By Tony Chen
Tony is studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Business and Economics
Our final day in Washington DC marked the perfect end to a truly unique experience. The previous night we attended the Civil Society Organisations Round Table with President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim and Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. During the event Almira De Vera, a delegate from the University of South Australia, met Mike Russell, a cyber security expert from the US State Department, who very graciously offered to show her and the group around the State Department building on the final day.
The equivalent of Australia’s DFAT, the huge Harry S. Truman State Department building sits in the Foggy Bottom suburb of DC – about a 10 minute walk from the White House and World Bank HQ. Kindly spending the entire morning with us, Mike facilitated a tour of the building’s highlights, beginning with the entrance foyer that houses over 100 international flags – one for every embassy of the United States.
From there, we snaked through eight levels of office space to pass by the outside of Secretary of State John Kerry’s office, tour the Ralph J. Bunche Library (the oldest Federal Government Library in the United States and established from the private collection of Thomas Jefferson), as well as the State Department conference and pressrooms. It was remarkable to sit in the State Department meeting room and marvel at the history-changing decisions that have been made within those very walls.
In addition to providing the tour, Mike was happy to answer any of our questions about US government and history. He provided some valuable information regarding working in Washington and the job opportunities available to us there. For many of us, the conversation made the intangible feel tangible. For me personally, it inspired me to take on the challenge of interning at a think tank in Washington next year, following a study exchange program to the United States.
After the tour the group headed back to the World Bank HQ to attend our final seminars.
The first of these was centred on the shifting global economic and political landscape, and how the world could move away from populist and nationalist fragmentation towards a greater sense of unity and integration. Delivered by David Lipton, Lars Hendrik Röller, Ian Bremmer, and Australia’s own Kevin Rudd, the men spoke on how International Organisations like the G20 and G7 needed to actively address the growing negative sentiments in society. Currently hindered by weak international leadership, institutions and governments find themselves unable to deal with the threats of non-state actors and simultaneously find a solution to their problems. The session was capped off with an opportunity to speak with our former Prime Minister and take an obligatory photo for mum and dad.
Next was an event on catalysing private finance for development, where Dr Jim Yong Kim re-iterated the importance of working with the for-profit sector in order to achieve the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Explicitly referencing the protestors outside the building who were campaigning against the World Bank’s privatisation of water companies, Kim put forth the utilitarian argument that development goals should never be hindered by ideology. Whilst some of us had gone into the trip with different perspectives on the World Bank, I personally found Kim’s words compelling in establishing a sense of trust and a feeling of optimism.
Our final event together was on the topic of international trade and how trade can be used as an engine of growth for all economies. Led by Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, Dartmouth Professor Doug Irwin, former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, and past EU Trade Commissioner Baron Peter Mandelson, the panel were unsurprisingly and unanimously in favour of the benefits of trade. There was also broad recognition among panellists that globalisation projects must protect the lower working classes and that this requires strong political leadership. However, former President Zedillo also reminded the audience that countries could not simply experience the benefits of trade without accepting the trade-offs, especially when it comes to less competitive industries dying out. One of the over-arching themes of the week was the current disconnect in the world – whether between politics and economics, or among the elites and the working class. This event on trade focused on this idea in particular and was therefore a perfect way to end the formal proceedings.
With our final night in Washington drawing to a close, we enjoyed one last group dinner at a restaurant themed after President Teddy Roosevelt and took the opportunity to reflect upon the week’s events as well as our own paths for the future. I look forward to one day returning to Washington in a professional capacity, and I won’t be surprised if I find several other members of the delegation back there with me.
I think that visiting the World Bank, the IMF and Washington more broadly has given each one of us the unique chance to see the issues we are so passionate about debated, discussed and deliberated in real time. It makes what was previously the seemingly impossible seem possible.
We couldn’t thank the Global Voices team enough for organising the program and for providing this incredible opportunity.