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The former Mastercard Inc. CEO was tapped last month as the US choice to lead the anti-poverty lender. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the World Bank will head to Ivory Coast and Kenya early next week as he kickstarts his campaign to shore up support for his nomination from nations around the world.

Ajay Banga’s trip to Africa marks the first leg of a three-week journey to both creditor and borrower nations, with further stops planned in countries in Europe, Latin America as well as China, the largest bilateral lender to developing economies. The choice of Africa as a first stop was a deliberate one aimed at showing his commitment to the World Bank’s core development goals, a US official said.

During his time in Abidjan and Nairobi on March 6-8, Banga will meet with government officials, leaders of multilateral organizations and civil society to discuss the the World Bank’s key goals including alleviating extreme poverty and combating climate change, the US Treasury said.

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The next World Bank leader will take over at a pivotal time, amid a growing clamor for reform of multilateral development banks and international financial institutions to unlock more climate finance in the developing world.

Banga’s trip comes as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is pushing the development lender to evolve from its traditional focus on country-specific lending, to global challenges like fighting climate change, and to more aggressively extend its balance sheet.

Is Banga right for the job?

One of his key challenges over the coming weeks will be to appease critics who have questioned whether he’s the right pick for the job. While Banga’s nomination drew praise from high-profile climate allies including the US special presidential envoy John Kerry, it also raised eyebrows among groups that view him as someone who hews too closely to the typical mold of male World Bank presidents with deep ties to Wall Street and corporate America.

Banga has sought to address such concerns, highlighting earlier this week his upbringing and education in India, as well as his commitment to climate science and his belief that poverty alleviation and environmental issues are “intertwined.”

While in Nairobi, Banga will tour the Kenya Climate Innovation Center, a World Bank-backed project that helps small- and medium-sized businesses developing innovations to address the challenges of climate change. In doing so, he’ll seek to highlight how achieving development goals can be intertwined with efforts to address climate change, the US official said

The former Mastercard Inc. CEO was tapped last month as the US choice to lead the anti-poverty lender. That came after current head David Malpass, picked by President Donald Trump, unexpectedly announced plans to step down by the end of June, almost a year before the scheduled end of his term.