World Bank CEO Talks about Ending World Poverty

Kristalina Georgieva shared her perspectives on the progress of the world’s economic development during a George Talks Business event.

April 25, 2019

Kristalina Georgieva

World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva says nearly 700 million people in the world live in extreme poverty. (William Atkins/GW Today)

By Briahnna Brown

There is a lot to celebrate in worldwide poverty eradication, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva said during a George Talks Business event on Monday, but there is still a long way to go.

In 1990, 36 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty, Dr. Georgieva said, and 2018 estimates show the world poverty level at just over 8 percent.

“Well more than 1.1 billion people have pulled themselves out of poverty, and I am proud to be part of this journey.” Dr. Georgieva said. “If you happen to be one of the nearly 700 million people that still live in extreme poverty today, this success means nothing to you.”

Conflict, climate change and resulting natural disasters, population growth and bad governance are the primary causes of extreme poverty, she said. If things continue progressing the way they have been, Dr. Georgieva said, by 2023, extreme poverty is expected to go down in three of the five countries where half of the world’s impoverished live—India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia (but not enough in Ethiopia to meet the World Bank’s targets).

But in the other two countries, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, extreme poverty is expected to increase if those working toward ending world poverty do not do more.

"We have a significant and unfortunately growing number of countries where the trending poverty is going in that wrong direction," Dr. Georgieva said. “We ought to be more concentrated on the urgency to understand these drivers of poverty and the urgency to bend the curve so it is not in that direction.”

Dr. Georgieva discussed the World Bank’s work toward creating better economic opportunities for the world’s most vulnerable people during the heavily-attended George Talks Business event. Hosted by the George Washington University School of Business, the regularly scheduled series of moderated interviews features notable thought leaders in the business, government and nonprofit arenas.

GWSB professor Danny Liepziger, formerly a World Bank vice president over its Poverty Reduction and Economic Management advisory service, interviewed Dr. Georgieva in the Funger Hall auditorium for the live-streamed event.

On balancing her four priorities as World Bank CEO—jobs, economic matriculation, ending conflict violence and improving inclusivity for women and those with disabilities—Dr. Georgieva said staying on message helps her and the institution focus on translating World Bank investments into systemic changes for the countries they serve.

"One thing has never changed for the bank, and that is the focus on the most vulnerable—the children, the men, the women—that lack opportunities and power,” Dr. Georgieva said. “My job as a CEO is to say, ‘all we do, ultimately, has to project into improvements in people's lives.’"

She noted that there has been serious progress in women’s economic empowerment, and the conversation on gender equality being “smart economics” is gaining more traction around the world. For some nations, incorporating women in the workforce has been driven by demography—a need for more people to work. For others, there has been pressure from women and men in these countries for parity in government and the workforce.

Only six countries have complete legal equality, according to a World Bank report, all of which are in Europe: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden. In an average economy today, Dr. Georgieva said, women have 75 percent of the legal rights of men, which is up from 70 percent 10 years ago.

But at that speed, she added, it will be another 50 years before the world will grant women complete legal equality as well as the necessary access to assets and finance to be successful in business.

"We are making various progress, but even when we take the six countries where they have 100 percent legal equality, it doesn't mean women are paid as much as men, they're not, and it doesn't mean there are no barriers to women to participate,” Dr. Georgieva said.

"You want to unleash growth? You want to create jobs?” she added, “Here is the solution: give women the chance to reach their absolute full potential."