An important endorsement for Jim Kim, and for change at the World Bank

A New York Times op-ed by Thomas J. Bollyky the senior fellow for global health, economics and development at the Council on Foreign Relations lays out a strong case for selecting Jim Kim as part of a strategy for the United States to get behind the momentum for change at the World Bank.

A “consensus” appointment requiring not just a majority of voting shares, but a majority of countries’ support, may be in fact what works out behind closed doors.  But as a package of governance reforms that the owners of the Bank must, necessarily, make during the next president’s tenure, it is time for clear evidence a clear signal that this is not business as usual, and that the largest shareholder and their allies welcome a more democratic process for selecting the next World Bank president.

Thomas Bollyky makes a number of other points that assess Jim Kim and the other candidates, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo.

Critics say that Dr. Kim lacks basic qualifications for the job: government management experience and expertise in macroeconomics and finance. But Dr. Kim is a refreshing change from the bankers, business executives and politicians who have long led the bank.

He is revered by public health advocates for his work on H.I.V./AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis as a World Health Organization official and as a founder of the advocacy and research organization Partners in Health. Dr. Kim was an early adopter of the data-driven approaches and rigorous evaluations that identify what works best in development and build accountability for their implementation.

At a time when many development challenges know no borders, his experience fighting infectious disease and mobilizing affordable treatments for the poor is more relevant than a deep understanding of capital markets. (And while Dartmouth is a much smaller institution than the World Bank, Dr. Kim demonstrated managerial resolve at the college in taking on the $100 million operating deficit that he inherited with budget cuts and layoffs, over objections from the faculty.)

Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo have both twice served as ministers in their own countries.  Both have solid experience at the international level, at the World Bank and the UN respectively. Bollyky acknowledges this, with an important qualification, which is at the heart of the debate we now see.

Dr. Kim’s lack of financial expertise and government experience are damning only if he is forced to lead an institution largely devoted to providing the country-by-country loans and grants that fewer and fewer governments need. Accordingly, the major qualification that Dr. Kim lacks to lead the World Bank is a mandate for change.

In other words, to lead an organization that operates the way it does today, former World Bank governors, one a former staff member, can deliver.  But for change, the Board needs to provide that mandate, as the body where all the members are represented, and where this important decision on the Bank’s future will be made.

Bollyky is right when he says “Progress on reforms remains halting, however, with a bureaucracy in which performance has traditionally been assessed on the volume of loan and grant disbursements, rather than the effectiveness of the programs financed to help the poor.”  Now is the time to fix that old vision of the Bank, by choosing someone with a track record attending to details, to data-driven decision-making, and to results.

In their closed door interviews this week, all the candidates should be prepared to offer examples in recent times when they have exercised leadership that way, and the results they have achieved.

9 thoughts on “An important endorsement for Jim Kim, and for change at the World Bank

      • That’s not an argument for change. But an argument for chaos in the bank. An argument for Kim presidency is akin to throwing a new born baby into the Atlantic just to prove the hypothesis that all new born are swimmers!

    • This tacit support for Kim’s candidacy does not remove the fact Okonjo and Ocampo tower higher in terms of the requirements for the job.

  1. @voice of reason, just like the world health organization needs a change, and Ngozi and Ocampo should vie for the sit…your ideas are simply funny

    • Not that we want her out of Abuja. Our belief that she is the best candidate propel us to present the fact as it is.

  2. Pingback: Why Jim Yong Kim won’t change the World Bank | Felix Salmon

    • The “electorate” is the World Bank’s board, and its owners. Jim Kim has traveled to meet them, and met with some executive directors last week in Washington.

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