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World Bank Group President-Elect Jim Yong Kim: Tackling the World's Troubles

Posted: 05/15/2012 2:38 pm

It should come as no surprise when 52-year-old World Bank Group President-Elect Jim Yong Kim, a former high school quarterback, talks of tackling the world's troubles in his new position.

Addressing the Chicago Dartmouth Club at a luncheon at the Intercontinental Hotel on May 9th, Dartmouth College's 17th President admitted it was "incredibly painful" for him to step down after barely three years as the Ivy League's first Asian-American college president. He becomes World Bank Group President July first.

Geographically, he has come full circle. Born in Seoul, South Korea, his family moved to Muscatine, Iowa when he was a boy just a couple hundred miles from Chicago. His father taught dentistry at the University of Iowa.

"The sweet irony is this Chicago stop is my last alumni club visit. I grew up next door in Muscatine as a Bears, Bulls and Cubs fan." Muscatine with its beautiful sunsets by the Mississippi River. Mark Twain wrote about them in Life on the Mississippi.

Dr. Kim and his wife are both physicians. He is also an anthropologist. They have two sons. His bachelor's degree is from Brown University. He was Chair of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was in the joint MD/PhD program at Harvard where he received his medical training together with earning a doctorate in anthropology. He was also Director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health

People like me never get to do things like this [to lead the World Bank Group]. It's a banker or prominent politician. The World Bank is the most important development agency in the world. It gives away $60 billion a year in loans and grants. It helps countries move down the path of economic development and works towards lifting the poor out of poverty.

When he accepted the presidency of Dartmouth in 2009, those who hired him knew his first commitment was to serve the poor and agreed to never ask him to turn his back on the poor. He said he wanted to work with students to turn the face of Dartmouth into tapping into the world's troubles. For example, how do we spur economic growth through the private sector?

He is a co-founder of a Boston-based non-profit, Partners in Health which focuses on preventive medicine, especially for the poor. He has served as Director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization (WHO).

As an anthropologist, Dr. Kim asks questions such as what happens when people are forced to deal with each other. He considers the importance of compassion, human solidarity. How to ignite a group to do what they ordinarily wouldn't do.

As Dartmouth's outgoing president, he stressed the importance of encouraging interdisciplinary research. The need for students to engage with the rest of the world. To push beyond their comfort zone.

Dr. Kim likes to quote another Dartmouth president, John Sloan Dickey. "The world's troubles are your troubles. There is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings can not fix."

Two weeks after the last bombs were dropped to end World War II, Dickey went from heading Public Affairs for the U.S. State Department to becoming Dartmouth's 12th President, Dr. Kim said.

"I'll be going to work every day seeing these words, 'Our dream is a world free of poverty.' They're on the front door of the World Bank."

Let's wish him Godspeed. Perhaps he will have a conversation with Dick Gregory, George Clooney and his father Nick about their work in Sudan. They cared enough to be arrested for it in March.

Two other points Dr. Kim made at that luncheon that I did not know. Exercise enhances the ability to learn. And the perfect thing to drink after a workout? Chocolate milk. Dartmouth has researched it.

 
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