U.S.
4:09 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Global Health Expert Chosen As World Bank Nominee

Originally published on Fri March 23, 2012 5:12 pm

Jim Yong Kim, President Obama's nominee to be the leader of the World Bank, is an unconventional choice. As a global health expert, he's a medical doctor who helped start an international health organization. He currently serves as president of Dartmouth College.

"Despite its name, the World Bank is more than just a bank," Obama told reporters during the White House announcement Friday morning. "It's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency."

Along with medical school classmate Paul Farmer, Kim helped found the international aid organization Partners in Health, which provides care to patients in more than a dozen countries.

In a telephone interview from Rwanda, Farmer said Kim has a "big picture" understanding of the connections between health, poverty and development around the world.

"What are the larger forces that make people sick, or keep them from being in ill health?" Farmer asked. "These have been the very questions that have obsessed Jim his entire adult life."

Kim led an ambitious effort at the World Health Organization to provide AIDS treatment to some 3 million patients by 2005. While the campaign fell short of that goal, experts say it helped lay the foundation for even larger treatment efforts now under way.

"The idea was even in the poorest of settings in places like rural Africa, people with AIDS not only deserve treatment but can be treated effectively," Farmer said.

Kim was also chairman of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. While much of Kim's doctoring lately has been at the policy level, Farmer said he will also bring to the World Bank decades of hands-on field experience, working in places like Rwanda, Peru and Haiti.

"Jim makes this fairly easy passage — easy for him — between settings of great privation and the corridors of power where decisions are made," Farmer said.

The final decision about who should serve as World Bank president will be made by the bank's board. The post has always been held by an American, though some of the 187 member countries want to change that. Several African nations want Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the bank. But Kim is likely to get the job.

"We certainly hope and have seen already that Dr. Kim will receive broad international support," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

In announcing the nomination, Obama cited not only Kim's global experience but also his personal story. Kim was born in South Korea and came to the United States with his parents as a 5-year-old.

"Jim went on to become president of his high school class, the quarterback of the football team, the point guard of the basketball team," Obama said. "I just found out he has a 5 handicap in golf. I'm a little resentful about that last item but he does it all."

As president of Dartmouth, Kim even sings, dances and raps — wearing a white leather jacket and shades — in a Dartmouth Idol video now making the rounds on YouTube.

Farmer says Kim has a good sense of humor, adding that it should come in handy in a big bureaucracy like the World Bank.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Today, President Obama made an unconventional choice for the next leader of the World Bank. The president nominated Jim Yong Kim. He's a medical doctor who helped start an international health organization. He's currently the president of Dartmouth College.

NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden this morning, President Obama said it's time for the world's largest development agency to be led by a development professional.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Despite its name, the World Bank is more than just a bank. It's one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce poverty and raise standards of living in some of the poorest countries on the planet.

HORSLEY: The president's selection of Jim Yong Kim caught many people by surprise. Kim was not among those who'd been widely rumored as in line for the post. And he doesn't fit the mold of World Bank presidents typically drawn from politics or finance. Still, Mr. Obama says no one is more qualified.

Kim, who's 52, is a Harvard-trained medical doctor and anthropologist. Along with a med school classmate, Paul Farmer, he helped found the international aid agency Partners in Health. Speaking by telephone from Rwanda, Farmer says Kim has a big picture understanding of the connections between health, poverty and development around the world.

DR. PAUL FARMER: What are the larger forces that make people sick or keep them from being in ill health? These have been the very questions that have obsessed Jim his entire adult life.

HORSLEY: At the World Health Organization, Kim led an ambitious effort to provide AIDS treatment to some 3 million patients by 2005. While the campaign fell short of that goal, Farmer and other experts say it helped lay the foundation for even larger treatment efforts now under way.

FARMER: The idea was even in the poorest of settings, in places like rural Africa, people with AIDS not only deserve treatment but can be treated effectively.

HORSLEY: Kim chaired the Department of Global Health at Harvard Medical School. And Farmer says while Kim does much of his doctoring these days at the policy level, he'll also bring to the World Bank decades of hands-on experience from working in Rwanda, Peru and Haiti.

FARMER: Jim makes this fairly easy passage - easy for him - between settings of great privation and, you know, the corridors of power where decisions are made.

HORSLEY: The final decision about who should serve as World Bank president will be made by the bank's board. The post has always been held by an American, though some of the 187 member countries think it's time to change that. Several African nations want Nigeria's finance minister to head the bank. But White House spokesman Jay Carney says Kim is likely to be confirmed by the board.

JAY CARNEY: We certainly hope and have seen already that Dr. Kim will receive broad international support.

HORSLEY: In making the appointment, Mr. Obama cited Kim's personal story, noting that he was born in South Korea and came to the United States with his parents as a 5-year-old.

OBAMA: Jim went on to become president of his high school class, the quarterback of the football team, the point guard of the basketball team. I just found out he is a five handicap in golf. I'm a little resentful about that last item, but he does it all.

HORSLEY: As president of Dartmouth, Kim even sings, dances and raps - in a white leather jacket and shades - in this Dartmouth Idol video, now making the rounds on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DR. JIM YONG KIM: (Rapping) So come on, let's go. The show is out of control. The house is hot tonight. Go, go, Big Green. Go. Go.

HORSLEY: Longtime friend and colleague Paul Farmer says Kim's sense of humor should come in handy in a big bureaucracy like the World Bank.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.