UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 11/03/97

World Bank President Speaks to 300 at Haas School of Business.

by Erik Price


BERKELEY--James D. Wolfensohn, the reformist president of the World Bank, spoke to three hundred students, staff and faculty on Monday (11/3) about his plans for humanizing the organization and repairing its reputation.

Wolfensohn was invited to campus by the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy and the Clausen Center for International Business and Policy His lunch-hour address at the Haas School's Anderson Auditorium featured a lively question-and-answer session, as well as a symbolic protest from several students in the audience.

"You should know something about what we are doing, but we should also know what you are thinking," he said to the mostly student audience. "Generally speaking, we haven't done a great job to date. Poverty is increasing, and equity, or the just distribution of wealth, is decreasing. But I am a happy situation in that I'm only concerned about where we go from here"

Since taking over as president in June, 1995, Wolfensohn has traveled to over sixty developing countries in order to get first-hand experience of the challenges facing the World Bank, the gigantic lending organization which supports development projects in the world's poorest regions.

He has also spent a lot of time, as he did on Monday, listening to and answering the organization's multitude of critics, as well as speaking out for reform in the way the World Bank fights poverty.

Judging from his own statistics, Wolfensohn and the World Bank have a daunting job on their hands: 100 million people go hungry each day; 150 million kids don't get a chance to go to school; and in thirty years time, there could be as many as 5 billion people living on less than $2 a day.

The prescription, according to Wolfensohn, is integrated support from the World Bank and others in key areas like education, health care, nutrition and secure financial systems. Only this way, he pointed out, can you bring more and more people into the economic mainstream at a reasonable pace.

Suggesting that international development work could now prosper free of Cold War political alliances, Wolfensohn added that "it is just about human beings now."

Under his leadership, he continued, the World Bank will be motivated at its core by a "moral commitment to make the world a better place." The type of place, he said, that is a natural employer for young and bright Berkeley graduates.

Wolfensohn, a former investment banker, could not escape the campus without confronting a student protest, albeit a small and silent one. Midway through his speech, several students stood up from their chairs holding placards and placing duct-tape over their mouths. They remained that way for the duration of the talk. Wolfensohn thanked them for their conviction and remarked that he, too, was once a student activist.

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