In the short time span since Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim was nominated by President Obama to run the World Bank, he has hopscotched the world — eight countries in 13 days, from Ethiopia to India, from China back to Brazil. On Wednesday night he left for Moscow.
For a nominee considered to have a virtual lock on the bank presidency, despite competition from two other candidates, it has been an unprecedented effort. Billed as a “listening tour,” it is in reality a whirlwind push to introduce Kim to the unfamiliar world of finance ministers, central bank governors and heads of state he would have to navigate in the new job.
Kim had his formal interview with the bank board Wednesday, telling members that his career in public health and academia, far from a limitation, qualifies him to run the sprawling global development institution.
“You would find in me someone who asks hard questions about the status quo and is not afraid to challenge existing orthodoxies,” Kim said in a prepared statement to the board released by the Treasury Department. Citing his work developing health programs in less-developed countries, Kim said he was committed to a “strong, evidence-based approach” in setting bank policies.
Kim told the board that his work on expanding AIDS treatment in Africa and delivering expensive tuberculosis medicine in Peru made him “well-versed in developing new partnerships to address transnational challenges.” He added, “I do not come to this election with a rigid, ideological approach. . . . As an anthropologist, I am trained to value local context, institutions and the interconnectedness of individuals and the broader economy in which they live.”
But the real work of securing the job was being done far from the bank’s Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters.
The 25 World Bank executive directors who pick the institution’s president take their cue from finance ministers or other political leaders in the countries they represent.
For the first time in the bank’s 60-year history, those officials have options beyond the U.S. nominee. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo were interviewed Monday and Tuesday. A decision is expected early next week, and the board has said it hopes to make its choice by consensus.
U.S. officials, who would not speak for the record, said that despite the wide presumption that Kim will get the job under a long-standing prerogative, they did not want to take anything for granted. Having brought in a comparative outsider — someone without the sort of finance or corporate resume typical of World Bank presidents — they wanted to make sure Kim shook all the right hands in a short amount of time: one day with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, the next with Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi, India’s Pranab Mukherjee and Brazil’s Guido Mantega.
Kim was accompanied by Treasury aides, and his strategy was mapped out with high-level guidance from Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and other administration officials. Kim’s four-page statement was drafted with help from an advisory team that included Treasury officials who work on development and other global issues. The statement hit many of the same notes that Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo, both development and international finance veterans, did in their public statements.
As Kim circled the globe, the endorsements accumulated — including from Japan, which, after the United States, holds the second-largest share of World Bank votes under a system that weights each country’s voting power in part by its financial contribution to the bank. Combined, the two countries hold about 25 percent of the votes on the executive board.
Kim, just hours back from Mexico and hours before leaving for Russia, said he sensed a “growing global consensus” about expanding the bank’s work as a partner to encourage private business or civil organizations to help with economic development.
U.S. officials hope that, by Monday afternoon, there will be a consensus around Kim as well.
“It is an honor for me to be part of an open and merit-based election process,” Kim said.