards.

We have a tendency in the development world that when there is a crisis we rush and when things get a little better we are nowhere to be seen until the next crisis hits. That has to be history.

We need Canada for your family’s development policy. We need you for your commitment to gender equality so that it is everywhere and it is sticking.

I listened to your Prime Minister at the UNGA meetings in New York last week. He said ‘I am proud to be a feminist.’ These days, when you hear something that impresses you, you immediately tweet it. What did I tweet? It is great to hear it from a man.

We need He for She. But I also want to talk to the women in the audience because we also need She for She.

For many years, for decades in my life, I thought that we have to be gender-blind. You are either good or you are not, it does not matter whether you are a woman. I came to be a very determined feminist in my old age. We have a major gender gap that leads to tremendous loss for women but also for men and for their communities. You empower women, you have an anchor. You empower women, you have honesty, you have integrity, you have consensus building, you have productivity. And do we need these things today? Of course we do.

Thank you Canada for your family development policy. Make it infectious. Go around and get everybody to join.

We are missing between $12 trillion and $28 trillion because of the gender gap in this world. We need $7 trillion to meet the SDGs. Empower women and it is done.

And we need you, Canada, for what your Minister so correctly said, your ability to bring people together on global issues. Climate change tops that list of issues. Climate change is going to push another 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

We are the first generation to experience the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.

We can do it and we ought to do it today. You recognize that mitigating is very important and has to continue but the climate train has left the station. Please work on making adaptation to climate change equally significant in global development cooperation, because today it is not the case.

Let me finish by reminding us of something that has been so frequently said about the ways in which we can solve the world’s problems.

There are two ways to solve the problems of the world. One is realistic and the other one is fantastic.

The realistic way is extra-terrestrial. They come from space and cover our affairs and fix everything that needs to be fixed.

The fantastic way is that is we do it ourselves.

You would make that way of us sorting our affairs possible because you are positive and committed. You have the smarts to do it, the innovations that are necessary, you have the heart to do it and you have guts.

All the power to you Canada and thank you.