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Muhammad H. Zaman

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Of Jim Yong Kim, Innovation and the World Bank

Posted: 03/25/2012 10:23 am

I am not a banker, a politician, a diplomat or an economist. I grew up in a complex country with plenty of development challenges and a healthy supply of obstacles to thwart progress. As a researcher at the interface of global health, engineering and development, I have learned to appreciate that organizations tasked to improve the human condition and the quality of life not only need to respond to the challenges of today but also need to create tools to combat the problems of tomorrow and the day after. The solutions not only have to be sensitive and specific, but have to be innovative and transformative, not just incremental. This notion of creating, nurturing and fostering innovation is what I hope Jim Yong Kim, if elected, will bring to the World Bank.

The World Bank has, and continues to shape and alter the development landscape of my country, Pakistan. In many circles in Pakistan the name "World Bank" is synonymous with inefficiency, bureaucracy and long-term debt, in other words, it means life-saving development projects and sustained progress. The same contradictory messages are echoed in developing countries big and small. The calls for reform within the bank and a greater understanding of the complex realities of the developing world are unanimous. Thus I believe that the World Bank, due to its size and potential impact, needs a leader who is going to change it from a reactive organization to a proactive and an innovative one. The organization needs someone who is methodical, rational and detail-oriented. It needs the logical approach of an academic and the pragmatism of a practitioner who is cognizant of local constraints and global challenges. Jim Yong Kim, an academic and a physician, a practitioner and a visionary leader in global health, brings these skills.

In my mind he is a great choice by President Obama to lead the institution, but not because of his heritage or because he is not a Washington insider. The argument about him being a great choice because of the country of his birth, a developing Korea of the 1960s, is not particularly strong. He was fortunate to be raised by highly educated parents in the U.S. and went to some of the best institutions in the country for his training. To me, it was what he did with that training is the most interesting and exciting part. It is his deep conviction to change the status quo in global health, and his innovations in both research and practice that set him apart. From "Partners in Health," a paradigm shift in global health practice, to WHO, Harvard and then leadership at Dartmouth map the course of a man who has the necessary intellect to create bold and transformative changes for some of the most pressing problems of our time.
While the idea that either an economist or a banker should lead the World Bank has some merit, the fact remains that many of the most pressing problems in poverty and development, across the globe, are connected directly or indirectly to public health and education. A pragmatic practitioner, who in his arsenal has the experience to create innovative tools, with a proven record to create potent multi-disciplinary teams is well suited to transform and impact the development landscape.

While I am enthusiastic about Dr. Kim and his future role at the World Bank, I want him to bring with him a vision that is transformative and inclusive of the most creative ideas, not just from the developed world but also from the developing world. I want to see a World Bank that will be more transparent and ready to foster field-changing innovations. I want to see a world bank under Jim Yong Kim that empowers societies to create Harvards and Dartmouths in the Haitis and Djiboutis of the world. Above all, I want to see a World Bank that emphasizes the fundamental values of dignity, poverty alleviation and human development under all circumstances -- the core values that define Jim's academic and research profession.

 

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