Remembering James D. Wolfensohn


Mon, Nov 30, 2020


The members of the Bretton Woods Committee deeply mourn the loss of our former chairman James D. Wolfensohn. We were honored to have his leadership for over a decade and will deeply miss him as a friend and as a true leader of our global citizenry. We will remember Jim for his unwavering commitment to the world’s most vulnerable and will honor his legacy by continuing the work he so tirelessly championed.

During his tenure as chairman, the Committee expanded its membership ranks and became a more potent voice in support of international economic cooperation and development. At last year’s BW@75 Anniversary Gala Dinner, the Committee recognized Jim’s indelible contributions to the Committee as he stepped down from his co-chair position after 10 years of leadership. Jim’s final contribution to the Committee was an essay he penned for the BW@75 Compendium – a collection of perspectives on revitalizing the spirit of Bretton Woods. In his essay, Jim argued that “our human interconnectedness outweighs our many differences.” Jim’s wisdom and legacy will continue to guide the Committee in its mission to realize this principle and work towards an interconnected, equitable world.


Rethinking Multilateralism for Our Future World

By: James D. Wolfensohn (July 2019)

How does the world of today respond to the great shifts we are already seeing and the challenges that tomorrow will bring? The challenges are generational, not isolated to any country nor solved by domestic policies alone. To me, the implications are clear: it’s time to rethink our global institutions and our cooperative, open international order to accommodate change in a way that can deliver beneficial outcomes for more, and ideally all, nations and peoples across the globe.

First and foremost, greater inclusivity of rising economic powers within our global governance networks is vital. The growing recognition of the G20 as a premier coordinating mechanism for global agenda setting and prioritization is a noteworthy construct. Within existing institutions, we can formally promote the newer economic powers that are driving today’s growth into a bigger global leadership role, empowering them to own the responsibilities that come with that role. Accelerating quota reform within the IMF is one clear example of where this type of shift can occur. We need innovative and bold solutions, coordinated by new global leaders, to address the rising concerns of inequality, education, labor and productivity gaps, climate change, and the like. The Bretton Woods institutions should rejuvenate themselves by becoming the meeting place for emerging economies to join in forging solutions to address the pressing global economic challenges of the next generation.

The world will continue to need multilateral institutions to be guardians of global public goods, addressing issues such as pandemic threats, climate change, and nativist restrictions on international mobility. But as these institutions adapt to meet the changing faces and features of the world economy, they must be careful to avoid mission drift. The World Bank must retain a global competence and a global diagnostic capacity, but this does not mean it should “do everything.” It does imply more selectivity and much better partnership and division of labor among all the players: international institutions, the United Nations, bilateral donors, nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists, and the private sector. With a new World Bank president at the helm comes a new opportunity for the Bank to clearly articulate, champion, and coordinate a global development agenda, tackling challenges that are beyond the capability of any individual country or regional forum to address effectively.