Not a banker, but a physician to be next World Bank chief | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 17.04.2012
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Not a banker, but a physician to be next World Bank chief

The US seems to have a lock on the World Bank presidency: Korean-born US physician Jim Yong Kim is the next chief. Unlike previous heads of the World Bank, Kim is not a politician, banker or diplomat.

Jim Yong Kim, born in South Korea's capital Seoul in 1959, emigrated to the US with his family when he was 5 years old. His father was a dentist and his mother had a PhD in philosophy. Kim is married and has 2 children.

Three weeks ago, US President Barack Obama made Kim his surprise nominee for the World Bank presidency.

"It's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency," Obama said as he nominated Kim, 52.

Kim, who has a doctorate in medicine and anthropology, currently serves as president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The health professional is no financial expert. Yet, as head of the World Bank, Kim will decide on billions of dollars in credits and loan guarantees for poor countries.

No background in economics

Kim has rejected critics who question his knowledge of other important development issues.

He said economic development and poverty alleviation are so complicated that there's no single background or a single discipline that is sufficient to tackle these great problems.

"The World Bank has many extremely experienced macroeconomists," he told the New York Times in an interview last week. "And I look forward to working with them."

Kim, born in a developing country himself, has been active for many decades in developing countries.

"I've spent my entire life trying to solve social problems all over the world." Kim said.

Watch video 01:04

A new chief for the World Bank

As a medical student at Harvard, Kim in 1987 co-founded the humanitarian NGO Partners in Health (PIH). The organization is still active delivering health care to poor people in 12 countries today. For the NGO, Kim helped pioneer public health strategies against AIDS and tuberculosis, a disease previously ignored in poor countries because treatments were too costly.

Medical care for the poor

PIH develops community-based care, trains local employees and negotiates favorable conditions for the distribution of medicine. The group's first successes were Haiti, and, in the mid-1990s, in Peru. The accomplishments impressed the World Health Organisation (WHO) so much that it adopted PIH's care model. Meanwhile, similar projects are run in 40 countries around the world.

In 2003, Kim gave up his job as PIH executive director and joined the WHO as head of its HIV/AIDS department. He was part of an ambitious initiative that planned to treat 3 million AIDS patients by the end of 2005. It took an extra two years to reach the goal, but according to the WHO, the program significantly improved medical care strategies for the disease in Africa. To date, 12 million AIDS patients have been treated through the program.

From 1993 to 2009, Jim Yong Kim taught medicine, social medicine and human rights at Harvard University. In 2009, he became the first American of Asian descent to take over the presidency of renowned Dartmouth College.

Committed to the mission

Kim's experience with health issues could give an idea of the direction he plans to take the World Bank. In the past, he repeatedly criticized industrialized nations' development aid as being too little and unfocused. In a 2002 speech before the US senate, Kim urged Washington to significantly increase spending on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In recent weeks, Jim Yong Kim tried to avoid the impression he was mainly interested in expanding aid coffers.

"Economic growth is important for creating resources for investment in the health and education sectors and for creating public goods," he said on a tour to meet Asian and Latin American finance leaders.

Author: Andreas Becker / db
Editor: Shant Shahrigian

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