President Barack Obama has made an inspired choice by nominating Dr. Jim Yong Kim to be the next president of the World Bank. While previous World Bank presidents have had backgrounds in finance or politics, President Obama declared, "it's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency."
Dr. Kim has years of experience working in resource poor settings across the planet, but it's his particular approach to development that makes him such an exciting, groundbreaking choice to lead the World Bank.
Jim Kim is the right person for the job because he has a proven track record of innovating to improve the lives of the poorest, taking those innovations to scale, and challenging the conventional wisdom of how to fight poverty. Jim Kim is the right person for the job because his experience and perspective have uniquely prepared him for the task.
1. Dr. Kim has dedicated his professional life to fighting poverty.
As a co-founder of Partners In Health, he has pioneered efforts to bring high quality health care to the poor and to work with countries to build their capacity to deliver these services. From the Central Plateau of Haiti, to the shantytowns outside of Lima, Peru, to the rural villages of Rwanda and Lesotho, Dr. Kim has worked with some of the most marginalized populations on the planet. In keeping with the Partners In Health approach, Dr. Kim and his colleagues worked closely with the government of these countries to ensure their efforts strengthened public health infrastructure
In an op-ed outlining his case for the job, Dr. Kim states in no uncertain terms: we can eradicate global poverty in our lifetimes. That's an ambitious goal, but one grounded in his experience.
If Dr. Kim is selected as president of the World Bank, it would be the first time the professional experience of its leader matched its stated mission. His commitment to working with the very poor will help ensure the Bank focuses on its core mission.
2. Dr. Kim has taken innovative approaches to scale, backed by rigorous evidence.
Dr. Kim has been at the forefront of treating complex diseases like HIV/AIDS and drug resistant tuberculosis in very poor communities. But he also understands that knowing a drug will cure a disease is not the same thing as knowing how to build a health care system that ensures that drug is available to the patient. Drawing on his experience at Partners In Health, he has pioneered an emerging field he calls the "delivery science" of health care.
His experience as the head of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department also demonstrates his commitment to bringing the lessons of Partners In Health to a much bigger scale. In 2003 Dr. Kim launched the 3 by 5 Initiative, an ambitious effort to put 3 million people on live saving AIDS drugs by 2005. At the time, there were only 400,000 people in the world on anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and less than 50,000 of them in poor countries. This effort mobilized the international community to respond to the AIDS crisis, and set a precedent of ambitious AIDS treatment targets that continues today.
As The Lancet editor Richard Horton writes in his endorsement of Dr. Kim, 3 by 5 forever changed the conversation on HIV/AIDS from predicament to possibility.
3. Dr. Kim has the courage to take on a challenging role.
It's almost passé to talk about courage as a character trait of our civic leaders. But we shouldn't underestimate how extraordinarily difficult it is to stay true to your convictions when all the experts are telling you you're wrong. But that's exactly what Dr. Kim has done time and time again.
In the 1990s the conventional wisdom was that multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB couldn't or shouldn't be treated in poor countries. Working in Peruvian slums, Dr. Kim first proved poor patients could successfully complete the long, difficult treatment. Then he worked with allies to encourage generic drug manufacturers bring down the cost of the treatment by 90 percent. Ultimately, these efforts transformed global policy.
In the early 2000s the conventional wisdom urged measured caution on expanding access to AIDS treatment in poor countries. Again, Dr. Kim and his colleagues forged ahead, expanding access to AIDS drugs in central Haiti, one of the poorest communities in the Western hemisphere.
When the experts claimed assisting the poor was too expensive, too complicated, or just too damned hard, Dr. Kim and his colleagues have pushed back. They've worked to gather the evidence proving they were right, and then used that evidence to change global policy and practice.
In the World Bank's realm of development economics, where it often seems there is more orthodoxy than answers, we need a leader who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.
In his remarks introducing Dr. Kim, President Obama said, "the World Bank is more than just a bank; it's one of the most powerful tools we have to fight poverty and raise standards of living in some of the poorest countries on the planet."
It's time to put that tool in the hands of a dedicated and experienced leader, Dr. Jim Kim.
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