Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today

Exclusive interview: World Bank’s Marina Wes talks partnership with Egypt

Thu, Mar. 7, 2019
CAIRO – 7 March 2019: Marina Wes became Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti’s new World Bank country director in January, moving with her family of three to where the bank is seeking to expand investments on inclusion agenda, private sector and youth.

With a portfolio of 15 projects worth $7.3 billion, Egypt has captured Wes’s eyes for its warm welcoming, various food and sense of humor, despite some concerns regarding traffic and air pollution.

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Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt during an interview with Egypt Today magazine - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today


A Dutch national with 19 years with the World Bank, Wes shared her fresh look on her new duties with Egypt Today in an exclusive interview. Reflecting on her past experience in different bureaus that include: Washington, England, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Poland, West Bank and Gaza, Wes also gave us a hint on how the World Bank considers partnership with Cairo.


Below is the interview with Marina Wes, where she shares her impressions on partnership with Egypt, and on her being the first female country director in Egypt


ET: Can you explain the role of a country director of the World Bank?

Wes: The country director is the main person in the World Bank that provides a strategic leadership for that country, the main person responsible for the dialogue with the country representatives, but also for the design and implementation of the World Bank partnership strategy with that country. Clearly, it is not one person who is doing this job, it is a team and a module of the world bank is to always match experienced and well-established national staff with technical experts from Washington.

ET: Does your duty include suggesting investments to the country?

Wes: Basically, we have a board of executive directors who ultimately sign off on many things, but as the country director, you would advise or make recommendations on what area that you feel are most important for instance, you could advice to do more lending to support a certain region or a segment like youth in Egypt.

ET: Did you study Egypt’s profile before assuming position?

Wes: We have an active partnership strategy with Egypt but at that moment, we are in the process of reviewing and renewing that, so we will complete that process in the next few months. So, we have a fresh look, and we will see whether at the margins, we want to make some changes. Similarly, we are having a fresh look at the whole World Bank strategy towards the Middle East and North Africa region, so it fits into that broader strategy as well.

ET: How does the World Bank see Egypt as a partner and emerging market?

Wes: Egypt is a critically important partner and country for us, and we have had a very fruitful partnership, and one of my tasks is to build on that further with the rest of the team. I am still new and I think Egypt has achieved a lot, if you look at some of the micro-economic and growth data, I think a lot has been achieved, but I still see areas where more can be done for instance: if jobs can be created for more Egyptians, it will help Egypt reach new heights. And the issue of inclusion of women, poorer regions and youths, I think those are very important issues for Egypt.

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Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt (R) and Egypt Today editor Nourhan Magdi (L) during an interview - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today


ET: How do you think Egypt would differ from countries that you served in?

Wes: I believe each country is unique, but there is a couple of dimensions in which I can share first impressions about Egypt being a unique country, first of all it is big, and it has a huge potential labor force. But I also think Egypt’s geographical position is really critical, it can really be an anchor in many different regions: the Arab region, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region, the African region. Very importantly, many people will see Egypt a leader in the African world.

ET: Egypt has overcome security challenges over the past years, how do you think this has affected its economic growth?

Wes: Security is not an area of my expertise. I think the Egyptian economy has a great potential, and this requires further progress in a number of areas in terms of education, skills, investment climate, policy framework and predictability. I also see the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women and it makes me very hopeful for the future.


ET: Do you think Egypt has a lesson to tell about its economic reform program?

Wes: Some of the most powerful exchanges I have seen in the World Bank is when policy makers from one country talk to policy makers of another country, there is so much dialogue that can take place. And yes, Egypt has made a lot of progress and it has a lot of experience to share, and to the extent the World Bank can help convene some of that, including in the context of Africa, but also more broadly globally.

We will be looking for opportunities. I think it is great to see the much higher growth rates that Egypt has achieved, but it is an unfinished agenda at the same time, I think more jobs need to be created, and I think it is important not lose track of the inclusion agenda like gender inclusion and also ultimately fighting poverty and making sure that no one is left behind, which is the core mandate of the World Bank.


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Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt during an interview with Egypt Today magazine - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today



ET: What areas in Egypt do you think the World Bank need to tap in?

Wes: I would like to share some early impressions, so in the digital economy and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Egypt has some start-ups, is well-placed in the Arab World, the Middle East and has incredible job generation potential. I think ICT is one area where a lot can be done. One second area very different in nature is agriculture, because employment generation in agriculture can be phenomenal.


ET: When can Egyptians feel economic progress in their daily lives?

Wes: As it is an unfinished agenda, we need to focus not only on jobs but on good jobs, where people can be more productive and can get higher income. The second side of the story is about the social assistance side, Egypt has good programs in this regard.


ET: Would you tell us more about the World Bank’s knowledge sharing and lending strategies?

Wes: We are primarily a knowledge bank and we share knowledge. We have a similar engagement but not necessarily a lending engagement involved. It is really on a case by case basis. As we go forward, we are open to doing more lending but also open to have much more of a knowledge base partnership, and the two do not rule each other out. We can do both.


ET: And what about the $1B the WB to pump into private sector in Egypt?

Wes: It is a development policy financing that we signed in Sharm el-Sheikh in December 2018. We have a number of different instruments, some of them are investment lending, this one is financing directly to the budget focusing on private sector development and some inclusion issues. We will continue to engage and we just started discussions on the new strategy and regarding a new package, there will be updates in the coming months.

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Marina Wes, the new country director of the World Bank in Egypt during an interview with Egypt Today magazine - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today


ET: How do you prepare for your duties managing WB bureaus at 3 countries?

Wes: I am very excited to be working in all these three countries; Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti.

Egypt is very important than being a big country.

Yemen for us at the WB, we have very innovative partnership, and we are really at the frontier of the humanitarian development interaction. Even during the conflict, we have managed to put in 1.4 billion dollars to help with famine alleviation and Cholera prevention, and our shareholders just gave us an extra 400 million dollars back in November.

Dijibouti is small but it is bigger than its size, and its faces many development challenges, I was quite struck by the partnership, the team has been there in a range of areas like slum prevention.


ET: You’re the 1st women to head the WB’s bureau in Cairo, do you see women empowered in Egypt?

Wes: I have met many women in Egypt, including a few ministers. I think it is great to see women empowered in such great professional positions. We all know the challenges of being a working women, having their responsibilities at work, also many responsibilities at home, I think around the world, women are still catching up with many areas professionally.


ET: Are there certain challenges that face women serving as country directors?

Wes: My approach is to always be myself, but also try to be confident, courageous and bold, I think yes there are challenges mostly time management challenges that also face men too, Sometimes, we as women, we are our worst enemy in that we are not as confident. But quite frankly also in West bank and Gaza, there were some challenges but nothing prohibitive. So being yourself, staying focused and prioritizing are very important.


ET: What is the time frame of your projects?

Wes: Typically, projects take 2-5 years; however, we had the longest bank project in West Bank that lasted to 15 years, but this is not typical. We design the project, execute it, finance the project, and then it is closed. But it does not mean all challenges in the sector is finished, so there can be several projects in the same sector with different focuses. Sometimes it is not projects, it is technical assistance and knowledge partnership.
 
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