President Obama’s nomination Friday of Jim Yong Kim to preside over the World Bank has been greeted with some surprise. The choice of Kim, currently the president of Dartmouth College, indeed is an unexpected but welcome departure from the background and experience that have been typical of nominees for the position.
A physician and anthropologist focused on infectious diseases and international public health problems, Kim is not a banker, an economist or a diplomat. His expertise has been in devising cheaper and highly effective ways to enhance medical care in some of the poorest countries in the world.
His inventive work with Partners in Health in Haiti (captured in the 2003 bestseller Mountains Beyond Mountains) and as chief of the HIV/AIDS division of the World Health Organization has provided a model through which many developing countries are reducing costs and expanding access to medical care for the poorest.
Against two other accomplished nominees, Colombia’s Jose Antonio Ocampo and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Kim must win the support of the World Bank’s 25-member executive board to become president. Like other international agencies that emerged out of World War II, the World Bank is redefining its role in a vastly different world. The particular experience and leadership Kim brings is the capacity to sharpen the focus of an institution that defines itself as “not a bank in the ordinary sense but a unique partnership to reduce poverty and support development.”