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Kim's Vision of the World Bank

04-10 10:04 Caijing
I think there is a wonderful symmetry between what the biggest challenge is and what's the mission of the World Bank is.

This is an exclusive interview with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, candidate for the president of the World Bank

By staff reporters Ting-I Tsai and Wang Yang

Jim Yong Kim, the Obama administration's nominee to head the World Bank, kicked off his global tour to promote his candidacy with stops in Africa, Asia and Latin America in late March. Amid swelling criticism of his candidacy, he granted an interview to the Caijing Magazine in Shanghai.

Dr. Kim, a son of a North Korean refugee became the president of Dartmouth College in 2009,said his experiences of being born and working in developing countries instilled in him “unshakable optimism” about the World Bank’s mission on promoting economic growth and development among developing countries.

The Washington, D.C.-based institution is scheduled to pick a new president later this month to replace Robert Zoellick, whose five-year term ends in June. For the first time in its history, several candidates were nominated for the post to challenge the US’s hegemony. José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia, an economist at Columbia University and former Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations (UN), was endorsed by several Latin American countries. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former managing director at the World Bank and the incumbent Finance Minister of Nigeria, has received endorsements from African countries as well as the international media, including the Economist and Financial Times.

The United States has lobbied hard for Kim, and Washington’s largest voting shares have almost guaranteed Kim’s victory. But the legitimacy of the U.S’s hegemony remains controversial. Kim’s main competitor Ocampo told the Wall Street Journal last month that with 187 nations as members and shareholders, "There has to be a point in time in which other countries should be able to lead this institution."

Unlike his two competitors, Kim comes from a developed country and is short of finance-related work experience. As a public health expert, he defends his qualification by arguing “the world is too complex to think a single discipline can provide us all that we need to know about how to tackle issues as complex and important as economic development and poverty levitation.”

With his “unshakable optimism” and expertise, Kim declined to elaborate his prioritized policies should he get elected. But he reiterated his promise to guarantee developing countries’ bigger say in the World Bank. Furthermore, he promised to promote the World Bank’s transparency and efficiency by carrying on the latest transparency measures introduced by the incumbent President ,Robert B. Zoellick, and continuing to ensure the goals of economic development and poverty eradication remain the World Bank’s priority.

Road of Competition

Caijing: How did President Obama approach you? What was your first response? Did he call you up?

Kim: My first response was surprised. In fact, it was secretary Geithner called me. My overwhelming sense was one of humility, in the sense that this is one of the greatest institutions around the world.

It has focused on the two issues that I have worked most on my entire life. My entire life has focused on investing in human beings so that they can go down the path of growth.

The understanding that economic growth and development are critical to human well-being is in my bones because of what I have experienced through my parents and through being Korean American. I was born in a developing country. Korea was a very poor when I was born in 1959. I left in 1964. One of the things that I have learned is that developing countries, even the poorest county, can go down the path of growth. I have also spent most of my adult time working in developing countries. So I am very sensitive, actually spending a lot of time understanding what life is like in poor countries.

The opportunity to lead the greatest institution in the world focused on economic growth and poverty levitation was very humbling. Having said that, I feel ready to lead. I feel that my experiences have prepared me in a way that will make me effective as a leader of the World Bank. I have an unshakable optimism about what can happen throughout the world for poor country and poor people. Nobody would have guessed that Korea in 1959 would be the country that it is today. Even in Africa, there were pronouncements that development would be impossible, and look at the growth we are seeing there now? It is my unshakable optimism that, I hope, will sustain me and help me to be a president of the World Bank.

I stated that to President Obama, I told him very clearly, that if he asked me to be a candidate that I would be ready to lead. When President Obama asks you to do something this important, I think one has no choice but say "yes".

Caijing: You are a health expert. By the end of the day, the World Bank is more of a financial institution. You have a strong competitor from Nigeria. She is a financial expert and has experiences working for the World Bank. How have you been convincing people you have visited that you are a better candidate?

Kim: I have great respects to the other candidates for presidency of the World Bank. It is very important to me and I am very proud of being the first transparent open and merit based election process for the presidency of the World Bank.

In terms of my presidency, I will simply point to what I have done and who I am. I have worked in developing countries whole my life. I believe that within the bank, an organization focuses on development and poverty levitation. My expertise would be very helpful. As a physician, of course, I know public health very well. As an anthropologist, I spent many years tried to understand what the world is like from the perspective of the poorest of the poor. But also as an educator, I understand the importance of education in helping young people to find jobs. Unemployment among young people is a problem everywhere around the world. Big part of tacking that problem is to ensure that young people have very good quality relevant education. I come to my candidacy bringing quite a bit expertise.

I'd also say that the World Bank's role as a knowledge institution has been growing over years. The experiences and data of the World Bank have been critical for developments around the world. I have an experience running a knowledge institution. I also have quite a bit of financial experience in the sense that Dartmouth College had 3.5 billion dollars in endowment. I am directly responsible to manage that endowment. My financial and managerial experiences are quite significant.

But, moreover, I would make a very fundamental argument that the world is too complex to think a single discipline can provide us all that we need to know about how to tackle issues is complex and important as economic development and poverty levitation.

Balancing Rich and Poor Countries

Caijing: In your article published in The Financial Times, you advocated for an inclusive World Bank. How will you reflect the greater voice of the developing countries on the World Bank's policies?

Kim: I am very committed that developing countries will have a strong voice in the World Bank. Moreover, I have been encouraged by the fact that the voice of the poorest countries has been recently increased.

It is premature for me to make any policy pronouncement. I am not yet the president of the World Bank. My personal history suggests that I have a deep sympathy and understanding of what's life is like in developing countries.

Caijing: When you talked about developing countries, you used the word "sympathy". Have you faced challenges in the tour when someone said they wanted their own people to take the position?

Kim: "Sympathy" is really the wrong word. The right word is "empathy". I have lived in those countries and I understand what's like, although I have lived in the U.S. most of my life.
I like to stress that I was born in Korea. My mother was a refugee and had to work from Seoul to Pusan. My father escaped from North Korea when he was 17 and never seen his family again. We understand what is like to live in poverty.

Please also understand that having my father escaped from North Korea and my mother walked from Pusan, what that instilled me is an unshakable optimism about what can happen in the poorest country, that's what is giving me.

It is not a question of me as an American feeling sympathetic. It is farthest thing from the truth. It is a matter of me as a person who has seen development and poverty levitation succeed coming to the World Bank and say this is possible for everybody.

Caijing: But we can't avoid the fact that you are a nominee of the United States. How can you ensure every country's interests when there are conflicts of interests between developing countries and developed countries?

Kim: I am on a listening tour. The more I listened I more I believe that the interests of developed countries and developing countries around two issues, the most two important issues of the World Bank: economic growth and poverty levitation. I think there is tremendous over-lapped and consensus around those two issues. I think it is good for everyone that all countries can go down the path of economic growth and levitate property. So I think there is much to agree on.

There has been an exploration of research and study, much of it done at the World Bank , made a very strong suggestion about which path is better than the other. I think utilizing evidences will help us come to get a decision that makes sense for both developing countries and developed countries.

I am a physician and anthropologist. As a physician we insist on evidence—what's the data to recommend one approach verse another, that's how I have been trained and that's how I have approached my working global development in my entire life. As an anthropologist, my training has looked at the world from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, of people who actually need the World Bank more than anyone else, the very poorest. So, that's my background, and that's certainly what I will bring to the presidency of the World Bank.

Caijing: Will you push for a voting share reform once you get elected? And will the World Bank hire more middle-level personnel from developing countries?

Kim: It is premature to make any policy pronouncement. I won't do that.

On the other hand, I know very positively the fact that it just recently happened and the voting shares have been realigned to provide a great voice for developing countries. I am on a listening tour. I am not here to make commentary on, for example, the employee make-up of the World Bank.

I would just say that giving my background of having been born in a developing country and having worked for so many years in developing countries, my commitment to ensuing developing countries have a stronger voice at the World Bank is clear.

Investing in Human Being

Caijing: You said it is too early to discuss about any agenda. What might be your priority at the World Bank?

Kim: If there are any areas of my interest, one, of course, is inclusive development. I spent my life working on projects that invest in people.

I truly believe that it is neither idea, nor theory, but people who make development happen. For example, in working on HIV treatment in Africa, I believe that by showing the world that not only was possible but we can bring to scale. Five million people now in Africa got treatment. We not only contributed to the health well-being of people who received treatments, but I think it made contribution to economic growth in Africa. If nobody got treatment and the working age population was dying of HIV, I don't think you'd see the same kind of economic development that you have seen over the last few years in Africa.

So, my focus would always be on inclusive development that invest in people, in order to set them down for the path for economic development.

Caijing: Will the World Bank take political and social reforms as a precondition when it grants loans?

Kim: One of the things that I have recognized is that developing countries have very strong ideas about the paths it should follow. There is tremendous confidence in countries in Africa and here in China—in terms of thinking about the path they should follow.

I think there is a quite strong global consensus around good governance and transparency. I think everyone realized that's helpful and the evidence are good. Good governance and transparency help nations down the path of growth. The critical part is I don't come to this with preconceive notion and ideas. I don't have any particular theory or ideology that I would bring to the table. 

Caijing: As the largest developing country, China has benefited a lot from the grants provided by the World Bank. But China is now an important contributor to the Bank. How should China and the Bank cooperate in the future?

Kim: The relationship between China and the World Bank, I think, has been among the most productive the World Bank has with any country. China has had a tremendous success working in collaboration with the World Bank.

I think, in the future, there is no question that China will have to play an important role. China has lifted more people out of poverty than any nation in the world. I think it is critical for the World Bank to learn from China and spread those lessons everywhere at the world. China is outward looking. On Sunday, director general Ren Menghui of the ministry of health is going to Dartmouth. The purpose of the visit, Dartmouth is the one of best institutions in the world to understand health care delivery and outcomes. Director General Ren is going to Dartmouth because we are going to start a data exchange and collaboration. Dartmouth intends to learn from China and China wants to learn from Dartmouth, because we have so much data. I think that kind of example can be repeated again and again.

There are tremendous lessons from China for the rest of the world. I think the Bank can continue be a source of insight, example and data, so that China can do even better on this path toward increasing economic development.

Caijing: In terms of bureaucratic structure, how will you plan to improve the World Bank's transparency?

Kim: We all agree that transparency is good for all the institutions .I am very encouraged by the steps that President Zoellick has taken recently at the World Bank. The open-data initiative is extremely important.

I am the president of Dartmouth College, which is an Ivy League institution, which is one of the highest education institutions in the United States. As a president, what I have learned is that we are living in an era of big data. That large data set should have been opened up for everyone to examine. This is the first step that President Zoellick has taken.

I look forward to the day when the bank will continue to open up data and researchers from the both developing countries and developed countries would together analyze this data base to understand the most important lessons that we have learned, both in success and failure of the World Bank. I will certainly, as a president, move toward that direction. That would be commitment as the President of the World Bank.

Caijing: What would be the biggest challenge once you get elected as the president?

Kim: I think there is a wonderful symmetry between what the biggest challenge is and what's the mission of the World Bank is. In my personal view, I still firmly believe that helping every citizen in the world participate in growth and development in the global community, experience growth, I think that's still the biggest challenge we have. I have always felt that the greatest challenge that we face as a human society is to help every single person go down the path that China is going down and Korea is going down.

The wonderful symmetry is that what I feel as the biggest problem of the world happened to be the very problem that the World Bank was formed to tackle. If giving the opportunity to lead, it would be the realization of a dream and bringing together my life's work with any organization that was created for the very purpose.

Full article in Chinese: http://magazine.caijing.com.cn/2012-04-09/111805167.html

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