In Their Own Words: Leaders Speak Out

Harvard International Review, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

In Their Own Words: Leaders Speak Out


Introducing our symposium on leadership is a special collection of interviews with world leaders from a variety of fields, including economics, business, government, and international law. Though their expertise and perspectives are diverse, their example establishes one fact beyond question: Leaders and their approaches to leadership shape the world and it can only be important to hear what they say.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN is President of the World Bank.

In what ways is international leadership, from the World Bank or elsewhere, especially necessary in the development process?

In the year 2000, global leaders came together and established a set of global objectives. These goals include halving poverty by the year 2015, getting universal education in primary school for children by the year 2015, halving the incidence of female and maternal mortality, and the programs that have been set in a series of conferences on carbon emissions and protection of the environment. These are the sorts of international goals that national leaders can use as guidelines in their own states. These standards are leverage: internationally recognized goals need to be addressed in national programs. When the level of implementation is reached, such as in the case of the global goal to reduce the incidence of AIDS, then international leaders can engage in discussions with domestic leadership to give the AIDS issue priority where in some cases it is a difficult subject to address for cultural reasons. The leverage of international agreement can open areas to discussion that would otherwise be closed

How have personalities affected the interactions between local and international leaders in your experience? Can you cite any instances in which this interaction was especially effective or ineffective?

Let me cite two examples. One is the change in leadership in Russia between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. The later outlined a new set of objectives for his country, which was a fresh look at the integration of Russia into the international community, as compared with Yeltsin's rather less clear views of a nationalist Russia. That was one example in which a leadership change caused a large impact on the role of Russia internationally. The most recent example is of President Lula da Silva in Brazil, who has indicated that the role of Brazil in the next four years is to put food on the table for every Brazilian while maintaining the country's international obligations in terms of contracts and debt repayment. So there has been a real change in Brazil now because of the personality of the leader, and as a consequence of that a real change, in the perception of Brazil internationally. These are two clear examples of that change.

What about interaction with other international organizations? How will the World Bank cooperate in the future with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the UN, and is some division of labor necessary to tackle issues like international development, economic rights, and global financial stability?

There is a sort of general delineation of the roles of these organizations, the IMF being more concerned with fiscal and economic stability and the Bank being more concerned with issues of poverty and development themselves, and with the various UN agencies each having responsibility in particular areas. Having said that, there are many areas of overlap. We overlap frequently with the IMF because the minute you start talking about economic progress and growth, you encounter issues that impact poverty and development. At the moment, looking at the UN Development Program (UNDP), there are areas of common attention. The moment a question of post-conflict reconstruction arises, there are various UN agencies, a lot of bilateral agencies, and you have the World Bank all involved. And, to an extent, the Monetary Fund. None of these things are behind firewalls. Today we have a series of cross-cutting activities, but with a different emphasis in each organization. …

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