Following his passing in New York, the University of Sydney paid tribute to renowned lawyer, economist, philanthropist and alumnus James Wolfensohn.
Mr James Wolfensohn KBE AO, BA Syd. MA Harv. PhD Syd. PhD UNSW – or Jim, as he was known – was born on 1 December 1933 in Sydney. He attended Sydney Boys High School and enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney in 1950, aged 16.
Upon graduating, Mr Wolfensohn interned as a lawyer at Allen, Allen & Hemsley before moving to the USA and undertaking an MBA at Harvard University. He became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1980, and in 1995, was nominated by President Bill Clinton for the presidency of the World Bank, which he undertook for two terms, until 2005.
Having grown up in financial insecurity and then worked travelling the world, he was acutely aware of the inequalities that existed socially and economically. He wrote of his global travels, “the inequity was so striking that I could hardly absorb what was in front of me. I had known what to expect intellectually, but, the reality was a shock. It left an indelible mark that would influence my later life.”
The James Wolfensohn Travelling Scholarship was established in his name in 1997 at the University of Sydney to allow future generations of students to experience this same awareness through travel, with an emphasis on personal development.
During his decade as the ninth World Bank president, Mr Wolfensohn earned a reputation as a ‘banker to the world’s poor’ through his focus on poverty alleviation and a reconsideration of development financing.
Mr Wolfensohn was also an avid and committed philanthropist throughout his life. He founded the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank which aims to solve global problems such as sustainable development, youth exclusion in the Middle East and anti-poverty programs on a global scale.
He died in Manhattan on 25 November 2020, aged 86, just three months after the death of his wife Elaine.
Vale Jim Wolfensohn (University of Sydney)