Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 6, 2021

World Bank rep discusses various gov’t challenges

By Ellen Brait | October 25, 2012

Paula Restrepo, an urban specialist from the World Bank, spoke last night as a guest of the Hopkins Economic and Finance Club.

Restrepo, a young professional from France, talked about what the World Bank was and her own personal experiences while working with the institution. There was a diverse mixture of graduate and undergraduate students with an attendance of about 30 students.

She began by giving some background on herself and the dynamic of the bank. She received her PhD in developmental economics and joined the World Bank because she was passionate about development. She explained that working for the bank is unique because everyone is from different backgrounds. Restrepo went on to explain that the bank provides many opportunities for movement. They have what she called “the three, five, seven rule”, meaning World Bank workers remain in a particular region and department for a minimum of three years, an average of five years and a maximum of seven years.

“It was really helpful to hear someone who actually worked at the World Bank talk about her own experiences as well as the kind of people, in terms of backgrounds, the World Bank had working for them,” senior Minji Kim said.

The bank was established in 1944 and works to free the world of poverty and encourage development. Originally, it worked to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II but the bank has since expanded to helping many more countries. France was the first to borrow from the bank, getting a loan of $250 million. This was just the first of many projects the bank took on. Now the bank is comprised of two core institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA).

Restrepo focused on what the bank does in terms of sustainability because she works primarily with that division of the institution. While some appreciated this, others did not.

“I came in looking at the World Bank from an economic perspective, but she looked at it from a sustainability perspective. I would have preferred if it was focused more on economics,” graduate student Subba Rayudu said.

Restrepo explained that the bank aims to create sustainable cities but encounters some common problems including poverty and income inequality. The bank works with a range of cities, from “mega cities”, including Bogota and Buenos Aires, and “medium-sized cities” like Asuncion. The traditional approach to helping cities is through four core efforts: transport, housing, energy and solid waste and sanitation.

“It was interesting to hear the kinds of social considerations, such as characteristics and needs of the local population, that go into implementing sustainable development policies,” Kim said.

Restrepo explained that a main problem encountered is inefficiency. She cited a particular example of transport that is beneficial for a city by explaining that in Asia they are working to have the majority of people live near transportation routes, which is economically efficient.

 The bank faces some challenges too. Political commitment is needed, and a high degree of coordination across sectors is necessary.

Later she explained that sometimes the best crime prevention is through environmental design. Sometimes working across political boundaries is needed as well. Restrepo also explained that the definition of green needs to be flexible and tailored to each specific city.

“Do not over define the concept of green. The solutions, for the most part, are not high-tech and are in things we have already done. All we need to do is improve upon the basics,” Restrepo said to the audience.

Restrepo explained that with projects in areas with indigenous people, they have to be mindful of not negatively affecting those populations. Mechanisms are created to avoid negative impacts and the bank always has conversations with communities about where they see themselves going.

The talk was a great success as it gave Hopkins students some great background on the World Bank.

"It was very interesting insight into the life of a young professional,” junior Victor Allard said.

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