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World Bank workers losing faith in leadership, survey reveals

An internal staff survey reveals a lack of faith in the bank's senior leadership, and concerns about trust and openness within the organization.

Jim Kim.

World Bank staffers are losing faith in the development giant’s leadership, an internal staff survey indicates, with fewer than one third of respondents indicating that they have a “clear understanding” of the bank’s direction under the helm of President Jim Yong Kim.

An even smaller number of employees – just 26 percent – said they “agree” that bank leadership “creates a culture of openness and trust,” according to the survey, which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Huffington Post. More than 10,000 bank staffers completed the survey, which was conducted in 2014, and distributed internally last week.

Staffers gave lower marks to senior managers than they did in the prior year’s survey in response to almost every question about leadership. In response to a request for comment, the World Bank referred to a message from Kim to staffers in which he characterized the survey as having delivered “a resounding – and humbling – message” that “senior leadership has not met your expectations.” Kim vowed to make improvements in response to the staff survey results.

The poor showing by World Bank management in the survey is the latest setback for Kim, whose attempts to restructure the bank and redefine its obligations to protect poor communities have led to internal strife, and a chorus of complaints from human rights groups, who say the bank is abandoning its core mission in order to appease borrowers. 

In April, ICIJ, HuffPost and other media partners published the first stories in the “Evicted & Abandoned” investigation, a global examination of how the World Bank Group has failed to enforce its own standards meant to protect people displaced by the projects it finances. Since 2004, projects financed by the bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, while the bank has regularly failed to follow its own policies for protecting and restoring the homes and livelihoods of these vulnerable populations, the investigation revealed.

In some cases examined by the reporting team, World Bank Group staffers who raised questions about projects were disregarded by superiors, and in one case an environmental specialist was removed from a project in Honduras after calling for stronger enforcement of safeguard rules.

The bank distributed the results of the survey to employees shortly after the bank demoted and reduced the salary of an outspoken internal critic of the bank’s leaders, Fabrice Houdart. Houdart criticized alleged financial mismanagement by World Bank leaders in 2014, and recently faced an investigation after he was accused of leaking internal documents. 

Although the staff survey was conducted before Houdart’s punishment was announced, Houdart has maintained that the case against him was retaliation for his criticism of financial decisions by the bank’s management. Kim told Buzzfeed in April that the bank has a “zero tolerance policy against retaliation in this and every other case.” 

Nonetheless, just 41 percent of employees who responded to the survey said they believed they could report unethical conduct without fear of reprisal. 

Paul Cadario, a former senior manager at the World Bank and a strong critic of Kim, said the survey is the latest signal that employees are afraid of top management.

“What people tell me is there is a fear of speaking out and disagreeing, because there is a tone of retaliation and payback that emanates from the 12th floor [the President’s office] since Dr. Kim arrived,” he said. 

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