WASHINGTON — Bulgarian economist Kristalina Georgieva took over as managing director of the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday, signaling her five-year term will champion issues such as empowering women and fighting climate change.
Georgieva, who had served as the World Bank’s first CEO since January 2017, was the only nominee to lead the Washington-based IMF, an international organization of 189 countries charged with ensuring the stability of the international monetary system.
“It is a huge responsibility to be at the helm of the IMF at a time when global economic growth continues to disappoint, trade tensions persist, and debt is at historically high levels,” she said in a statement. “Our immediate priority is to help countries minimize the risk of crises and be ready to cope with downturns.”
She also indicated she would emphasize efforts to improve gender equality, increase humanitarian aid and combat global warming.
“We should not lose sight of our long-term objective — to support sound monetary, fiscal and structural policies to build stronger economies and improve people’s lives. This means also dealing with issues like inequalities, climate risks and rapid technological change.”
Prior to succeeding France’s Christine Lagarde at the helm of the IMF, Georgieva was a vice president of the European Commission, in charge of its budget and human resources. She also worked in the EC’s crisis response, humanitarian aid and international cooperation, starting in 2010, after Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007.
Before that she worked for 17 years at the World Bank, rising from environmental economist to vice president and corporate secretary. She holds a doctorate in economic science and a master’s degree in political economy and sociology, and has taught at universities in Bulgaria, Britain and the United States.
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Shift to development and anti-poverty
The position of IMF chief is traditionally appointed and held by Europeans, subject to the IMF executive board’s approval. To clear the way for 66-year-old Georgieva’s appointment, the board removed an age limit that had barred the appointment of anyone 65 or older to the top job.
The World Bank’s top post is traditionally appointed and held by Americans, subject to the World Bank executive directors’ approval. Also based in Washington, the bank is the biggest intergovernmental source of low-cost loans for international development. In April, the bank’s new president, David Malpass, began his five year term.
He succeeded Jim Yong Kim, whose surprise departure at the start of February set up an unexpected test for the World Bank. Georgieva, who has been serving as the CEO, stepped in as an interim president for about two months after Kim departed.
The World Bank and IMF are so-called “Bretton Woods” institutions, set up to rebuild postwar Europe and promote international cooperation at a U.S.-led meeting of 43 nations at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in July 1944.
The tradition of selecting candidates to head the World Bank and IMF primarily based on their nationality rather than on their merit goes back to the time of U.S. President Harry Truman, who chose the first head of the World Bank in 1946 at a time when Wall Street wanted reassurance it would be someone who would behave responsibly with the bank’s mostly American credit.
But since that time, and especially in the 21st century, the missions of the World Bank and the IMF shifted to focus more on sustainable development and anti-poverty programs, and the United States no longer provides most of the bank’s credit.