World Bank Employees Losing Faith In Leadership, Survey Reveals

President of the World Bank Group, Jim Young Kim speaks during a meeting for 'Universal Financial Access 2020' at the IMF/WB
President of the World Bank Group, Jim Young Kim speaks during a meeting for 'Universal Financial Access 2020' at the IMF/WB Spring Meetings in Washington, DC on April 17, 2015. The World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are holding their 2015 Spring Meetings. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

This story was reported with Sasha Chavkin from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

World Bank staffers are losing faith in the development giant’s leadership, an internal staff survey indicates, with fewer than one-third of respondents indicating that they have a “clear understanding” of the bank’s direction under the helm of President Jim Yong Kim.

An even smaller number of employees -- just 26 percent -- said they “agree” that bank leadership “creates a culture of openness and trust” according to the survey, which was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Huffington Post. More than 10,000 bank staffers completed the survey, which was conducted in 2014 and distributed internally last week.

In response to almost every question about leadership, staffers gave lower marks to senior managers than they did in the prior year’s survey. In response to a request for comment, the World Bank referred to a message from Kim to staffers in which Kim characterized the survey as having delivered “a resounding - and humbling – message” that “senior leadership has not met your expectations.” He vowed to make improvements in response to the staff survey results.

The poor showing by World Bank management in the survey is the latest setback for Kim. The president's attempts to restructure the bank and redefine its obligations to protect poor communities have led to internal strife and a chorus of complaints from human rights groups, who say the group is abandoning its core mission in order to appease borrowers.

In April, ICIJ, HuffPost and other media partners published the first stories in the “Evicted & Abandoned” investigation, a global examination of how the World Bank Group has failed to enforce its own standards meant to protect people displaced by the projects it finances. Since 2004, projects financed by the bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, while the bank has regularly failed to follow its own policies for protecting and restoring the homes and livelihoods of these vulnerable populations, the investigation revealed.

In some cases examined by the reporting team, World Bank Group staffers who raised questions about projects were disregarded by superiors, and in one instance an environmental specialist was removed from a project in Honduras after calling for stronger enforcement of safeguard rules.

The bank distributed the results of the survey to employees shortly after it demoted and reduced the salary of an outspoken internal critic of the bank’s leaders, Fabrice Houdart. Houdart criticized alleged financial mismanagement by World Bank leaders in 2014, and recently faced an investigation after he was accused of leaking internal documents.

Although the staff survey was conducted before Houdart’s punishment was announced, Houdart has maintained that the case against him was retaliation for his criticism of financial decisions by the bank’s management. Kim told Buzzfeed in April that the bank has a “zero tolerance policy against retaliation in this and every other case.”

Paul Cadario, a former senior manager at the World Bank and a strong critic of Kim, said the survey is the latest signal that employees are afraid of top management.

“What people tell me is there is a fear of speaking out and disagreeing, because there is a tone of retaliation and payback that emanates from the 12th floor [the president’s office] since Dr. Kim arrived,” he said.