11th May 2012

New President of the World Bank

On April 16 Jim Yong Kim, an American medical doctor and president of the Ivy League University Dartmouth College, was chosen to be the next president of the World Bank. Kim was nominated by Barack Obama to take over from Robert Zoellick, who stepped down after a five-year term. The BBC reports that Kim will oversee a staff of 9000 economists and development experts, and administer a loan portfolio that hit $258 billion last year.

Born in South Korea, Kim grew up in Iowa and followed a brilliant academic performance with a distinguished executive career in non-profit organisations. He has an MD from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D in anthropology from Harvard. Between ‘87 and ‘03 he was executive director of an institution he co-founded called Partners in Health, which aims to provide free healthcare to  people in poor countries such as Haiti, Malawi and Mexico. In the 90s he ran the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, working on ways to reduce the impact of disease in the developing world. He was given a MacArthur grant, colloquially known in the states as a “genius grant”, in 2003.

His professional background in healthcare makes him an unusual choice for president of the World Bank however, a position usually filled by political, legal or economic experts. But his record of top-level experience working at large organisations in developing countries lends him a crucial political appeal at a time when many such countries are undergoing an explosion of economic growth and a corresponding increase in geopolitical influence which is set to continue in the years to come.

In fact his was the first time in the World Bank’s history that the selection of its president was contested by more than one candidate. Two candidates from developing countries, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Columbia put themselves forward for the job which has never been held by a non-American. Though unsuccessful, their challenge was significant as a sign of the changing times and a harbinger of more changes yet  to come. The US has not given up its hold on the World Bank, but 21st century geopolitical reality dictated a shift of some kind away from the status quo; hence Obama’s appointment of Kim.

And so the massive responsibility of running the World Bank comes to rest on the shoulders of Dr Jim Yong Kim. His challenge is not just to accelerate performance at that institution, but to effectively allocate financial and logistical aid to an entire set of nations who are engaged in that process at a global level. We will be watching his progress with great interest during his crucial first 100 days as president of the World Bank.

Hilda Goold

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