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World Bank election controversy overshadows Kim’s first-term accomplishments

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim at the World Education Forum last year. (Credit: Republic of Korea/Flickr)

In the weeks since World Bank President Jim Yong Kim formally declared his intention to seek a second term, the bank’s employees have raised long-held complaints about his leadership. As the re-election draws nearer, however, some of Kim’s most notable achievements as president have been lost in the noise of controversy.

Kim was never one to fear stirring the pot. As a former medical expert and activist, Kim himself was a staunch critic of the bank’s somewhat sluggish bureaucracy before his appointment in 2012. As president, Kim has debatably instituted clearer policies with benchmarks, and helped make the bank more focused and accountable.

Kim’s critics within the bank have said he is reckless and prone to making substantial changes with minimal consultation. Many employees complain of Kim’s lack of communication, and some have left the bank altogether.

And after his nomination last month, the bank’s staff association quickly voiced its concerns over what it called a “crisis of leadership.

“We have accepted decades of back-room deals which, 12 times in a row, selected an American male,” the letter read. “This must change.”

“Issues of leadership have always been sensitive at the bank. I don’t think this will be an exception,” said Jim Adams, former vice president of the East Asia and Pacific region at the World Bank, in an interview with Humanosphere. Kim just happens to be caught in the middle of the debate, he added, which may lead some to forget what he even accomplished in his five-year term as president.

“One of the things that’s quietly been sustained … is the very strong emphasis on delivery in the field, using field offices and strengthening the field office side of the bank,” Adams said. “Delivery for the field, even now, remains very robust.”

This diffusion of the bank’s power is one of several reforms that helped shape Kim’s term in office. He redirected large portions of the bank’s resources toward combating climate change, addressing the conditions driving the Syrian refugee crisis and other goals that fall outside of the institution’s traditional scope.

He also pushed through a controversial restructuring of the bank’s 15,000-person workforce, making staff cuts where needed – decisions that likely estranged his employees – to reflect a shift from the bank’s country-by-country focus to emphasizing regional and global issues.

Many also applauded Kim for spearheading the bank’s response to Ebola, immediately committing $400 million to confront the deadly epidemic in West Africa. He then nudged the rest of the international community to seriously invest in the outbreak response and reproached the head of the World Health Organization for its lack of urgency.

Despite his critics, Kim has acquired allies in the Netherlands, South Korea and other member nations whose board representatives will vote in the upcoming re-election. Officials say the selection process could conclude in October, the New York Times reported, most likely before the next U.S. president takes office in January 2017.


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at