When Jim Yong Kim was born in South Korea, his average Korean was poorer than a Ghanaian. Over the years — even as he emigrated to the US, he became the president of an Ivy League University and today the frontrunner for the post of World Bank (WB) president— he was affected by Korea’s rapid rise to the ranks of wealth. “I watched Korea go down a path of economic development,” said Kim, “and today I am committed to each country going down their own but similar path.”
While Kim is a shoe-in for the position , he remains conscious that his rival candidates are from emerging economies. “I am proud of being part of the first transparent, merit-based election in the World Bank history,” said Kim. “I am saying support me on the basis of my working life, a life committed to investing in people.”
Investing in people is a theme that unbends Kim: unsurprising for a physician, anthropologist and educationist. In his experience with development work, he has put emphasis on youth employment and gender equality. “Investing in human beings — healthcare, education and social service. Ultimately, these are the WB issues.”
He describes how, as the head of Dartmouth College, he is part of a project to identify what ingredients are needed to create top-rate educational institutions. “We are asking those questions and it is certainly something I will be bringing to the World Bank,” said Kim.
Private capital flows may dwarf what the WB does and development work itself is filtering down to millions of NGOs, but Kim sees the World Bank as unique.
A key concern is that India is on the verge of promotion to middle-income status and thus automatic demotion from the World Bank’s recipient list. Kim declines to offer a solution, instead said diplomatically that “the bank’s relationship with India is one of its most productive and effective partnerships.”
US President Barack Obama endorsed him as the US’s candidate just a week ago, but Kim is crossing the globe shaking hands and seeking endorsements. He will head to Brussels and then Brasilia after New Delhi. But nothing compared to the journey of the son of Korean war refugees who remembers, as he says, “abject poverty and active conflict” as a child and has since become a stalwart of the global establishment.