By Mary Sutter
Overcoming the odds is something Luis Alberto Moreno has been doing since he was a teenager.
At age 16, when most young men are thinking about fun, Moreno underwent brain surgery after being diagnosed with a pituitary gland tumor.
“I survived, but it was tough. It taught me to never give up,” Moreno said. “Through it all, the love of my family made the difference.”
That tenacity — and, by his own admission, good fortune — has served him well in a varied career that eventually led to his appointment as president of the Inter-American Development Bank.
His innovative leadership has impressed the member countries of the IDB, who in July elected him to a second term. And as a further show of support, the bank’s board of governors also voted for the largest capital increase in the bank’s history, to $70 billion.
The expanded resources will enable the IDB to meet growing demand for development lending in Latin America and the Caribbean, which still has daunting economic challenges to conquer despite faring relatively well during the global downturn.
Over the past five years, Moreno has not only reinvigorated lending activity but also has endeavored to make the bank a force for change, introducing public-private partnerships, galvanizing prominent individuals to become involved in regional development and spearheading efforts to rebuild post-quake Haiti.
“No one really arrives prepared for this job,” the IDB president said. “One may know a lot about economics, or about management, but this is a very complex institution, with many shareholders and countless interests.”
As he embarks on a second five-year term, Moreno knows he needs to deliver results. He has been lauded for a structural overhaul at the IDB to make operations more efficient, although those moves drew private criticism as he stepped on some toes. But his reelection and the capital increase reflect an endorsement of his vision for the 40-year-old bank.
It’s a unique vision that reflects a uniquely global background as he brings together the public and private sectors, Latin America and North America, and, via IDB programs, some of the hemisphere’s richest citizens with some of its most economically disadvantaged.
A native of Colombia, he studied economics and management in the United States, earning an MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. His first career was in journalism, working for the award-winning news program “TV Hoy.” That brought him into contact with movers and shakers, eventually landing him a fellowship to Harvard University.
Back in Colombia, he transitioned into government service.
Then-president César Gaviria tapped him to lead the Instituto de Fomento Industrial (IFI) in late 1991. The following year, he was named Minister of Development.
It was there that he saw how effective public policy could foster private-sector economic development. Most notably, his work helped set the stage for the dramatic evolution of Colombia’s business sector, including privatization of state-owned enterprises.
At the IDB he has reinterpreted public-private collaboration by working with individuals and foundations who share the bank’s goals.
“To leverage our resources, we team up with third parties in a way that is novel for a development bank,” said Moreno. “Our partners win by tapping into our network of 26 country offices and experts, and we gain not only resources but their expertise and experience as well.”
Moreno credits his successes to a mix of setting concrete goals, hard work, tenacity — and a fair amount of luck when it comes to mentors.
He left the Gaviria administration to chair Andrés Pastrana’s presidential campaign. “I had the privilege for many years to learn from Andrés Pastrana’s father, former president Misael Pastrana, whom I consider my great teacher,” he said. One of the greatest lessons was the value of public service.
The younger Pastrana would name Moreno as Colombia’s ambassador to the United States in 1998, an appointment renewed by Álvaro Uribe after he was elected in 2002. He freely acknowledges that it wasn’t a natural transition.
“I wasn’t a career diplomat, so I was forced to be a quick-study diplomat,” Moreno said. “I had always been fascinated by the United States and its politics. I came to Washington to discover this city, without any formal training as a diplomat, so I learned by doing.”
Moreno ultimately served seven years in the position, his tenure distinguished by a deepening of ties and unprecedented cooperation between the two countries.
The course Moreno has charted for the IDB emphasizes promoting sustainable development, addressing the complex issues associated with climate change and expanding projects that will benefit the region’s many low-income citizens who have realized few, if any, material improvements in their lives even in good economic times.
Haiti is a gigantic challenge, he admits, but he remains ever-optimistic. “Haiti’s recovery will take a long time, but I am sure that we will make a difference,” he said.
Meanwhile, the region is entering a new era, building on its own reforms and newfound economic might.
“We still have to improve in terms of productivity, innovation and education, but Latin America and the Caribbean are in the strongest position they’ve been in many decades,” Moreno said.
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