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Wolfensohn Gives Speech at Shanghai Conference

Premier Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister Jin, President Lula, President Mkapa, Mr. Han Zheng, the mayor of Shanghai, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Just two years ago, I discussed with our friends in Shanghai the possibility of a conference here in Shanghai to deal with the question of scaling up our efforts on poverty. I thought it would be a modest conference, one for specialists and people that might be interested in this subject.


And so today, to find this huge number of people here is an enormous surprise and is an enormous credit to our hosts, the city of Shanghai, and the government and the Finance Ministry of China. On your behalf, I would like to thank them enormously for their efforts and for their hospitality.


I think it is not surprising that we should have chosen Shanghai. This city is a remarkable part of the history of this country and today represents a center of industry of science, of entrepreneurship, and of responsible government. And I'm reminded of the lament of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 when he said he wished that Shanghai had been given attention during the opening of the economy, as it would have transformed not only the Yangtze River economy but the entire face of China.


Well, I think we have only to step outside of this building to see how this city has transformed not only the area here but, indeed, the whole image of China in the world.


Let me come to the subject of our discussions here during the next two days. But let me first acknowledge and thank the Premier for his additional contributions, financial and moral, to the development agenda which he announced today.


He said that without peace and stability, there is no possibility of us alleviating poverty. And I think that one of the things that we will discuss at this meeting is the reverse of that proposition. Without alleviating poverty, there is no possibility for peace and stability. And so the purpose of this conference is to address the question of what is it that collectively we can do, representatives of the North and the South, ministers, representatives of civil society and the private sector, all of us here, to try and give a world to the younger people that is safe and secure and that is one that will be vibrant and stable.


And that is at the heart of our discussions. We start with the recognition that in our world of six billion people, one billion have 80 percent of the income and five billion have under 20 percent. We start with the proposition that in the next 25 years, two billion more people will come onto our planet, and all but 50 million will go to developing countries. So that in the year 2025, we will have a planet of seven billion out of eight in developing countries, and by 2050, it will be eight billion out of nine.


I remember very well in Evian, where I had the privilege of attending the summit, and President Lula entered the room, and in a typically self-effacing way said how proud he was to be with the leaders of the G-8, but that maybe next year President Hu of China, Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, or his successor, the President of Nigeria, the Prime Minister of South Africa, and himself, maybe they should be the G-8 because they represented the five billion out of six on the planet.


And he pointed to this new balance that is needed in our world. He pointed to the fact that today there is an imbalance and that we have a challenge of poverty before us which has been identified in the Millennial Goals. And he spoke also then and more recently about the challenge of youth--youth that is now just about half the world, 2.8 billion people under the age of 24, a billion and a half under the age of 15, and in the next 20, 25 years, two billion more people coming onto the planet.


This challenge of youth, this challenge of gender, the issue of the rights of women, this issue of poverty, as the Premier said, of a billion people or more living in poverty, this issue of imbalance--this is what we will be discussing at this conference.


And the important thing about this conference is that it is not just a two-day meeting. We have already spent nine months studying experiences in development in the South, in the developing world. And you have, or will have in your papers, summaries of a hundred case studies which can give evidence of good ideas and not-so-good ideas that can be adapted, learned from, and applied in our development efforts. And I'm thrilled that we should have on the platform here the leaders of countries that have contributed good ideas and experience to the efforts of broadening the approach to poverty alleviation.


This is not a conference for teaching the Washington Consensus. The Washington Consensus has been dead for years. It's been replaced by all sorts of other consensuses. But today we're approaching our discussions with no consensuses. We're approaching our discussion with an interchange of ideas, with the opportunity to share experiences, with the opportunity to learn from each other.


And that is why we have had this process, not just a two-day meeting but a process which has taken many of you on 11 field visits, has had you participate in 20 videoconferences, which has had you participate bilaterally with our teams and with teams from the Chinese Government, in putting together not doctrines, not lessons which we insist upon, but opportunities for an exchange of ideas on a South-South and South-North basis. This is a real chance to learn.


But it is more than just an exchange of ideas. What we are trying to do at this conference is to go beyond what we've done so often in the past, which is to satisfactorily succeed in a project here or a project there. My own institution is full of what I call "feel-good projects." They're projects which you ask: What have you done for youth? Or what have you done for saving water? Or what have you done for the environment? And you get a long list of successes, of projects which we've done for a hundred schools in the northern area of a country, or 200 kilometers of highway, or ten bridges, or impacts that we've had with small groups.


But we've learned, ladies and gentlemen, that feeling good about individual projects is not enough. The challenges that we face are just too big. It's not ten schools. It's 10,000 schools. It's not five bridges. It's 5,000 bridges. It's not 100 people. It's millions and billions of people.


What we have to understand at this conference is how we can move from our successes in these feel-good projects and scale them up so that we can really have an impact which is great and which will help us achieve the Millennial Goals.


So it was that when I came here two years ago, it seemed to me that China was the obvious place to start with our explorations because this is a country that in the last 20 years has taken three or four hundred million people out of poverty. And it's a country which does not look at things in short-term dimensions. It looks at the challenges in long-term dimensions. We've had ten five-year plans. The government is now looking at the 11th five-year plan, and it is consulting widely.


As the Premier noted, the poverty reduction strategy of years ago, the seven-year strategy, now succeeded by another five-year strategy, this attention to continuity, this attention to a consistent strategy, this line of thinking which does not allow for forgetting earlier strategies, which makes allowance for political changes but which has a consistency, is something from which we need to learn. Because to go to scale, you can't do it in four years or five years. Scale requires time. Scale requires management. Scale requires consistency. And scale requires constantly adapting our experience to move forward with our programs and our policies.


And you will find in the hundred studies that we've looked at that there are many common themes that emerge. The first thing is that you have to set stretch targets. You don't set targets just by the available money. We in our own institution have often fallen into the trap of saying we have X million dollars for such-and-such a country and, therefore, we will do a project that spends X million dollars.


We should not look at it on the basis of whether we have X million dollars. We should look at it on the basis of what is the challenge, what is the stretch target, what is it that we're trying to achieve, and then look at ways in which over time we can reach that target. Because the success is not spending the US$50 million or US$100 million successfully. The success is approaching the overall strategic target that we are seeking to achieve.


And we are putting forward in the papers that you have before you many aspects of this challenge--the challenge of management, the challenge of leverage, the challenge of resources.


And for me perhaps the single most important element which this country knows, which Brazil knows, which Bangladesh knows, which Tanzania knows, and that is that we should look at development not as something which we as professionals dream up and then bring to people that are developing, to poor people, and in a sense give to them.


What is essential and what comes out in all these programs is that if you have successful programs, we need to turn the people who should come out of poverty not into objects of our charity or our development practices, but to turn them into the asset, to turn them into the active participant that is moving towards getting out of poverty.


What we need to do in scaling up is to engage the community of people who are poor and who are searching for a better life, to engage them in the solution to their problems. They know more about poverty than we do. They know more about what they need than we do. We can help them in terms of the structure and the approach. We can provide them with infrastructure. We can provide them with resources. But the assets that we have to come to terms with is the asset of young people, the asset of people in poverty, the asset of women, the asset of the underutilized people whose lives we are trying to help.


You will find in these case studies many examples of how we need to engage poor people in terms of having them as people who are rich in capacity and rich in desire to improve their lives.


We did a study of 60,000 poor people in 60 countries, and you will not be surprised to find that their objectives and their feelings are exactly the same as people in this room. Regardless of country and regardless of condition, they all say the same thing: We want a life that is secure; we want voice; we want a chance to be heard; we want our kids to be educated; we want safety. We do not want charity; we want an opportunity; we want a chance. And we want to contribute to our better life.


Our task at this conference is not complicated. It is to try and find ways in which over a long period of time and with management skills that some of us lack, that we can present by working with these people programs that are replicable, that can be owned by people in poverty, and where together we can address the question of a better future for all.


I just want to give you one example in this country.


It is the example from Loess Plateau, which I went to, I think now nine years ago, Mr. Premier. And I saw in front of me valleys that were stark, that had no trees, and that were filling the Yellow River with sediment from the water coming down the hills. And it looked arid, it looked terrible. And the people were living in the worst of conditions on the tops of these hills--except that there was a plan, and the plan was to take in each of these valleys, in an area the size of Switzerland, a hundred thousand people who--and you, Mr. Premier, may have seen this--would go into these things and terrace these hills. They'd pick up the rocks. They would terrace the hills. There would be one machine, one bulldozer for the entire area. And they were in teams of a hundred thousand. And on the top of each hill they had a little monument which said, "World Bank Project Number One," or "Number 20," and the signature of the team leader and the finance guy and they had all their names on it.


And when I went back, these arid areas looked like Switzerland. They've got grass. They've got trees. They've got animals. They have houses. And we now have three million people that have come from the tops of the mountains into the valleys, in areas that for all of us you'd like to have a holiday. Not only that, but the Yellow River is cleaner.


This is not magic. This is a simple idea carried forward by the diligence of people, an idea that works year after year. And we see the results in terms of poverty alleviation and in terms of hope.


Our task is to make this world a Loess Plateau, an area that is green, that is full of hope, that allows people in poverty to use their spade or their pen, or whatever it is they have, to find their way from conditions of poverty to conditions of hope and opportunity.


Our conference is not just another conference. Our conference is about peace. It is about the future of our planet. It is moving to scale. It is about social justice. It's about what is morally right. It's about hope. And I am very happy that I can be with you for these next two days and beyond.


Thank you very much.


(China.org.cn May 25, 2004)

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