The White House nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim for the top World Bank post, instantly making him the front-runner to replace Robert Zoellick when he leaves office in June. Under a gentleman’s agreement that goes back 60 years, the U.S. government gets to name the World Bank chief. But this time around, the American pick — and the U.S. prerogative — are being aggressively challenged.
In interviews, Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo acknowledged that Kim has unquestioned expertise in public health. But they said public health is a narrow slice of what the World Bank does and an issue that many other global organizations address.
“He is known as a health expert who has helped developing countries and I have great respect for what he has been able to do. When you look at my experience you can see I have breadth and depth,” Okonjo-Iweala said in a telephone interview this week from Delhi, where she was working to gather support for her candidacy. “You cannot just look at health and view development through that lens, or just at agriculture or manufacturing — there are so many inter-relationships.”
Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank managing director, says she would make the institution faster to respond when countries need help if she were chosen as its next president. She would also increase its focus on creating jobs and addressing the massive need for roads, ports and other infrastructure in the developing world.
Ocampo, speaking by phone from his home in New York, where he teaches at Columbia University, said: “We are talking about the major development institution in the world. I can safely say that if they want to evaluate the candidates on their experience in development there is no question the finance minister of Nigeria and myself have a clear advantage.”
Ocampo, who has also been a senior U.N. official and prolific academic, says he would put emphasis on helping poor and middle-income countries manage the effects of climate change. He says he would also represent a bridge between the World Bank’s practical focus and the new ideas brewing in academia.
Kim, a physician and founder of the Partners in Health program, is on a world “listening tour” to further his own candidacy. U.S. Treasury officials are accompanying him and said he was not available for an interview. In a letter to World Bank directors, who will choose the new president, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner asked them to support the U.S. candidate. Geithner said Kim “brings the combination of experience, innovation and drive that will best serve the bank.”
Both Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo said they want their nominations to prompt an earnest debate on the 25-member executive board about who is most qualified. The three candidates are to be interviewed separately on April 9, 10 and 11, with a decision expected before World Bank spring meetings that begin April 20.