World Bank head: Must adapt to "revolution" in Mideast

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank will need to adapt its approach to fighting poverty to cope with revolutionary change in the Middle East and North Africa, the bank’s president said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, World Bank President Robert Zoellick acknowledged that political turbulence in the Arab world was so fast-developing that there is a significant degree of uncertainty about the outcome and how to respond.

“This is a revolution and people are uncertain about the forms that revolutions take,” Zoellick said.

In both the interview, with Reuters Editor-at-Large Chrystia Freeland and correspondent Lesley Wroughton, and an earlier speech, Zoellick stressed that societies now in transition away from autocratic regimes will have to pull their citizens into the decision-making to secure social and economic stability.

He called for the World Bank to take on a new role and reach out to support civic groups that may have on-the-ground knowledge of public needs. Zoellick plans to push the theme at semi-annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund next week.

“Part of my message is that we need to lean forward,” he said in the interview. “These are important events and I think we can make a difference.”

Pressed to explain how the global lender can reach out to citizens’ groups without provoking governments, Zoellick noted the World Bank already does so to a degree through the development projects it sponsors around the globe.

“We have a record across countries with different political systems of integrating this into our development projects,” he said. But he added: “It’s a fair question: ‘Where does the Bank go with this now?’ and those are questions for our board, our shareholders and others to debate.”

Zoellick previewed his message for the World Bank board in his speech.

“Our message to our clients, whatever their political system, is that you cannot have successful development without good governance and without the participation of your citizens,” he said.

Next week’s IMF and World Bank meetings, which will draw finance officials from around the globe, are expected to provoke extensive discussion of political turbulence in the Arab world.

Zoellick told a questioner after his speech that his intent was to “spur the debate” over the region’s future.

(Reporting by Chrystia Freeland and Lesley Wroughton; writing by Glenn Somerville; editing by Dan Grebler)

World Bank head: Must adapt to "revolution" in Mideast