The balance of power in the world has shifted and emerging market countries are contributing more and more to global growth - more than 50pc - and they need to be given a voice in running things," Ms Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters. "If you don’t, they will lose interest."
Ms Okonjo-Iweala, who was nominated by South Africa, Angola and Nigeria, is one of three candidates vying to replace Robert Zoellick, the American who steps down in June. The White House picked public health expert Jim Yong Kim as the US candidate on Friday, a surprise choice for some given he is not an economist. And after the deadline for candidates officially closed last Friday, Brazil threw its weight behind Jose Antonio Ocampo, a former Colombian finance minister.
The US has held the presidency of the World Bank since the institution was created alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after World War Two in an unwritten convention that has seen Europe keep a grip on the top job at the IMF. China said on Monday that the "voice of developing countries" should be heard in the race.
As the US remains the World Bank’s largest shareholder, Dr Kim, who is currently head of Dartmouth College, a prestigious university on the US east coast, is favourite to succeed Mr Zoellick as the top of an institution founded to combat global poverty.
However, in coming less than a year after former French finance minister Christine Lagarde took the helm at the IMF, the call for the US to relinquish its hold on the World Bank presidency may intensify. Analysts say that Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s background as an economist and familiarity with the World Bank, where she worked as a managing director, do strengthen her hand. "I don’t have a learning curve because I know how the institution works and I know what needs to be done to make it work better and faster for developing countries," she said.
This year is the first time the succession at the World Bank has been contested and may provide a fresh opportunity for the organisation to redefine its purpose in an era in which emerging countries are growing in economic muscle.
The World Bank’s executive board, which will need to approve the candidate, has said it plans to make an appointment before it and the IMF hold their semi-annual meetings in Washington DC on April 21.