Kim Who? Some Thoughts on the World Bank’s Newest President

The mix of knowledge, insight, and experience made for compelling conversations at Wednesday’s wine reception before the screening of  Bonsai People. With financial managers mingling with social entrepreneurs, it seemed the perfect venue to ask people what they thought about the new president of the World Bank. Some attendees weren’t aware of the selection, or if they were, had few opinions about it. This ambivalence is telling. At a cocktail party for people engaged in improving the financial health of the world’s poorest, in a hub of global health and development, the response is “Kim who?” This isn’t to say that folks don’t care or aren’t paying attention, but that the World Bank, its leaders, and what they do, is so far removed from those on the ground, that this kind of news just isn’t on the top of people’s news feeds.

A few facts: On Monday, Dr. Jim Yong Kim became the latest president of the World Bank. An anthropologist and physician, he is co-founder of Partners in Health, is a former director of the HIV/AIDS at WHO, and has served at the president of Dartmouth College since 2009. The other two nominees were Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and former U.N. official and Colombian central banker, José Antonio Campo.

Some people said that Dr. Kim “sounds good on paper,” while others, such as Alan Leong, Director of Research at Biotech Stock Research, noted the controversy of the developed world (namely the U.S.) once again having the control, despite the goal to have more leadership from the developing world, like from Nigeria, or Colombia, for instance. Others expressed frustration with the institution, likening it to big banks and their culture of taking care of their own (executives) rather than the people they are meant to serve.

One attendee framed it this way: “What does the World Bank do that actually reaches real people?”  Others, like Eric Youngren, of Solar Nexus International, hoped that Dr. Kim could start making investments that truly lead to sustainability. Michael Kaemingk, project manager at Lumana, considers the selection a nice surprise that will provide the World Bank a more relevant perspective: “He’s less removed from the concerns of the developing world.”

Zbigniew Bochniarz, a visiting professor at UW Evans School of Public Affairs, acknowledged that Kim is “a good man” and that his record in health care should provide some needed perspective to an organization that has been heavily criticized for neglecting the social aspects of development. “Here’s a guy who knows the issues and is sensitive to them,” he noted, while also congratulating President Obama taking the risk and nominating someone with a development background.

If you decide to dig in and learn more about Dr. Jim Yong Kim, be sure to include this video from last year’s Dartmouth Idol Finals. Wait through a few minutes of that sappy Dirty Dancing theme song, and you’ll witness Dr. Kim doing the robot and rapping in white leather, neon bracelets, and spacey sunglasses. Dr. Kim certainly has the personality, playfulness, and skills of collaboration to bring new leadership and  ideas to the stiff-limbed World Bank.