Breaking Glass Ceiling Against Compassionate Expertise, Obama Taps Jim Yong Kim to Lead World Bank

President Obama has nominated Jim Yong Kim, a physician who has been a leader of efforts to extend access to health care in poor countries, to lead the World Bank.

This is a huge, historic victory for justice. The New York Times notes:

The nomination of Dr. Kim, who helped found Partners in Health and directed the World Health Organization’s department of HIV/AIDS, would recognize the importance of health issues in global development, elevating them to parity with finance. His work has emphasized bringing effective medicine to the poor.

Dr. Kim has been a leading member of the community of people who have been pushing for greater access to health services in poor countries, including access to essential medicines, to be a higher priority for the World Bank and other international institutions. As you can imagine, that community of people is extremely happy about President Obama’s announcement.

Dr. Paul Farmer, also a co-founder of Partners in Health, said:

“Jim Yong Kim is an inspired choice for the presidency of the World Bank. Having had the good fortune to train with Jim at Harvard, and to see him work in settings from inner-city Boston to the slums of Peru, from Haiti to Rwanda to the prisons of Siberia, I know that for three decades Jim has committed himself to breaking the cycle of poverty and disease … Jim is all about delivery and about delivering on promises often made but too seldom kept. I can think of no one more able to help families, communities, and entire nations break out of poverty, which is the stated goal of the World Bank.”

Jeffrey Sachs, another leading member of the community of people who have been pushing for greater access to health services to be a higher priority for the World Bank, and who had entered his name as a candidate to lead the World Bank to promote the demand that the Bank should be led by a development expert rather than a banker or politician, immediately withdrew his candidacy and declared his support for Dr. Kim, the BBC reports:

Following Dr Kim’s nomination, US development economist Jeffrey Sachs who had been put forward by several smaller, developing countries, announced his withdrawal from the race.

He had argued that the World Bank should be led by a development expert.

“Prof Sachs supports Dr Kim 100% and with complete enthusiasm,” his spokeswoman said.

Sachs tweeted:

“Jim Kim is a superb nominee for WB. I support him 100%. I thank all who supported me and know they’ll be very pleased with today’s news.”

In making the announcement, President Obama said:

“The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed … It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

That’s exactly right.

President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Kim raises the bar not only for all future presidents of the Bank, but for all the top management of the bank, not just the president, and also for the top management at the International Monetary Fund.

On Thursday, Uri Dadush and Moisés Naím notedin The Washington Post:

The scandal over the repellent way the World Bank president is appointed has obscured an equally scandalous situation: the appointment process of the rest of the senior managers at the bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They too are selected through opaque, quota-driven negotiations that are a far cry from the meritocracy these two institutions claim to value and preach to others.

But now there’s a new dynamic. President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Kim establishes a new standard for compassionate expertise in the leadership of the World Bank and other development institutions. Sachs’ public campaign shows that it’s possible for competing candidates to raise the bar. And the public advocacy of groups like Ultraviolet and Public Citizen didn’t just help keep Larry Summers from getting the US nomination; they pushed the issue into public debate, helping to raise the bar. This shows what can be achieved when discussion of US policy at the World Bank is moved outside of the “usual suspects.”

In arguing against the possible nomination of Summers, I had written:

I think a basic job requirement of leading a major international development institution is that you have an expansive view of human potential. And I think an essential component of having an expansive view of human potential is having a strong sensitivity to the degree to which people are making choices that are unnecessarily and unjustly constrained. And I think the record clearly shows that Larry Summers does not meet this standard, and therefore he is not qualified to lead the World Bank.

On Friday, The Boston Globe noted:

During his time at Partners in Health, Kim frequently spoke of how his mother, a neo-Confucian philosopher, had shaped his tendency “to question assumptions and lift barriers,” Dahl said. “If someone says something isn’t possible, he says, ‘Tell me why?’ And then he finds out more.”

I think this strongly suggests that Dr. Kim has “an expansive view of human potential.” Let’s make meeting this bar a new tradition at the World Bank.