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In 1996, flanked by 20 or so fellow Catholic peace and justice activists, I stood outside the World Bank and prayed for the poor people who – I was told – were exploited by the institution. Looking down at my Birkenstocks, I wondered with silent embarrassment, "What does the World Bank do, anyway?" I was 21.
Seventeen years later I now work for the World Bank. Last month, my boss – World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim – proclaimed to the world that he and Pope Francis met and "talked about ways we could work together with faith leaders to make a preferential option for the poor, so they can have greater opportunity and justice in their lives."
The president of the World Bank was using phrases plucked straight from Catholic Social Teaching. My worlds collided.
As a student at the University of Florida my desire to stop war and help the poor was as heartfelt as it was inchoate. Exposed to groups such as Pax Christi and the Catholic Worker Movement I wanted to make a big difference. A systemic one, if possible.
And so I protested – and was confronted with my own ignorance. I remember thinking: “Would I be able to defend or even explain the reasons why I think the World Bank should be shut?” The answer was a big “no.”
I decided I could never protest against something I did not understand. So I decided to study international relations and economics in graduate school, where my idea of the world became more nuanced and more informed. Economic and political systems and large organisations like the World Bank didn’t seem inherently “good” or “bad.” They just seemed fraught, made so by the fraught humans who had created them.
Who was I to do anything about the movements of human history?
The answer came, over time. It came in the experience of loving: of living in a L’Arche Community with four disabled housemates. Of going with fellow-members from the Community of Sant’Egidio to listen to elderly friends in a nursing home tell their stories. I came to believe that it is the ability of each person to love that saves the world. Love allows us to see ourselves in the poor, to give to and to receive from them, one person at a time.
Which brings me back to Pope Francis and Dr Kim, two individuals who met to forge a relationship, their common denominator a concern for the poor.
While readers will be aware of Pope Francis’ efforts to champion the poor, they may be less aware of the World Bank’s new goal to lower the global rate of people living on less than US$1.25 a day down from around 20 per cent to 3 per cent by 2030.
The bank is leading a global movement to end poverty in a generation and boost shared prosperity for the bottom 40 per cent of the population in all developing countries. It is sharing its knowledge, its data, and its financing to help countries tackle their most difficult development challenges.
While the story of how the World Bank has evolved over the last 20 years is long and complicated, suffice it to say that it is no longer in the business of loaning poor countries money on the condition that they undertake austere economic reforms.
I came to the World Bank four years ago because of a match between my skills and my broad interest in economic development. I didn’t necessarily think I would be helping individuals lift themselves out of poverty but, the twist is, I am now part of a systemic movement that aims to do just that.
People change. The institutions they create and operate change too. Dr. Kim does. Pope Francis does. I do. You do too.
Dani Clark is a communications officer at the World Bank in Washington, DC