Public-private partnerships considered

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The Independent Online

The President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, moved the international organisation into the world of public-private partnerships for the first time yesterday.

Mr Zoellick said that the Bank is talking to private-sector firms about contributing to its fund for the world's poorest nations, taking it beyond its 60-year tradition of relying on rich governments for funding.

Mr Zoellick, speaking during the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, said he had been approached by "a couple of companies" about helping to finance the bank's International Development Association, or IDA, the world's biggest aid fund, to which the World Bank itself has so far committed $3.5bn (£1.7bn).

But developments were at an early stage. "It could help us broaden the base of support for the funding of the 81 poorest countries in the world," Mr Zoellick said. "We have had some discussions with those countries, but we also have to work this through our board processes."

Indeed, it's not just corporates Mr Zoellick wants to reach out to – charities and NGOs are also potential partners in the work of development: "I don't see our involvement as just being limited to private companies," he added. "I mentioned on a couple of occasions the very innovative work that the Gates Foundation has done, and they have not only brought resources, but they have frankly brought some very impressive ideas."

Mr Zoellick said these were encouraging developments, as talks are also underway with donor nations about replenishing the fund, which provides interest-free loans to poor countries. The fresh funding will cover the lending period starting 2009 to 2011.

"It is a good statement of confidence in what we are doing."

Mr Zoellick has tried to boost confidence in the World Bank's ability to use the aid effectively by outlining a vision for the poverty-fighting institution before the weekend's formal meetings, which will include discussions about the fund.

There was no direct reference to the tribulations of his predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz, who resigned at the end of June after being accused of a conflict of interest over a pay rise given to his girlfriend, Shaha Riza.