Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim will serve as the World Bank’s 12th president, the World Bank board of directors announced on Monday. Kim was elected over the only other remaining nominee, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Kim’s appointment marks the end of his almost three-year tenure as the College’s 17th president and the first Asian-American president of an Ivy League institution. Kim will take leadership of the international financial institution, designed to reduce poverty through loans to developing countries, after current Bank president Robert Zoellick, steps down on June 30, according to the Associated Press. Zoellick announced his resignation in February.
The Board of Trustees will announce the College’s interim president on Tuesday, Chairman of the Board Stephen Mandel said in a statement to The Dartmouth. The head of the search committee that will select Dartmouth’s 18th president will be announced on Thursday, according to Director of Media Relations Justin Anderson.
In a White House press release, President Barack Obama called Kim “an inclusive leader who will bring to the Bank a passion for and deep knowledge of development, a commitment to sustained economic growth and the ability to respond to complex challenges and seize new opportunities.”
President Obama announced Kim as the United States’ nominee for the position on March 23, citing the need for a “development professional to lead the world’s largest development bank.” Since then, Kim has embarked on a worldwide “listening tour” in Latin America, Asia and Africa to meet with World Bank stakeholders and rally support for his candidacy.
Kim stressed the importance of private sector growth and job creation worldwide in an interview with the Wall Street Journal during a stop on his tour in Lima, Peru. He said he will prioritize laying the groundwork for “rapid economic growth” and hopes for “very strong consensus” once he begins his presidential duties on July 1.
Kim said he will need to “hit the ground running” to be effective at the Bank, and that the Bank itself needs work toward becoming more responsive to the needs of developing countries and efficient in its responses. “Decentralization” and “simplification” will be key in making the bank a viable tool for countries in need, he said.
Kim’s appointment is a “great thing” for the institution, according to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Development.
“He’s far and away the best president they’ve ever had, and it’s unprecedented for someone like him to lead the World Bank,” Weisbrot said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “He’s a very different kind of person than everyone they’ve ever had before. He’s spent most of his adult life trying to help poor people, while the previous presidents were getting rich and maintaining their connections.”
On Friday, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced that Kim’s “considerable professional qualities, as well as his experience and knowledge,” made him worthy of Russia’s endorsement for the position, as well as the nation’s support during voting by the Bank’s board of directors, according to Reuters. Russia joined the United States, Mexico, Canada, Japan, South Korea and European nations in publicly backing Kim’s candidacy.
The third candidate for the position, Columbia University professor and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, dropped out of the race on Friday.
Kim’s election to the position comes despite criticism from some observers that his relative lack of economic experience made him an inferior candidate and amidst pressure from leaders in many developing nations that the Bank’s head — who has always been American since the Bank’s inception in 1944 — should come from amongst their own ranks.
Because the United States has the largest percentage of the vote of any single country and Europe represents the organization’s largest voting bloc, the World Bank has always been led by an American, drawing complaints from economists and leaders in the developing world. In 2010, the United States joined other Bank shareholders in pledging to uphold transparent, merit-based processes in the selection of the next president, according to CNN. Part of this transparency involved interviews between the candidates and the Bank’s board, but many said the interviews remain more of a formality than a vetting process to determine the best nominee.
Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Kim on his new position but told reporters that the Bank’s decision was not based on merit and instead relied on “political weight and shares,” according to the Associated Foreign Press. While she expected Kim to get the job, Okonjo-Iweala said her “credible and merit-based” candidacy has provided “food for thought” and set a precedent for candidates from developing countries.
The United State’s traditional monopoly over the Bank presidency is “ridiculous,” and Obama was “lucky” that he picked a worthwhile candidate in Kim, Weisbrot said.
“The developing countries will have to move earlier on this in the future because this time they didn’t have anybody nominated until a couple days before the deadline closed,” he said. “It’s going to take effort for them to come to a consensus and agree on a candidate. They couldn’t win the battle this time, and we just got lucky that Kim is a great candidate.”
Both Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo were announced as candidates after the deadline for nominations to replace Zoellick had passed.
Kim’s work prior to assuming the College presidency in 2009 was largely in the public health sector. He graduated from Brown U. with a major in human biology in 1982, earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1991 and completed his doctorate in anthropology at Harvard University in 1993. He served as the chair of the department of global health and social medicine at HMS and has worked extensively on research about treatment for drug-resistant HIV/AIDS.
He is the co-founder of Partners in Health, a non-profit organization that works to improve health care access in low-income communities worldwide. In 2004, the World Health Organization chose Kim to head its “3 by 5” initiative, which aimed to treat three million HIV/AIDS patients by 2005.
Kim’s departure after just three years may present difficulties for his colleagues, especially those at the Center for Health Care Delivery Science, according to Forbes Magazine. Experts said they hope Kim will be able to leverage his unique experience in health policy and his anthropological understanding of local cultural dynamics to help the world’s poorest communities.
His comparative lack of economic experience concerned some experts, leading a group of 39 former World Bank managers to write a letter to the Bank’s board endorsing Okonjo-Iweala, according to Bloomberg News.
In his interview with the Bank’s board, Kim tried to assuage concerns about his readiness for the job, insisting that he would “ask hard questions about the status quo” and “challenge existing orthodoxies,” according to a U.S. Treasury Department press release. Kim said his “global orientation” gained from work with PIH and the WHO will make him attuned to the needs of developing nations.
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the decision shows the need for reform to both the Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to increase transparency and lessen the control of the “established powers” over the organizations’ decision-making processes, according to the AP.
Kim will need to focus on the global future of health care and education, as well as reducing “some of the harm” that the Bank’s policies have caused when he assumes his presidential post, according to Weisbrot.
“The World Bank often gets it wrong when they intervene in the area of economic policy, and that’s not their strong point anyway,” Weisbrot said. “The more they stay out of it, the better. The Bank also tends to follow the International Monetary Fund’s lead on economic policies. Hopefully he can put an end to that or at least reduce it.”
Weisbrot said Kim should strive to put an end to the Bank’s “procyclical policies,” whereby it cuts government spending in countries experiencing recessions or weak economies.