The activist-physician president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, was in Seattle today to talk with folks at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about their mutual interests in fighting poverty, reducing inequity and generally trying to make the world a better place. I wasn’t able to attend, but I did chat with Kim by telephone prior to the meeting.
Kim, before becoming an anti-poverty banker, was best known as the other half of the leadership at the health advocacy organization run by Paul Farmer, Partners in Health. Kim and Farmer showed, among many things, that complex TB and HIV treatments could be successfully done in poor communities. Both have been outspoken about the need to view health and poverty within a human rights context. Kim’s appointment by President Barack Obama to take the helm of the World Bank was highly controversial, to some extent because he was a physician rather than a policymaker, finance guy or economist. We asked him if things have calmed down, and when we can declare an end to poverty.
Irony note: Twenty years ago, Kim was outside on the street protesting against the World Bank. Now, he’s running it.
Q So how does it feel to be a banker trying to cure economic ills rather than a doctor fighting epidemics?
JK: The World Bank is really an extraordinary organization. The thing that surprised me is that this place is just full of extremely talented people who are passionate about fighting poverty. These are people who could have worked in other places, in finance, and made a lot more money but they are here to fight poverty. This is a bank with the mission of fighting poverty…. One of the things I’ve learned in taking this job is how critical it is to understand these complicated development problems within the context of economics and finance.
Q Are you guys holding any mortgage-backed derivatives?
JK: We are very highly regulated and closely watched. (So I guess that means no….)
Q When you were nominated, some said your concept of development – as a physician, focused on people – was not a good fit with the World Bank because it is an organization focused on “national development.” One expert and critic called your appointment an “intrusion of humane development into national development.” Response? Continue reading