A specialized agency of the United Nations, the World Bank (officially, the
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or IBRD) was established,
along with the INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF), by the Bretton Woods Agreement
(1944) to assist European postwar recovery. When this initial role was absorbed
by the Marshall Plan, the focus shifted (1949) to loans and technical assistance
to promote the balanced growth of international trade and economic development,
especially in underdeveloped areas. With its affiliates--the INTERNATIONAL
FINANCE CORPORATION, created in 1956, and the INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
ASSOCIATION, founded in 1960--the World Bank Group has become the single most
important lending agency in international development.
By 1983, membership consisted of 146 nations, including China, which replaced
Taiwan in 1980. Most loans are made to member governments, but if a member will
guarantee repayment, loans can be arranged for private firms. Funds from loans
are used to support a variety of long-range projects in such fields as energy,
agriculture, and transportation. From 1973 to 1982 loans increased from $3.4
billion to $13 billion annually. Of the $13 billion in loans dispersed in 1982,
23.7% was used for agriculture, 22.3% for energy, and 12.4% for transportation.
Terms of the loans have ranged from near-commercial rates, lent by the Bank
itself, to zero-interest loans, lent to the poorest countries by the IDA, with
payment due within 10 to 40 years. In the late 1970s the Bank's lending policy
changed from funding development projects aimed at helping a particular economic
sector of a country to financing broad economic reform.
The technical assistance program of the Bank works in two ways: it helps set up
a project that may secure a loan, and it then aids recipients in utilizing the
loan when it is granted. When members request a mission to survey their
economies, other international organizations may be brought in; for example, the
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) added its own personnel to the Bank's
missions to assist in agricultural and irrigation projects. With headquarters in
Washington, D.C., the Bank is run by a president and a board of governors who
meet annually to determine policies. Decisions on loans are made by the
executive directors (20), who meet monthly. Voting on loans is weighted
according to members' contributions (capital subscription), and therefore the
organization is controlled by the wealthier nations. Recent presidents of the
World Bank include Robert MCNAMARA, A. W. CLAUSEN, and Barber Conable. JOHN G.
Bibliography: Heilbroner, Robert L., This Growing World: Economic Development
and the World Bank Group, rev. ed. (1966); Mason, E. S., and Asher, R. E., The
World Bank since Bretton Woods (1973); Reid, Escott, Strengthening the World
Bank (1973); Van de Laar, J. M., The World Bank and the World's Poor (1976).