Meet Ajay Banga, the Joe Biden-nominated climate crusader set to become World Bank Chief

Banga is the top contender set to succeed incumbent World Bank head David Malpass early next year

Ajay Banga
Ajay Banga

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

United States President Joe Biden on Thursday, February 23, nominated the Indian-American business leader Ajay Banga to lead the World Bank.

The 63-year-old former Mastercard CEO was Biden's top choice to head either of the two dominant global financial institutions of the world, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank.

Traditionally, the World Bank president is an American citizen nominated by the United States. However, during his announcement, Biden stated that Banga is uniquely equipped to lead the global institution at "this critical moment in history" and is the "most suitable choice" for the post.

“Banga is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at this critical moment in history. He has a proven track record managing people and systems, and partnering with global leaders around the world to deliver results,” Biden's statement said.

He further said that Banga possessed the ability to manage the current challenges, primarily including climate change, through optimum utilisation of resources.

Who is Ajay Banga?

Originally hailing from Khadki in Pune, Maharashtra, Banga was born into a Saini-Sikh family. His father, Harbhajan Singh Banga, is a retired lieutenant-general who served in the Indian Army.

He graduated from St. Stephen's College, Delhi University with BA. in Economics followed by a post-graduation at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad where he obtained a PGP in Management.

Banga began his business career with Nestlé in 1981, he spent the next 13 years working in jobs spanning sales, marketing, and general management. He also joined PepsiCo and was involved in the launch of its international fast food franchises, such as Pizza Hut and KFC, while liberalisation was taking place in India.

In 2007, he formally migrated to the United States and assumed responsibility as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mastercard in 2010. As per reports, during his tenure at the company, he tripled its revenues, increased net income sixfold and accelerated market capitalization from under $30 billion to more than $300 billion.

Former US President Barack Obama appointed Banga to serve as a member of the President's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations in 2015. He has also been a pivotal advisor to current Vice President Kamala Harris during the 2020 Presidential Election.

In 2016, Banga was also awarded the Padma Shree, the fourth-highest civilian award given by the Government of India.

More recently, he helmed the foundation of the Priceless Planet Coalition in 2020, a group of 100 corporate firms that invest to preserve the environment; he also steered Mastercard’s pledge to plant a 100 million trees.

At present, he serves as the Vice Chairman of General Atlantic and as the Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Banga's stake on climate change

Unlike his predecessor, David Malpass, Banga is a bonafide climate financier and is known to have worked around areas of climate action over his 30-year-long business experience.

While the Trump-nominated Malpass was skeptical about whether fossil fuels led to global warming, Banga has extensive experience within the developing nations and has consistently advocated for equity and the environment.

Thus, Banga's nomination is being perceived as the USA's attempt to redefine the World Bank's wavering purpose. Under Malpass, the financial institution was accused of not focusing on the global climate crises and invisibilising developing nations from its policies.

John Kerry, the US Special Envoy on climate change said: "Ajay has proven his ability as a manager of large institutions and understands investment and the mobilization of capital to power the green transition."

Top leaders and former colleagues welcome Banga's nomination

Besides Biden, top leaders from across the globe and Banga's former co-workers have spoken highly of him and hailed his nomination as the top choice.

IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva tweeted: "Happy to hear that Ajay Banga, who I have known for many yrs, has been nominated as a candidate to lead @WorldBank. His exec leadership skills & drive for innovation are well known. But even more so I admire his commitment to sustainable devt, to do good & help those most in need."

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that Banga's experience would "prove helpful in achieving the World Bank's objective of reducing extreme poverty." Yellen believes that Banga possesses the right leadership and management skills, experience in emerging markets, and financial expertise to lead the organisation at a "critical moment in its history."

Banga's former colleague and present Mastercard CEO Michael Miebach said: "Ajay Banga is an inspired choice to lead the World Bank. He's a mentor, friend and first-rate leader who has worked tirelessly to bring hundreds of millions of people around the world into the digital economy. He's a person of great intellect and character, and we wish him every success in the confirmation process and beyond."

In a separate tweet, Mastercard congratulated Banga saying: "His impact on our business and in advancing inclusive growth across the globe is well documented. We look forward to our continued work with the World Bank and with Ajay, if appointed by the board."

Another former co-worker and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted: "As a member of the B Team, he motivated other CEOs to always do the right thing! Congrats Ajay!"

Bloomberg News founder, Mike Bloomberg said: "He was a strong partner for our administration in city hall and we've teamed up on other issues since. I'm looking forward to working with him on climate change and other crucial global development challenges."

Banga is the top contender set to succeed incumbent World Bank head Malpass, who is bound to retire in April next year, but has announced that he wishes to step down early.

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