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Izumi Kobayashi Reflects on her Tenure at MIGA

You built a career at Merrill Lynch in Tokyo and rose to the position of President and Representative Director. What made you decide to come to MIGA?

When the headhunter called me about the position in MIGA, I started off by apologizing because I thought he was calling to see if we had any vacancies at Merrill Lynch. When he told me he was calling about a position for me in the World Bank Group, I was surprised but interested. While I had been working in a global organization for over 25 years, I think the definition of “global” on Wall Street is very different from an international organization.  I decided I wanted to see the business world from a different angle, and most importantly, to see how private sector investment could make a difference in people’s lives in the developing world.

I had never worked with political risk insurance (PRI) providers before, so I have learned a lot over these four and a half years. I feel that the private sector needs to better understand the value of MIGA and PRI more broadly—and I plan to share my knowledge. As I leave MIGA, my mission is to educate private sector companies about how they can use tools like PRI to mitigate their risks when investing in developing countries.

What accomplishment at MIGA are you most proud of?

I feel like we have moved much closer to the concept of “value-driven volume.” This was our commitment to a focused growth of the business through concentration on development impact. When I started, I felt that people struggled with business volume targets and development impact as different and sometimes conflicting concepts. My first focus was linking those two goals. So we created an internal team to help identify the direction that MIGA should take. Now we always discuss volume and development impact in the same breath. I think this is the biggest change for the organization.

What was your most interesting travel experience?

Every trip was very interesting, and importantly, these discussions resulted in new opportunities for MIGA to support investments. But my travel to the Middle East was the most eye-opening from a cultural perspective. In many countries in the region, investors did not make much use of PRI and MIGA was not well known prior to the political transitions that began in 2011. On one trip to the Arab Gulf states I traveled with a MIGA colleague and we found that we were often introducing MIGA to officials for the first time. This often involved long explanations regarding why we (two women) were there and what we were trying to achieve.

Another memorable trip was my visit to Iraq and the West Bank. Here I developed a deep appreciation for the complexities of people’s everyday lives in these difficult environments. This visit also really underscored the important role that MIGA can play in conflict-affected economies

I also had the opportunity to travel throughout Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. When we arrived in Kenya, the central bank announced that it would not be providing guarantees to support the new energy program that had just been approved by the parliament, so our arrival was very timely. We immediately entered into discussions about when and how we could support the program. It was very exciting time and we worked closely with the World Bank and IFC on trying to address the issue. This led to our involvement in the World Bank Group program to support independent power producers in Kenya.

In your view, what are some of the most interesting investments that MIGA supported during your tenure?

There are many, but a few stand out to me. Of course the Kenya power project because of our ability to step in and offer a World Bank Group solution to help the country meet its pressing energy needs.

I think KivuWatt, the methane gas extraction project on Lake Kivu in Rwanda, is another good example of our commitment to value-driven volume. Not only was it technically difficult, but we had to address the issue of riparian rights with the Democratic Republic of Congo because Lake Kivu shares a border with the DRC. The challenge was that there were no formal treaties between Rwanda and the DRC explicitly governing resource sharing and related gas-development activities. While we were in Rwanda discussing the project, we decided to send a MIGA delegation to the DRC for a face-to-face discussion. The issue was resolved, allowing the project to move ahead.

I think our support to the metro systems in Istanbul and Panama City are good demonstrations of how MIGA can help middle-income countries. These transformative projects are helping take the countries’ critical development issues to the next stage.

And of course, the projects we supported in the West Bank are very memorable to me, especially since I had an opportunity to visit several of them. Although they are small, they are very important developmentally. The investors we met are very committed to providing employment to people affected by the ongoing conflict. One of these companies is Nakheel Palestine for Agricultural Development, which produces Medjool dates. Not only are they employing people who have been displaced by conflict, but the dates they are producing are the best I’ve ever tasted.

What advice will you give your successor?

The world needs more private investment to boost development, and I really see MIGA’s products and vision as being a very powerful tool to help mobilize this investment. We work in challenging environments and often face significant obstacles, but the reward is huge – not just for MIGA, but for all of the people who stand to benefit from increased investment in their countries.