Since it was founded in 1945, the World Bank has had 12 presidents, all of whom have been American. The resignation last week of the incumbent, Mr Jim Yong Kim, a US citizen of Korean descent, almost three years before the end of his term, opens the possibility of ending the United States' monopoly over the leadership of one of the world's premier development institutions. If this happens, it would be a welcome departure from tradition. Over the 73 years of its existence, the Bank has become more diverse, both in terms of its membership and its activities. At its inception, it had 29 members. Today it has 189, most of them developing countries. Its mission has also evolved over the decades. It started with funding post-World War II reconstruction, mainly in Europe.
But today, most of its work is in the developing world, where it provides policy advice as well as funding to tackle poverty, build institutions and infrastructure. It also deals with issues such as health, nutrition, sanitation, climate change, gender equality and governance. Given the diversity of its membership and the fact that its agenda is focused on economic development, there is no reason - other than convention - why its leadership should continue to be exclusively in the hands of the US, which although being the Bank's single largest shareholder, holds only 16 per cent of voting power. Despite its current disdain for multilateral institutions, the Trump administration has had a constructive relationship with the World Bank. To its credit, the administration even endorsed a US$13 billion (S$17.6 billion) capital increase for the Bank last year. However, there is growing concern among development experts that given its well-known positions on key issues, a Trump administration nominee for president might not be keen to support some of the World Bank's initiatives, such as climate-change-related financing, support for public sector institutions or co-financing of projects with Chinese development banks, in which the Bank is active.