But Kim’s nomination breaks new ground for an agency whose leadership has reflected a certain American patriarchy: The bank’s first 10 presidents have been white men drawn from the top echelons of the country’s boardrooms or government agencies. By tradition, the U.S. government chooses the World Bank chief.
Kim’s family moved from South Korea to Iowa when he was 5, and the young boy lived what Obama called a version of the American dream — quarterbacking his high school football team, attending the Ivy League’s Brown University, and earning a medical degree and doctorate in anthropology from Harvard.
Teased for being too smart by comedian Conan O’Brien at a Dartmouth commencement speech last year, Kim has been no ivory tower recluse. The 52-year-old designed field programs that brought tuberculosis medicine to the far reaches of Peru and other remote places, and ran a World Health Organization program to expand delivery of HIV drugs.
That in-the-field experience — and a penchant for pushing big organizations to change — made Kim an ideal nominee, Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony that hinted at possible new directions for the bank. The World Bank provides development aid and loans for poor and still-developing countries, although its role in global finance has been shrinking in an age in which private money moves more freely, and emerging powers such as China and Brazil have little trouble borrowing.
A product of the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe, the bank’s roster of countries that qualify for development aid is expected to dwindle in coming years as nations progress — a perfect time, some say, for a reevaluation of what the bank can do best.
“It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency,” Obama said at the announcement as Kim, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, a Dartmouth graduate, stood beside him. “Ultimately, when a nation goes from poverty to prosperity, it makes the world stronger and more prosperous for everyone.”
“Jim has truly global experience. He has worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages. His personal story exemplifies the great diversity to our country.”
Nominating a public health expert as well as the first Asian American for the post could counter frustration among developing countries over the United States’ historical hold on the World Bank presidency. Under a decades-old agreement, the United States — as the bank’s major contributor — names the president of the bank, while the major European nations appoint the head of the International Monetary Fund.