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Despite some international misgivings, Seattle backs Jim Kim’s appointment to World Bank

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

U.S. physician and anti-poverty activist Dr. Jim Kim has been confirmed as the new president of the World Bank.

The news – while controversial internationally – was well received in the global health and development field in Seattle.

“In an era when hiring a politician or a banker in the U.S. might not be a very good choice, hiring Jim Kim was brilliant,” said Dr. King Holmes, chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health and director of the UW’s Center for AIDS and STDs.

“He’s very competent and has demonstrated that in a variety of areas,” Holmes said.

The controversy

Kim’s appointment is controversial on two fronts. First, he breaks the mold of selecting politicians, economic experts, diplomats and the like for the position. Second, developing nations who have grown tired of the position always going to an American had pushed for candidates from Nigeria and Colombia.

While the selection of president is usually a unanimous decision by the 25 member board, Reuters reported that Brazil and South Africa had backed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “Nigeria’s widely respected finance minister.” The Colombian candidate reportedly withdrew from the race last week.

Kim, 52, is currently president at Dartmouth College; co-founder, with Dr. Paul Farmer, of the renowned anti-poverty and health improvement organization Partners in Health; and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO). He was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved with his family to Iowa when he was 5 years old.

The World Bank’s mission is to reduce poverty in developing nations through financial and technical assistance. Kim will begin his five-year term as president on July 1.

A Seattle connection

Kim was once a frontrunner for the dean’s position when the UW created its new global health department years ago. When he came to speak at the UW about global health challenges he pointedly contended that we don’t need new gizmos or scientific research to help the poor so much as we need to invest in basic services – public health, food, water.

This stance didn’t seem to sit well with influential folks in this area, and it appears to have sunk his UW bid.

Clearly, Kim’s tendency to be outspoken and to take less popular positions didn’t exactly hamper his employment prospects over the long term.

More praise for Kim

Farmer happily sang Kim’s praises as regards his new gig in this prepared statement:

“Again and again, we his friends and colleagues have seen Jim imagine a better future, one that harnesses new technologies and older but sound notions of justice and equity, and links this vision to much more than talk and reports and studies. Jim is all about delivery and about delivering on promises often made but too seldom kept. I can think of no one more able to help families, communities, and entire nations break out of poverty…”

President Barack Obama, who nominated Kim, gave this plug for his pick in a prepared statement, saying that he’ll bring to the job “a passion for and deep knowledge of development, a commitment to sustained economic growth, and the ability to respond to complex challenges and seize new opportunities.”


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