It’s not often that I wake up to hear the name of someone I know well on all the morning news programs, but it happened today with President Obama’s nomination of Jim Yong Kim to become the next president of the World Bank.
Jim is a bulldog for what he believes in. He knows how to make bureaucracies accomplish more than they think they are capable of. He is knowledgeable and curious. He has a great appetite for learning about management. In our time together, I often heard him say that most failures in global development are not because of poor strategy but because of poor execution. His passion is improving that execution.
I met Jim when we both served on the steering committee of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and AIDS from 2006 to 2009, and I think his nomination to lead the World Bank is a brilliant choice.
The Joint Learning Initiative was brought together because hundreds of millions of dollars were being raised to help children affected by AIDS, but there had never been a rigorous review of what programs and actions were most helpful. Its steering committee involved people of very high caliber from Harvard, UNICEF and in the governments of the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands among others. At the time, I was the Executive Director of the Bernard van Leer Foundation in the Netherlands, which provided a lot of the initial seed funding for the Joint Learning Initiative.
Jim came to the Joint Learning Initiative with an already long record of achievement. Trained as both an anthropologist and a medical doctor, he was one of the founders of the health-focused non-profit, Partners in Health, along with Dr. Paul Farmer. Jim had successfully taken on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in the slums of Lima, as described in Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains beyond Mountains. He had served with the World Health Organization as the head of its HIV/AIDS department, and pushed, in the face of considerable apathy and opposition, the introduction of antiretrovirals (ARVs) in Africa. The plan was called “Three by Five,” with the objective of getting three million people on ARVs by 2005. Before Three by Five, many were resigned to AIDS being a death sentence in Africa, while it had been limited to being a chronic disease in the U.S. and Europe for fifteen years. Jim’s drive and persuasiveness were crucial in changing that reality, and millions of adults and children are alive in Africa today in part because of his efforts. Since 2009, Jim has served, with equal distinction, as the President of Dartmouth University.
If Jim Kim becomes the next President of the World Bank, I expect that we will see him lead it boldly and creatively into the new realities of the 21st century. His leadership will be rooted in a deep understanding of what happens on the ground, and a strong conviction that large global development institutions can do more and deliver better.
I greatly look forward to his tenure at the Bank.