This article investigates the way in which the World Bank constructs knowledge on poverty by identifying analytic institutions inside the organisation where ideas are developed, ‘anti-poverty advocates’ that populate these institutions and the strategies they employ to foster their agenda. By doing so, the article challenges two common critiques against the organisation. First, the Bank is often seen as an instrument of powerful industrialised countries to impose Western norms on developing countries; second, the Bank has contributed to worsening the situation in developing countries through the policies adopted. I argue that both assumptions are overstated. First, an in-depth analysis of the organisation's operational and organisational level shows a high level of internal advocacy that provides evidence that the Bank as a bureaucracy independently shapes global politics. Second, comparing the discursive level with developments on the policy and operational level reveals that the poverty or social agenda has grown incrementally from the late 1960s even in times when neoliberalism dominated world politics and economy. The article goes beyond such an organisational analysis in critically assessing how the Bank, by making developing countries ‘legible’, has provided standardised responses that ignore local social knowledge with the consequence of crude and self-defeating interventions.