With only hours to spare before the deadline on Friday for nominating the next president of the World Bank, President Obama announced a surprise choice: Jim Yong Kim, the 52-year-old president of Dartmouth College and a global expert on HIV-AIDS. The World Bank is part of the United Nations system and its members have until April 21 to name the next president.
The bank’s current chief, Robert Zoellick, an American, finishes his five-year term on June 30.
Much speculation over possible candidates in the last months centered on a push to pick a developing world nominee or at least someone from middle-income countries, like India and Brazil. Indeed, the two other nominees besides Dr. Kim are Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 58, an economist, diplomat and former World Bank managing director; and José Antonio Ocampo, 59, a former finance minister of Colombia and UN under secretary-general for economic and social affairs who teaches at Columbia University. His candidacy was endorsed by Brazil because his own country is aiming for the presidency of the International Labor Organization, another UN entity.
“I think that everybody has recognized that in this period it is unlikely that the US would be willing in an election year to give up” the World Bank presidency, said Alexander Shakow, who held various top positions at the bank, including director of external affairs and strategic planning, before he retired. “So I don’t think that anybody has believed that it is possible to actually have a non-American chosen. I think what they were putting their stress on – the people who wanted this kind of change – was to have an open and transparent process in which other candidates would at least have the opportunity to be considered.”
Jeffrey Sachs, the American economist, pulled out of the race on Friday.
It seems the American candidate will not lose, since the US has the largest voting share at the World Bank board, followed by Japan. The bank has always had an American president since its founding in 1944, when it was created after World War II to stabilize the world economy and reduce poverty.
Dr. Kim has been president of Dartmouth since 2009. He also held professorships in medicine and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and was director of the World Health Organization’s Department of HIV-AIDS, where he began the “3 by 5” initiative, meant to treat 3 million patients with HIV by 2005 (it met the goal in 2007). He also received a MacArthur “genius” fellowship. Dr. Kim was born in South Korea, but his family moved to the US when he was five years old.
“On balance, I think it’s a very interesting choice,” Shakow added. “One of the important things in a president of the World Bank is to be able to deal with the US Congress, to get money out of the Congress to support the International Development Association and other parts of the bank. It’s never an easy job.”