About a quarter century ago there was a heated debate inside the World Bank if it should invest in telephone poles in India, the bank’s current president Jim Yong Kim has said as he spoke about the challenges before the global lender to find new models of economic growth. “And luckily we decided against it,” he told a New York audience during a discussion on the future of economic growth and security organised by the Council on Foreign Relations, a top American think-tank. Kim said a “good friend” had told him that about 25 years ago there was a heated debate inside the World Bank Group regarding investing in telephone poles in India.
He said the challenge before the World Bank was to find new models of economic growth. “And this is the big question we’re tackling now at the World Bank Group,” Kim said. Responding to a question he said robotics and automation was probably at its peak in China. “It’s amazing what they’re able to do with robots, and it’s getting better and better and better. So things like weaving materials was something that it was thought that robots would not be able to do, but now they are doing it,” Kim said.
“So, if you look around and say, well, are there other models — that could be interesting? Well, again, if you go to China, not only do they have this heavily automated, heavily A.I.-dependent approach to heavy manufacturing, but they also have Alibaba and Tencent and WeChat, which is democratising access to capital, access to markets… access to marketing procurement — even accounting,” he said. “So now we’re thinking, “So maybe that is a possibility in places like sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe by democratizing access to capital, increasing access to markets — that we could see the rise of small and medium enterprises,” Kim said.