Scott Anderson

Weekly Roundup: A Doctor, Anthropologist (and Rapper) at the World Bank

“It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

That was President Barack Obama introducing Dr. Jim Yong Kim as the (likely) next president of the World Bank on Friday. As president of Dartmouth University, co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) with Paul Farmer and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, Kim – not an economist or banker but an anthropologist and doctor – does break the mold as next the World Bank leader.

The questions of how he would deal with the lending mission and perhaps the unfamiliar culture he will confront the World Bank dominated Friday. Will Kim steer the bank on a drastically different course than his predecessors – perhaps focusing on substantial pockets of poverty – i.e. the remote rural regions – that haven’t benefited from the rising tide of emerging markets. And what of the role of business development and scale of social enterprise?

For a morsel of background, I reached out to couple of health development leaders who noted Kim’s pragmatism, willingness to experiment and tendency to eschew particular methodologies and/or development doctrine. (Read: He may not be the biggest ally of randomized control trials to steer policy).

For the best example of how he might manage the World Bank, one colleague pointed to his “3 by 5” initiative at the World Health Organization, which in 2003 set a goal of treating 3 million new HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries with antiretrovirals by 2005. The goal was achieved in 2007, but the point is Kim often aims high with the mission of getting close to the target, but also with the secondary objective of rallying a team.

A few viewpoints from the blogosphere Friday:

John Cassidy, of the New Yorker:

“… the choice of Kim also has a certain logic to it. In the past twenty years, the biggest change in the field of economic development and poverty reduction has been the integration of public-health initiatives with traditional lending programs. After fifty years of trying, we still don’t know how to make countries like Eritrea and Burundi grow faster. But we do know how to reduce the incidence of H.I.V. and malaria: provide poor people with condoms and mosquito nets. With the rise of the Gates Foundation and other N.G.O.s focussed on public-health issues, the tactics pioneered by Kim and his colleagues at Partners in Health—such as recruiting and training local volunteers to deliver medicines and preventative care, rather than relying on expensive aid workers—have been widely copied and assimilated into official aid programs.”

Over at The Atlantic, Massoud Hayoun pulled some excerpts from Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography of anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer. The quoted sections deal with Kim’s efforts to combat international HIV and tuberculosis epidemics with Partners in Health:

In June 2002 … the WHO adopted new prescriptions for dealing with MDR-TB, virtually the same as PIH had used in Carabayllo. For Jim Kim this marked the end of a long campaign. “The world changed yesterday,” he wrote from Geneva to all of PIH. The prices of second-line antibiotics continued to decline, and the drugs now flowed fairly smoothly through the Green Light Committee to, among other places, Peru, where about 1,000 chronic patients were either cured or in treatment. About 250 were receiving the drugs in Tomsk, and, largely because of the efforts of WHO, the Russian Ministry of Health had finally agreed to the terms of the World Bank’s TB loan–150 million dollars to begin to fight the epidemic throughout the country.

Todd Moss, vice president for corporate affairs and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, focused on the meta questions facing the World Bank:

  • “How should the Bank operate in the 30 or so remaining low-income clients, nearly all in sub-Saharan Africa and mostly fragile or post-conflict states, the precise places where the Bank has had the least success?
  • In an age when capital is plentiful from private sources and new donors like China, how will the Bank continue to be relevant to its hard window and newly-graduated clients?
  • As shareholders push the Bank into new areas of global public goods, like spurring clean energy technology, how will the organization contribute?

… The remaining uber-challenges of development—finding new ways to encourage private sector growth, delivering services in the world’s toughest places, creating incentives for better governance—are all objectives that will require creativity and learning-by-failing. This means finding new ways to encourage innovation and experimentation by staff and clients.”

Also popping up across Friday was this video of Dr. Kim, which might be more telling than the blogging heads – at least in terms of his sense of humor. (Watch out for Kim’s spotlight around two minutes in).

As always, I’m curious what NB readers think. Is Kim the right man for the job at the right time?

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Education, Health Care
poverty alleviation