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Johnson '14: An inspired choice for World Bank president

 

Just before Brown students left for spring break, one of our own was selected to lead the World Bank. President Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim '82, current president of Dartmouth and co-founder of the extremely influential nonprofit Partners In Health, to lead the world's preeminent development organization.

Though political debates about the usefulness of the World Bank will rage on, Kim is an excellent candidate for the top position. His credentials are unlike those of his predecessors, who have largely come with backgrounds in finance and law. Kim has little experience in those areas, having earned both a medical degree and a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard after graduating from Brown.

The purpose of the World Bank is to provide "financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world." Unlike the many lawyers and economists that were passed up for the nomination, Kim has hands-on experience working with developing countries. He helped to create a protocol for treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in poor countries, and he is still on the board of directors of Partners In Health.

The value of having a physician and development expert to lead the organization that is supposed to help poor, late-developing nations heal and grow cannot be overstated. Too often we rely on leaders who have studied issues from afar but who have never looked into the eyes of the people that they hope to serve.

I give tremendous credit to President Obama for daring to look beyond the prescribed list of acceptable candidates for this job. It would have been much easier to interview a small number of the nation's foremost economists and make a choice that reflected a continuation of the status quo.

But in choosing a physician, President Obama indicated that he views the World Bank as a critical player in the treatment of the disease of poverty and stagnation that plagues the developing world. If you've read my columns before, you know that I am far from President Obama's biggest fan ("SuperPACs bring out the worst in politicians, Feb. 23). But I applaud his nomination of Kim and not just because Kim is a Brown graduate.

Beyond being a great choice due to his credentials and commitment to serving the world's poorest, Kim may serve to give a little perspective on America's current struggles.

While Americans moan about a slow recovery from a deep recession, there are millions of people around the world who are starving, whose medical conditions go untreated due to lack of money or health infrastructure. Kim has been on the ground in these places. He's seen the x-ray images of MDR-TB patients. He's held children with kwashiorkor in his arms.

Perhaps as a Korean-American nominee, Kim will bring attention to the fact that, compared with much of the world, Americans have an excellent quality of life. As someone who has spent his entire career fighting for those who don't have a voice on the world stage, perhaps Kim will lead the world to action.

It seems that Kim's entire life has prepared him for a position like the presidency of the World Bank. He came to the United States from South Korea at the age of five, was deeply involved with the Third World Center at Brown and spent his medical school years co-founding Partners In Health, an organization that works in 12 countries to promote better health care for the poor. In short, his life has been devoted to the cause of helping poor people to pull themselves out of poverty and disease.

It remains to be seen what Kim will be able to accomplish with the World Bank's resources. He will likely emphasize health as a route to social justice and development. Perhaps he will bring the attitude of Partners In Health to the table. PIH stresses the importance of pursuing all means to make people well - they reject the notion that some procedures are too expensive for use in the developing world. These are all bold, ambitious ways to tackle the issues of poverty and disease in the developing world.

Amid the negative publicity surrounding some Brown graduates - notably Joe Paterno '50 - Kim is a refreshing representative of Brunonia. He represents all that is good about Brown: active citizenship, social awareness and hands-on action rather than abstract preaching. President Obama deserves credit for choosing this worthy leader for the World Bank.

 

 

Garret Johnson '14 is double concentrating in biology and French and has now written two positive columns in a row, which is just weird.


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