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.