Washington — Last winter the World Bank's new president, A. W. Clausen, gathered the bank's top managers at a wooded resort on Maryland's Eastern Shore. ''We contemplated . . . what we wanted to be and sorted out our game plan for the coming months,'' Mr. Clausen says.
The game plan that emerged from this bout of introspection is significantly different from the way the World Bank has operated in the past. The bank and its affiliates provide funding to spur development of agricultural, energy, and transportation projects in poor countries.
At the end of this month Clausen will complete his first year as president of the bank. Under his administration it is trying to come up with new methods to get private business more active in investing in countries with low per capita incomes. At the same time, the bank is contemplating major changes in the way it raises and lends money. And in the midst of these changes Clausen is trying to revamp bank management and make the bank's accomplishments better known.
''We can't continue to do (the same) things in light of the changed circumstances of the 1980s,'' Mr. Clausen, a former Bank of America president, said in a recent interview with a group of reporters. Of course, some of the changes the bank is planning have been thrust upon it. With recession crimping government budgets around the world, the prospect for major incrases in contributions from rich members has dimmed.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the budget pinch came from the United States, the World Bank's largest contributor. Last year Congress stretched out the US contribution schedule to the International Development Agency (IDA), a World Bank affiliate that makes 50-year, interest-free loans to nations with per capita incomes of less than $750. As a result, over a three-year replenishment period ending in 1983, US contributions will fall $1.075 billion short of what had been promised under the Carter administration. Some other nations responded by cutting their contributions. The IDA ended up trimming its 1982 activities by 37 percent.
And neither Congress nor the Reagan administration seems eager to spend more on other bank programs while domestic programs are being slashed.
''We cannot expect larger and larger replenishments for concessional financing,'' Deputy Treasury Secretary R. T. McNamar said in a recent speech. ''The political and economic realities will not permit it.''
Among the political realities is criticism, especially from some Republicans. They maintain that aid given directly by the US to a developing country can be used more effectively as leverage for support of US foreign policy than money channeled through multinational agencies.
The bank has also been attacked for stressing the development of public-sector projects over private business development. Finally, advocates of supply-side economics say it has placed too much emphasis on income distribution and not enough on fostering economic growth.
''As a philosophy we are supply-siders, rather than Robin Hoods taking from the rich and giving to the poor,'' Mr. Clausen counters.
In addition to contributions of funds from member governments, the bank raises large sums from capital markets in the industrial nations. Since interest rates have risen sharply, lenders are less willing to provide funds for long periods. These lenders fear rates will keep rising and, as a result, the value of their World Bank bonds would drop. So with its borrowing needs next year expected to grow by $1 billion to $10 billion, the bank is considering raising funds in short-term markets rather than sticking to the bond market.
''And if we borrow short, we can no longer offer to (lend) at a fixed-interest commission,'' says Hans C. Hittmair, the bank's deputy treasurer. That would end a long-established policy of lending money at fixed rates.
The bank plans to charge periodically changing rates on new loans made with funds obtained from short-term borrowing. In the first year, such short-term borrowing might be limited to $1.5 billion. These plans, however, will go into effect only if they are approved by the bank's executive directors at a meeting in July.
Changes are also afoot in the bank's relations with commercial banks. Mr. Clausen would like to increase private bank participation in loans with the World Bank, as a way of making the institution's dollars go further. Commercial bank cofinancing now accounts for only 1 percent of total commercial lending to developing nations.
One way the World Bank might help in cofinancing, Clausen notes, is to provide borrowers with longer loans and grace periods before payments begin. They would probably not get such terms from a commercial bank.
The executive committee chairman of an investment banking house, who asked not to be named, says cofinancing ''is highly acceptable to the commercial banking system. What bankers lend is not enough to . . . dictate (necessary terms) to local governments.''
Clausen has been trying to sell his ideas in speeches before business groups around the country. In addition, he has beefed up the bank's outreach by adding a specialist in television to the public affairs staff and hiring a Securities and Exchange Commission official to improve the bank's relations with the investment community.
Clausen favors a collegial style of management, as opposed to the more authoritarian syle of his predecessor, Robert McNamara. ''We have got to be more people-oriented,'' he says.
Still, he has shaken up bank professionals by ordering that the work of in-house economists be ''more pragmatic.''