En route to New Delhi on the fifth leg of his global listening tour, I sat down with Dr. Jim Kim, President Obama's nominee for the World Bank Presidency, to learn more about his background and the approach he would bring to leading the world's leading development institution.
1. HIS FAMILY ESCAPED POVERTY—LITERALLY.
Dr. Kim's father Nhak Hee escaped North Korea across the border to the South at the age of 17 and never saw his family again. When Seoul was occupied, Dr. Kim's mother Oaksook walked 200 miles from Seoul to Busan, much of the way with her younger brother on her back. Her mother was captured by North Korean forces and never seen again.
Dr. Kim's father went on to become a dentist and his mother received a full scholarship to go to college in the United States. "My family's experience has given me an unshakable optimism about what can happen for the poorest people," Dr. Kim said. "You can start from humble beginnings and horrible conflicts and go on to lead a life of dignity."
2. HE WANTS TO ACHIEVE SOUTH KOREAN RESULTS.
Dr. Kim wrote his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard University on the Korean path to economic growth, evaluating the results of approaches taken by the government to encouraging different industries to become export-oriented. "I was born in a developing country that went on to become an advanced economy," he said. "As World Bank President, I want to help other developing countries unlock the strategies to achieve rapid growth."
3. HIS FAVORITE TEACHER WAS THE MAYOR OF KAY EPIN.
Dr. Kim said his favorite teacher was a man he met on his first trip to Haiti in 1988, when he traveled five hours by foot to the village of Kay Epin. Ironically, the name means "Village of the Pines," yet poverty had forced the local people to cut down all of the trees in order to obtain income from charcoal. Dr. Kim said it looked like "the face of the moon." He had never seen such poverty.
"I asked the local mayor what the people needed to escape poverty, and he started with a lesson in history and political economy," Dr. Kim said. "Here was a man who could neither read nor write. It taught me that the poor understand what they need to improve their lives. You have to listen to them."
4. HE LOBBIED TO GET INTO SIBERIAN PRISONS TO FIGHT DISEASE.
When Dr. Kim learned in 2000 that the prisons of Siberia had the highest rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis ever recorded, he and his organization Partners In Health lobbied the international community for funds and access to pharmaceuticals to treat the patients. They developed a treatment program with support from the World Bank and U.N. agencies that Russia now uses as its national model.
"I'm a physician and I'm an anthropologist," Dr. Kim said. "As a physician, I diagnose problems and make evidence-based interventions. As an anthropologist, I investigate how to apply them to human communities. This is the approach I would bring to the World Bank presidency."
5. HE BELIEVES THAT ENDING POVERTY REQUIRES INVESTING IN PEOPLE.
At the World Health Organization, Dr. Kim set a goal of getting three million people in developing countries on treatment for HIV—an ambitious target that was reached in 2007. The number of people on treatment in sub-Saharan Africa went from 50,000 to more than 2.1 million. Dr. Kim believes his work combating HIV/AIDS in Rwanda and Lesotho contributed to stemming the tide of an epidemic that threatened to halt investment and growth on the African continent.
"I have spent my life promoting growth by investing in human beings," he said.
Kara Alaimo is Spokesperson for International Affairs at the Treasury Department.