2016 Young Leader Alexander Slater, Senior Financial Officer at the World Bank Treasury

September 14, 2018

Interview

Q. You’ve had a varied career that includes practicing law, speechwriting, and most recently, a role as Senior Financial Officer at the World Bank Group. How did your transition from a legal environment to the World Bank come about?

I grew up in a family where dinner table discussion revolved around morality and politics, so I guess it’s no surprise that two of my passions are international affairs and public service. One of my first and most fun jobs–serving as U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s foreign policy advisor–combined both. As an attorney, I specialized in white collar investigations, and found cases involving international issues or public policy to be the most interesting. So, after seven years as a lawyer, I decided I wanted a job that allowed me to focus on both.

Still, switching sectors was not easy–strangely, it becomes more difficult the more experience you get. I told everyone I knew I was interested in a new gig in these areas. A friend who is a speechwriter for private clients told me about an opening in the president’s office at the World Bank. I passed him my resume and, a few months later, a recruiter called. She asked about my prior experience, I told some stories that made her laugh, and somehow she was persuaded to submit my name for the job. In the weeks that followed, I completed a speechwriting test and a series of interviews and, boom, I was hired!

Q. What were some highlights of your previous job helping World Bank President Kim with his speechwriting and communications?

It’s extremely motivating to get up every morning knowing your work can help make the world a better place. The World Bank’s twin goals are ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, so it’s hard to find a more worthwhile mission. That alone was a highlight.

As a speechwriter, part of the job description is to become an expert in any area your principal talks about. And, since sustainable development encompasses almost every global issue under the sun—climate change; fragility, conflict and violence; gender equity; refugees; fighting corruption—the World Bank president talks about all of them to audiences around the world. This broad intellectual and geographic reach made the job an incredible learning experience, and my teachers—the Bank’s top thinkers—were leading authorities in these areas.

I also had the good fortune to write some of the president’s landmark speeches—like his address on the World Bank’s strategy to end extreme poverty—and travel the world. We once flew to Ahmedabad, India, for less than 24 hours because Prime Minister Modi wanted the president to speak about economic growth at his favorite economic development conference, Vibrant Gujarat. I had pushed to include in the speech a description of the negative impact on prosperity and equality of the social scourge of caste. It was wonderful to see this message of inclusion lead the evening news broadcasts and splashed across chyrons and newspaper headlines in India the next day.

Finally, while helping organize the World Bank’s celebration of International Women’s Day a few years ago, I met a dynamic, smart, and beautiful woman also working on the event. This summer, we got married. How’s that for a highlight?

Q. In your current role as Senior Financial Officer, what kind of development finance projects are you working on?

My current role has proven to be an opportunity to use much of what I’ve learned in my career to potentially revolutionize development finance.

In 2015, the world came together at the United Nations to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ever since, the World Bank has been focused on providing the financial support needed to achieve them. This requires turning billions of dollars in public development assistance into trillions worth of development impact. The challenge was made even more daunting because, at the time, the Bank’s balance sheet had become constrained due to its increased support for developing countries in the aftermath of the financial crisis. It was basically impossible to mobilize this kind of financial firepower without the private sector—something that, historically, has not been the multilateral development community’s strength.

I had an idea for how to tackle these challenges using financial techniques I’d learned as a lawyer for investment banks. At a holiday party, I pitched the plan to the World Bank’s treasurer and she loved it. So, for the last two years, I’ve been working on an innovative new facility that will make billions worth of quality infrastructure assets in emerging markets available to private investors and, at the same time, optimize the Bank’s balance sheet, putting it in a position to dramatically increase its support for the SDGs. The project has been an incredible challenge—it’s demanded creativity, strategic thinking, and patience, as well as financial, legal, political, and communications skills. Today, we’re on the verge of our first transaction—one that uses private investment to make hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars, available to fight global poverty and inequality.

Q. You went to San Francisco in 2017 with the French-American Foundation’s Young Leaders program. What would you tell someone who was considering applying to the program?

Don’t think—just do it. It’s awesome. You’ll meet incredible people, make new friends, and learn about a different culture and public issues from leading practitioners and thinkers, all while eating good food and staying in nice hotels. What more could you ask for? It’s also a gift that keeps on giving. Because of the Foundation’s generosity, Young Leaders are invited to participate in so many interesting events after the program is over. It truly is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.