Jim Yong Kim will be the next President of the World Bank. Two aspects of his appointment are interesting, first his expertise is in health and second the fact he was not born in the United States. While neither of these facts on their own are striking in the context of the World Bank they are remarkable. As with the appointment of Christine Legarde to the IMF, perhaps this appointment is not as revolutionary as it could have been, but nonetheless an important break with the post-World War II settlement in global governance has been made by both appointments.
Much as all heads of the IMF have been European, all previous Presidents of the World Bank have been US born, this was part of the settlement agreed, though not legally binding, at the Bretton Woods conference which created both organisations. Jim Yong Kim moved to the US at the age of five and is an US citizen however this should not take away from the important change that the appointment of a non-white waspish American leading this global organisation represents. Indeed, South Korea is having a run at appointments to international organisations with Ban Ki-moon’s re-appointment as Secretary General of the United Nations last year. While the United Nations moved quickly, after its first two Secretaries General, to ensure global representation and the World Trade Organisation has also had a geographical spread, the IMF and the World Bank have been dominated by European and US appointments. Admittedly, Mr. Kim is very much an American just as Christine Legarde is very much a European, but the changes in ethnicity and birthplace as well as gender are very much welcome.
Perhaps more important than where Jim Yong Kim was born is his areas of expertise. All previous Presidents of the World Bank have either been lawyers or experts in economics and finance. At first glance this may seem like a logical choice for an organisation called the World Bank, but as the primary function of the organisation is development and it is in fact the IMF which functions most like a bank, the backgrounds of previous Presidents, which rarely, if ever had any background with development, does not necessarily fit comfortably with the aims and objectives of the organisation. Jim Yong Kim’s background is quite different to his predecessors. Mr. Kim has an MD with a PhD in anthropology. He co-founded an organisation called Partners in Health a global organisation which aims to help in the prevention of disease with a human rights based approach. He has also worked as an academic and is currently the President of Dartmouth College, suggesting at least some management experience. While this does not guarantee that this will lead to a more responsive World Bank which will be better lead from the top on issues of development and human rights it does suggest, at the very least, that this is a possibility.
The United States still maintains control of these organisations, its 16% voting share means that it has a veto in both organisations where an 85% majority is required for major decisions, but the choice of Jim Yong Kim suggests a more enlighted approach to choice. How the heads of both the IMF and the World Bank are chosen is in need of more considered reform. While the recent attempts at openness and reform are welcome, clearly more is required. Indeed some of the criticism at the choice and the process of appointment have been justified. Another important change in this round was the strong candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the Nigerian finance minister and former employee of the World Bank, the first time a non-American and female nominee has been a serious contender in the race. The US’ veto means that unless the US agrees to the candidate there is no possibility of their election however in terms of governance the candidacy of Ms. Okonjo-Iweala has at the very least forced the choice of Mr. Kim to be defended, an important development in the governance of these global economic organisations. Nonetheless, the US veto means that the choice of World Bank Presidency is intrinsically linked to internal US politics, indeed the incumbant and previous World Bank Presidents were closely linked to the Bush administration. Current President Robert Zoellick was the Bush Administration’s trade representative and Deputy Secretary of State. Paul Wolfowitz was the Deputy Secretary for Defence under George Bush. The appointment of Jim Yong Kim does at least suggest a break from that pattern however what is needed is a complete overhaul of the appointment process. Hopefully Mr Kim will provide good governance leadership at the World Bank and further the reforms undertaken to ensure that the World Bank becomes a less criticised leader in global development. Whether the governance of both the IMF and the World Bank will reform to meet the challenges of democratic legitimacy remains open.