The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, commonly referred to as the World Bank, is an international financial institution whose purposes include assisting the development of its member nations' territories, promoting and supplementing private foreign investment, and promoting long-range balanced growth in international trade.
The World Bank was established in July 1944 at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. It opened for business in June 1946 and helped in the reconstruction of nations devastated by WORLD WAR II. Since the 1960s the World Bank has shifted its focus from the advanced industrialized nations to developing third-world countries.
The World Bank consists of a number of separate institutions. The three major institutions are the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, the bank's most important component, lends funds directly, guarantees loans made by others, or participates in these loans. The IDA, which was established in 1960, lends to low-income countries on more favorable terms, charging a small service fee but no interest. It gets its funds from more affluent member countries. The IFC, established in 1956, provides loans to private business in developing countries.
Twenty-nine nations joined the World Bank in 1945. By 1996 the bank had 180 members. The bank is governed by an executive board and a managing director. Voting in the bank is weighted according to the initial contributions to the bank's capital, which historically has given the U.S. government a dominant voice in the bank's affairs.
In 1996 almost one-third of the bank's loans went to the world's poorest countries. However, the bank has moved away from financing large-scale infrastructure projects, such as roads, railways, and power facilities. Since the 1970s, the bank has provided an increasing number of loans to developing countries for agricultural, educational, and population programs. The goals of these loan programs have been to raise the standard of living and to increase self-sufficiency.
The World Bank also offers advisory services to countries seeking to reform their banking and finance systems. It has also launched InfoDev, an initiative to secure resources from corporations, foundations, and governments to promote reform and investment in the developing world through improved access to information technology.
In the late 1990s several coalitions of organizations and individuals formed Jubilee 2000 to campaign for debt-forgiveness for poor countries that found themselves unable to pay back the bank's loans. The World Bank and the INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND responded by establishing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) that sought to provide relief for the world's most heavily indebted countries. In April 2000 World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn stated that he welcomed Jubilee 2000 and continuing public involvement for their contributions toward getting creditor countries to support the HIPC.
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World Bank Website. Available online at <www.worldbank.org> (accessed August 17, 2003).