Image courtesy of Chaeryun Lee
By: Chaeryun Lee, KGGTF 2024 Youth Intern
Ajay Banga, the President of the World Bank, took the stage at Seoul National University on January 24, 2024, for an engaging discourse on the institution's role, the prevailing global challenges, and the importance of engaging young talent in addressing complex issues. The event provided a unique opportunity to gain insights into the World Bank's mission and vision under Banga's leadership.
Banga commenced the discussion by expressing gratitude for the privilege of leading the World Bank, a role he described as challenging and immensely rewarding. He underscored the institution's dual identity, serving as a financial powerhouse and a Knowledge Bank. According to Banga, this dual role positions the World Bank uniquely to contribute not only through monetary means but also through the wealth of knowledge it accumulates and disseminates.
The President reflected on the World Bank's impact over the past five years, showcasing significant achievements that underscore the institution's commitment to fostering global development. Notable accomplishments included the creation of jobs for 100 million individuals, connecting 500 million to electricity, and ensuring healthcare access for a staggering one billion people. As highlighted by Banga, these achievements exemplify the multifaceted approach the World Bank employs in addressing critical aspects of global development.
However, amidst celebrating achievements, Banga addressed the sobering reality of regression in progress against poverty. This setback, he argued, extends beyond the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Banga identified climate change and shifts in global growth rates as contributing factors to this complex challenge. Importantly, he emphasized the need to focus on job creation, particularly in the global South, where a burgeoning youth population necessitates urgent attention.
The intertwined challenges of geopolitics and rising nationalism emerged as key themes in Banga's discourse. He acknowledged the necessity of national security but cautioned against splintering and fragmentation in pursuing national interests. Banga illustrated this point by referencing technological standards, particularly in the context of 5G technology. He argued that the potential lack of a unified standard for future technologies could impede global progress and collaboration, highlighting the interconnected nature of today's challenges.
Amidst the geopolitical complexities, Banga shared insights into the internal dynamics of gaining approval for significant projects at the World Bank. Drawing on an example of a renewable energy project targeting one hundred million people in West and East Africa, he detailed the diplomatic intricacies involved. According to Banga, evidence-based proposals play a crucial role in garnering support, removing unnecessary argumentation, and fostering alignment among diverse stakeholders. This pragmatic approach aligns with his vision of focusing on the highest common factor rather than settling for the lowest common denominator.
Acknowledging Korea as a robust supporter of the World Bank's agenda, Banga expressed a desire for increased collaboration. He emphasized the significance of diverse perspectives and expertise in addressing global challenges. Notably, he encouraged the active participation of young Korean talent in the World Bank's initiatives, viewing them not merely as potential employees but as future multipliers in the global development system. Banga went on to envision specific programs aimed at engaging young professionals in addressing critical global issues. The President sees young talent not only as contributors to immediate projects but as intergenerational assets that will carry the knowledge and experience gained into the future.
Image courtesy of Chaeryun Lee
During the Q&A session with Ajay Banga, students raised thought-provoking questions on topics ranging from digitalization to global debts and financial inclusion. In this session, Banga shared his personal beliefs. He eloquently conveyed, "Life comes from a fundamental belief that life is half luck. Half of your life is driven by the luck of being who you are, where you were when you were, what you did, and what you meant, but the other half is what you do with your luck. So, a lazy affair is not a solution. Hoping for things to fall from the sky is not a solution. But when they do fall from the sky, grab them, take a risk, and run with them. That makes a life." This profound perspective gave the young generation the importance of seizing opportunities, taking risks, and actively shaping one's destiny, resonating with embracing challenges and opportunities in both personal and professional spheres. The Q&A session provided a dynamic exchange of ideas, showcasing Banga's insights on diverse topics and fostering a more profound understanding among the students.
In conclusion, the fireside chat with Ajay Banga at Seoul National University thoroughly discussed the World Bank's achievements, challenges, and the importance of involving young minds in global development. Based on practical insights and a nuanced understanding of geopolitical and economic dynamics, Banga's vision positions the World Bank as a critical player in shaping a sustainable and equitable future. The President sees young talent not only as contributors to immediate projects but as intergenerational assets that will carry the knowledge and experience gained into the future. The event reflected a strengthening partnership over the years between the World Bank and the Republic of Korea, exemplified by KGGTF’s Youth Internship program as one of its successful outcomes. The anticipation for future collaborations is met with optimism, envisioning the potential for impactful initiatives that will contribute to a sustainable and prosperous future.