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Dinner Discussion: Who is Jim Yong Kim? a look at Obama's nomination for World Bank president (updated!)

Updated on June 28, 2012

Interview Candidate: Jim Yong Kim

Well he looks nice enough. Shall we carry on with the interview then?
Well he looks nice enough. Shall we carry on with the interview then? | Source

Background Check! Who is Jim Yong Kim?

Let's start with the racy details: he was QB and point guard in high school! And if you never bothered to learn the rules of either implicated sporting competition, perhaps you'd be more interested to know that he was also class president and valedictorian. Sooo... I think that more or less establishes that he can handle the various pressures that would come with his new job.

His family moved to Iowa from South Korea when JYK was 5, which I assume prospective employers can interpret as both "worldly" and "well-assimilated."

He got his M.D. (or "Doctor Doctorate") from the bastion of conservative tradition that is Harvard, and his Ph.D (or "Not a Doctor Doctorate") in Anthropology, also from Harvard. (Vaguely amusing aside: I first wrote Anthropologie. No more online window shopping for me.) But to our point: future employers (us!) can interpret that as indicating a piercing medical mind coupled with actual interest in humans as a species. Like Dr. House, only he cares. And probably has reasonably well-developed social skills.

So I guess his academic career doesn't raise any red flags. On to round two of the interview: What has he done in the Real World (TM)?

PIH: Boston-based sanity FTW

Aw, those loving hands really *do* care!
Aw, those loving hands really *do* care! | Source

Resume Review: WHO and Partners in Health

Kim is a co-founder of Partners in Health, which, as the name suggests, has a strong community and training focus. The organization's first project (from 1987 onwards) was in Haiti, where it offered treatment etc. according to local need and trained community members to provide it. The 'teach a man to fish' approach proved incredibly effective and the program treats (and trains!) well over 100,000 people in Haiti and seems to have perfected the cost-effective treatment of infectious diseases - curing TB patients in their homes for between 150 and 200 dollars a pop, when it would be between 15-20k dollars to treat in a U.S. hospital. Boo yeah!

PIH's community-centered approach has been so effective in Haiti and Peru (to which it expanded ca. 1994), that the World Health Org. has picked up some of its habits and ta da became a more efficient organization itself. Spread the love.

They have their own flag!

See, there's the whole world, right? And the snake? Because snakes are maybe poisonous, but they also shed their own skin and are super cool? Just Like the WHO! No, not the Who. Srsly, guys.
See, there's the whole world, right? And the snake? Because snakes are maybe poisonous, but they also shed their own skin and are super cool? Just Like the WHO! No, not the Who. Srsly, guys. | Source

Right so: WHO?

The World Health Organization (with its crazy-fun acronym, WHO?!) operates as a special agency of the UN (which I suppose has an equally useful acronym if you're into word play and think the UN is largely ineffectual). It is devoted to monitoring, and ostensibly improving, world health. Way to care, guys. Its special hot-buttons include the following communicable diseases: HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and all the other, less glamorous, STDs that plague (heh) our fine species. Theoretically, they're also interested in improving general (sexual) education, nutrition, mitigating the unpleasant effects of non-communicable diseases, and publish thousands of tons of reports - probably contributing in no small part to the rapid deforestation of the world and our ultimate doom. Oh well.

So anyway, Dr. Kim was their director-general from 2003 to 2006. From what I understand, he mainly focused on HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment. Round of applause, guys.

What does the President of the World Bank do?

Bush's nomination, Paul Wolfowitz, was something of a prig (to put it mildly), and scandalized himself out of a job a mere 2 years after accepting the appointment. But then again, we never did have that much faith in Bush's nominees (*cough*Supreme Court*cough*), so moving on:

The World Bank was established in 1944 as part of the Bretton Woods Conference (which also brought us the IMF) and the US Prez. has the pleasure of nominating its Prez. because, well, you know... We're Number One! (Actually, I think it had something to do with the way we were all up in people's business, financially-speaking, after WWII.) In any case, the measure is enshrined in its charter and I've been told that we were able to call crowning rights (and home court advantage: WB HQ is in D.C.) because, of all the countries at Bretton Woods, the US and the UK were the coolest. So now "custom" dictates that the World Bank is run by an American and the Europeans get the IMF. But of course the IMF is also in D.C., so whoever gets that gig is in for a hell of a commute.

The Presidential power extends to: presiding over any and all meetings (with a gavel, I presume) and directing general management of the Bank (and presumably its many funds). A term lasts five years, unless you're Wolfowitz, and is renewable if all goes well. The president, once confirmed, is no longer a mortal meat-sack like the rest of us: he (or she) would represent a controlling shareholder in the Bank and is the Official Tie-Breaker. Actual banking experience not required.

Kim is in the race along with Jose Antonio Ocampo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Before you ask: No, I don't know who they are and No, I cannot pronounce "Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala". Please feel free to enlighten me. I can tell you that they have international endorsement, and Yes, I do realize that's not saying much.

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So what can we expect from Dr. Kim?

Good stuff!

For the first time in a long long time, the World Bank might actually function like a thing that functions, rather than the already atrocious joke it's been absolutely mutilating since well before my 26-year-old self achieved basic political consciousness.

And that, good sir, is worth pouring out the bubbly for. It's such cause for celebration that I'm not even going to fuss over that silly preposition, dangling away over there.

  • His work has been effective, community-oriented, and cost-effective.
  • He has shown great commitment to solving actual problems. As opposed to, say, creating them. A nice change in politics, not to mention healthcare.
  • The dude knows how to write. I've read some of his articles (Available through WHO, PIH, Harvard publications...) and non-doctor that I am, I found them to be thorough and understandable. I bet he has good handwriting too, as I've seen no evidence to the contrary. And yes, you can still be a Real Doctor with legible handwriting and readable research.
  • He knows all the cool kids. And I bet they let him sit at their table. In theory this will make him an effective administrator.
  • He raps. Interview OVER. You are so hired.

Srsly. Rock that.

UPDATE: Jim Yong Kin secures the position

So, he got the job! Hurrah! It was quite a win - Mr. Kim is the first US nominee to have a serious challenger (in the person of Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) - and People Who Follow These Things say that although the US nominee won out, this race set a new precedent and the next contest could very well lead to a World Bank President who hails from one of those ever-exploited 'emerging market' countries.

I nevertheless remain hopeful that Mr. Kim will be able to do a lot of good in his new position, and very much look forward to seeing what comes of this.


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