Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who is Jim Kim (and Why Should We Care)?

Jim Yong Kim may not be a household name, but he is a man worth knowing about. On April 16 he was elected to a five-year term as president of the World Bank, a position of considerable significance.
Born in Seoul (South Korea) in 1959, Jim moved with his family to the U.S. at the age of five and grew up in Iowa. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1982, and then earned an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School in 1991 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Department of Anthropology, two years later.
I first learned of Dr. Kim several years ago when I read Tracy Kidder’s engaging book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World (2003). Kim worked with Farmer and others in Haiti, and in 1987 they co-founded Partners in Health (PiH), a very effective non-profit health care organization. Kim became the executive director of PiH and served in that capacity until 2003.
Kim left PiH to join the World Health Organization (WHO) as an adviser to the director-general. Since he had success creating programs to fight HIV/AIDS at PiH, in March 2004 he was appointed as director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS department and served in that position until 2006.
In addition to the above, in 1993 Dr. Kim began serving as a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and eventually held professorships in medicine, social medicine, and human rights. At the time of his departure from Harvard in 2009, Kim was Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
Kim was named the president of Dartmouth College in March 2009, becoming the first Asian-American to assume the post of president at an Ivy League school. He will leave that position to assume the headship of the World Bank on July 1.
Kim’s nomination to the World Bank by President Obama was somewhat of a surprise, for Kim’s background is quite different from that of most World Bank presidents, who are usually experienced in finance and politics.
The World Bank, which was formed in 1944, expresses its mission in these words: “Our work is challenging, but our mission is simple: Help reduce poverty.”
In its early years in Haiti, the leaders of Partners in Health had direct contact with, and were in considerable agreement with, liberation theology. Even now the slogan of PiH is “providing a preferential option for the poor in health care.” As he assumes his new job, I hope Kim will be able to lead the World Bank to provide a preferential option for the poor in the world of finance as he seeks to reduce poverty around the world.
(Unfortunately, in the U.S. there seems to be a preferential option for the rich, and the Republican Senators would not even allow the “Buffet rule” to be discussed on the Senate floor last week.)
“I can think of no one better able than Jim to help families, communities, and entire nations break out of poverty, which is the mandate of the World Bank,” said fellow PiH co-founder (and Harvard University Professor) Dr. Paul Farmer.
Let us wish Dr. Jim Yong Kim well in his new, important, and very difficult job.


  1. Great profile, Leroy. I love it when you start out strictly informational and then work in a little opinion on the side!

  2. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson sent this comment by e-mail:

    "Thanks, Leroy. The mission of the World Bank is one of the most critical missions in today's world."

  3. When our members of Congress care more about ending poverty than getting re-elected, then we might actually be able to start reducing poverty in our own country.

    Great profile. Thanks, Leroy.

  4. As a social scientist, I'm pleased to see a trained anthropologist at the head of the World Bank. The unfortunate reality in the world is that the U.S. is THE world leader in almost every way. Insofar as its Republicans and their funders are blocking any serious policy concerned with inequality and poverty in the U.S., they are inadvertently preventing the world from doing so, as well. It is surely the most unforgivable sin of the early twenty-first century. If there is an afterlife, I hope those American plutocrats have to sit everyday across the table from people who lived grinding and impossible lives because of poverty imposed on them by our stupid and cruel laissez-faire ideology.

    1. Divine justice is one possible cure, which I don't think Ayn Rand capitalists worry about. But if unregulated capitalism is given a free hand, as Marx predicted, its internal contradictions may bring a day of reckoning here on earth: either through economic collapse as Marx foresaw, environmental collapse (with Peak Oil or 400 simultaneous melt downs of nuclear power stations), or climate change, etc. Does capitalism really worry about resilience, sustainability, social cohesion?

  5. There is a lot to be done with better policy in terms of fighting poverty, but I believe that without comprehensive sex education and birth control, nothing else will work very well. A family with two children is in a much better position to overcome poverty than one with ten. Great forces are arrayed against this position, so it rarely gets much traction, but look at what we see: rich countries have small families, poor countries have large families.

    I saw an unexpected confirmation of this in a recent PBS documentary on the Amish. The two-hour show covered many aspects of Amish life, hopes, and fears, but it ended with elders visiting a dry-looking ranch in the Rockies, looking for new land to start a new Amish community. With their unique life style they were able to raise large families, but with their Pennsylvania farms now sitting on million-dollar land, there was no way they could obtain new farms for all their children. In many areas over half the young Amish are taking regular jobs in "English" businesses because there is no room for them on the farms. So in their desperation they are following the Mormons out west. The issues of modern medicine, infant mortality, and family size were never directly discussed in the documentary, but they were writ large over the end of the story.

    Many of us who had never paid too much attention to economics have been forced into a crash course the last few years. Part of this has been an exploration of the dynamics of poverty. Much of what we have been learning is painful. The public dialogue has been pitiful. Yet, I am hopeful that eventually the truth will out. What will emerge will probably make neither Democrats nor Republicans happy, yet a consensus may still emerge. It took the world a fair while to agree that slavery is bad. It is taking us even longer to actually eradicate slavery. A new understanding on poverty will be even harder. Yet it will come. Someday even the Pope will understand birth control. Someday even the Chamber of Commerce will understand market regulation. It can happen. The Democrats have learned to understand welfare reform. Someday we will learn how to put it all together. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."