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Obama’s Surprising World Bank Presidential Nominee

Jim Yong Kim, the co-founder of Partners in Health, has recently captured world-wide attention not because of his work in the public health sector, but rather because of his new title: World Bank President-nominee. After weeks of speculation, many were surprised when Obama announced Kim as the nominated successor to current World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Obama explained at the White House Rose Garden last Friday that it was “time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

In addition to serving as the President of Dartmouth College, Kim is well-known for his fight against HIV and tuberculosis in third-world nations and had served as the director of the HIV/AIDS department in the World Health Organization until 2006. In response to his nominee, Kim stated that the World Bank is “one of the most critical institutions fighting poverty and providing assistance to developing countries in the world today.” If given the responsibility, he will embrace his new duties as a national and global service and leave his current Dartmouth position.

While Kim is an expert in public health, his lack of experience in finance or politics has made his nomination highly unexpected. While some like Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs praised Kim as “an outstanding development leader” and “exactly the kind of professional needed at the helm of the World Bank,” others were less supportive. In 2000, Kim had written in Dying for Growth that “the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men” and singled out the World Bank as one of the institutions, which promoted economic expansion over social growth. NYU economics professor William Easterly criticized that Kim may prevent speedy economic growth in certain countries if appointed.

Although Kim is only a nominee, he will most likely become the next World Bank President. Since 1944, the President of the World Bank has been chosen by the United States under an unofficial agreement between Europe and the United States, which also allows for European nations to designate the President of the International Monetary Fund. The combined power of the United States and the European nations has made this agreement impossible to be challenged, but after the recent corruption scandal within the World Bank, developing countries are seeking to break this tradition. For the leadership role in the World Bank, they have nominated Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, emerging developing countries can no longer be denied leadership positions in global financial institutions as they have grown too powerful for the United States to control.  Okonjo-Iweala, who was named by Forbes magazine as one of the hundred most powerful women, is arguing for a “level-playing field” in which the position as President of the World Bank would be a merit-based process. She also mentioned that the BRICS nations (China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa) are considering “forming a bank among themselves to deal with infrastructure” since they do not have a chance at leading American and European dominated global institutions.

The selection will ultimately be determined by the 25 member World Bank Executive Board. Although Zoellick’s term does not end until June, the board wishes to make their decision before the start of the World Bank’s spring meetings on April 20. Candidates are currently traveling around the world, talking to leaders of nations within the World Bank. Ultimately, Kim brings well-qualified expertise and knowledge of development and global health but whether the unlikely pick for the position turns out to be the correct one will soon be determined.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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