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Inter-American Development Bank: The edict of Nancy

Some say IDB number two Nancy Birdsall has split Latin America's own development bank from top to bottom, driving through World Bank-style reforms and wiping clean the corporate memory. But after nearly three years, she seems to have won the war, if not the hearts and minds of the organization. Steven Irvine reports.

Almost a year ago this month, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said goodbye to staff association president Isabel Larson, after 30 years' loyal service. Staff and guests at a ceremony in the bank's huge glass-roofed atrium included IDB president Enrique Iglesias and vice-president Nancy Birdsall, who in the past two years has conducted the biggest upheaval in the IDB's 37-year history. Birdsall probably expected fond words and perhaps a few tears from Larson.

If so, Larson must have surprised her. "Before I conclude," she said, "allow me to make a few personal remarks. This is my last act and I retire ... with mixed feelings." Along with many of her colleagues, she said, she was "not convinced by the results of the reorganization". The changes had been "too traumatic"; the impact of them might have "profound and adverse consequences on the institution". She expressed concern at the "balkanization ... into small and powerful feuds, where agendas pursued are not necessarily those of the governors, the executive directors and the president of the bank". She worried that "worldbankalization" of the IDB was growing, a development that could rob the "great Latin American institution" of its unique identity.

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