The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is an arm of the World Bank Group and is the largest development finance institution devoted to private-sector development in the world. The IFC’s CEO, Philippe Le Houérou, will be stepping down by the end of September, creating an opportunity for the shareholders of the world bank group to fill the role. Hence, the IFC is one of five major institutions whose leadership will be turning over between now and the end of 2020, including the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the presidency of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Secretary Generalships of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and World Trade Organization (WTO).
The change in leadership at these institutions comes in the context of an accelerating Great Power Competition between the U.S. and China, a new golden age of development finance, the African continent being on the cusp of an economic boom, and global economic crises caused by COVID-19 which is going to lead to an increased demand for the kinds of development finance that IFC provides.
Historically, the IFC’s CEO job has gone to a European, but given all of the above, now would be the time for the shareholders of the World Bank Group to choose an African woman (preferably one who is highly regarded as a business leader on the continent) to be the IFC’s next CEO.
The next class of multilateral development leaders will be chosen by a number of governments, including that of the United States, and in 2020 these decisions will fall to the Trump administration. The U.S. will be putting forward candidates for the top jobs at the OECD and IDB. This leadership vacuum at the IFC presents an opportunity for the Trump administration to do something bold and different there as well.
Twenty-five years ago, the IFC did about 5 percent of its business in Africa. Today this number is closer to 25 percent, and in the next few years the IFC has committed to invest 35-40 percent in “IDA” (the poorest) and post-conflict countries. Africa already has a middle class of 310 million and in 30 years will have a population greater than India and China combined. The IFC has played a major role in the growth of industries across the continent — from cell phones to healthcare to infrastructure to agribusiness — and the IFC is poised to play an even bigger role as Africa grows. Having a qualified, African woman at the head of the IFC makes sense considering these trends.
Through the Trump administration’s Prosper Africa initiative and the on-going Kenya Free Trade Agreement discussions, the U.S. has adopted a better approach towards Africa. Ivanka Trump’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGPDI) has been a major priority for the administration and has helped further the empowerment of women around the world.
A number of shareholders of the IFC and the World Bank Group now have self-declared and well thought out “Feminist Foreign Policies,” including Mexico, Canada, and Sweden. Other countries, such as Germany and the UK, have made African prosperity centerpieces of their foreign and development policies for more than a decade. And China, which is one of the largest trading partners with the African continent, should also want to see a qualified African in the role.
An ideal candidate would be a woman, perhaps one who has studied in the U.S. or Europe, who has demonstrated success as a business leader in Africa and has a network which reaches across Africa and beyond.
Given the global shifts, naming a qualified African woman would send an important signal from the U.S. to the continent, lines up with the Trump administration’s win-win business approach to Africa and would be a public diplomacy win for the United States.
Article originally published in thehill.com on July 13, 2020 and co-authored with Peter Woicke.