Last week, Jim Kim (Jim Yong Kim) was nominated by Pres. Obama to serve as President, World Bank. This is a brilliant nomination. Before his Macarthur fellowship (incorrectly known as the “genius fellowship”), he was a Kellogg National Fellow, and we share the latter in common.
Jim has the unusual credentials of being a physician, having a PhD in medical anthropology as well as his MD, and service as President, Dartmouth College. He was co-founder with Paul Farmer of Partners in Health (PIH) as described in Tracy Kidder’s book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains”. Jim also served as head of the HIV division at the World Health Organization, where he developed the 3 x 5 program.
JIm has been criticized as lacking a background in finance. However, he will the entire staff of the Bank to advise him in this area, and Jim should be seen as a leader–a visionary leader–who also knows how things work on the ground. Leadership demands a broad perspective that includes ethics, social policy and organization, ability to develop a vision and to motivate people to share this vision. Jim will excel at this. The World Bank is basically an international development organization. Jim has spent his career working in this area. He values social equity, is well aware of global and local disparities in health, wealth, and power, and of the power of the World Bank itself to invest in policy as much as programs. With the IMF, the World Bank developed its structural adjustment policies, which even staffers at the Bank admit to being a failure. These policies required investment in economically productive activities–frequently industrial development, construction of transportation networks, and so on. This forced many to most of the recipient nations to move both attention and investment away from social services, including public health, and health services. Though the Bank has moved away from this policy because of its social consequences, many still believe in this as a way for regions to develop. This will not happen with Jim.
Jim’s orientation will move the Bank from its emphasis only on investment to a position as a progressive leader in international development, emphasizing social investments as well as directly productive activities. We should have no illusion, though. A leader can only go so far unless there is buy-in from employees, constituencies, and stakeholders. If such consensus develops, then Dr. Kim’s appointment could represent a progressive landmark in setting a progressive social agenda for needy nations.