Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, the first without a formal background in finance or banking, spoke to the students of Lady Shri Ram College for Women on his two day visit to India. Aptly titled ‘Pathways to Prosperity’, the interactive session organised by the Department of Economics, a wide range of issues were discussed, ranging from the unexpected Brexit to implications of climate change.
Nidhi Razdan’s introductory question on the long term impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union, and its effect on India was met by a somewhat positive response from Dr. Kim. Elaborating further on this, he said that India-UK relations are still going strong and this tumultuous chain of events, which has affected other developing countries, would not bring as many fluctuations to our economy. He said the vote had toxic xenophobic undertones. The vote was driven by middle classes in developed countries who have failed to harness the positive impact of globalization and multilateralism.
He answered Ms. Razdan’s question of whether India was insulated from global shocks by calling India one of the ‘very few bright spots’ and praised Modi’s government for high growth rates, low inflation and a healthy BOP. He talked about India’s improved logistics ranking from 54 to 35 in the last two years. When asked about the opposition faced by the World Bank from economists all around the world on 7% growth rates of India, he maintained his positive outlook and said, “World Bank is comfortable with these numbers.”
When asked about how effective Gross National Happiness was in measuring inclusivity of economic growth, he talked about Bhutan which currently uses this metric and called their Prime Minister a ‘happy guy’. He stressed on the importance of maintaining work-life balance.
“I want to get to the core of equality of opportunity”, he said as he talked about malnutrition in India. 38.5% of Indian children, below the age of 5 years, are stunted, according to recent reports. He expressed concern about the lack of hygiene in India and talked of open defecation leading to malnutrition due to easier spread of diarrhoea which the government wishes to reduce through the health and sanitation centric Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. However, he praised India’s efforts in dealing with malnourishment—Anganwadis and Asha communities, wherein investment in education or ‘infrastructural investment of grey matter’ in his words is the most effective way to deal with the problem at hand.
He emphasized the pressing need to address climate change as he talked about renewable energy. He appreciated Modi’s efforts of making India solar efficient given his plans to produce 175 GW of solar power in the coming years. The cost of financing is a major deterrent to adopting alternative sources of energy. “The tricks of the Wall Street could be used on behalf of poor people. The cost of solar energy needs to be lower than that of coal, only then will people be incentivized to switch to solar power. If one understands finance, a lot can be done for the underprivileged.”
Comparing World Bank to a multi state owned enterprise which faces competition from alternative financial institutions, he regarded competition as the much needed medicine which keeps World Bank’s joints well oiled. The World Bank needs to get inspired from the successes of their contemporary organizations and work on their shortcomings.
He concluded the session by asking students to be more empathetic as ‘the world’s problems are our own’. Despite the stress, he called his job ’the best’ in the world and he would be open to another term as the President.