The buzz on Jim Yong Kim's appointment

    Ollanta Humala, president of Peru, shakes hands with the newly elected president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. Kim was in Peru doing his "listening tour." Photo by: Presidencia Peru / CC BY-NC-SA

    The World Bank presidential race is over: Jim Yong Kim is the new World Bank president. And for many, it was a foregone conclusion.

    Elizabeth Stuart of Oxfam said Kim is an “excellent choice” and a “true development hero.” But she said the process, promised to be open and merit-based, was a “sham” that damaged the financial institution and “sullied” Kim’s appointment.

    Of course U.S. President Barack Obama does not agree. Being the person responsible behind Kim’s nomination, he is pleased the process has been “open” and “transparent.” And his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could not agree more. She was “delighted” that Kim was selected through a “transparent” and “competitive” process.

    The process has been on top of the discussion in the lead up to the voting. The two other contenders, before José Antonio Ocampo pulled out of the race Friday (April 13), repeatedly called for an open and merit-based selection process.

    Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the event hosted by the Center for Global Development and The Washington Post that she did not mind who wins, as long as it was an open process. But hours before the decision was made, Okonjo-Iweala told a packed audience at the Nicon Nuxury Hotel in Abuja that the “U.S. will get it.”

    “I know all of you are praying that a miracle happens and we all believe in God almighty, but God has also given us common sense to know that they are going to use their weight to get it,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

    Okonjo-Iweala published a statement after Kim’s appointment, accepting defeat, thanking her supporters and proclaiming developing countries’ victory in challenging the longstanding tradition at the bank. She said it was a “worthwhile battle” but that it is time to move on and contribute instead to searching for solutions to the world’s development challenges. President Goodluck Jonathan, meanwhile, said he looks forward to “handing over to NOI in 2019.”

    But some are still hung up over the result — or even the nomination. Clive Crook of The Atlantic said Obama missed the opportunity to “do the right thing at little if any political cost.” He said Obama could have nominated a non-American this year — a move that has no weight in domestic politics and could have won international applause.

    Some, however, are more eager to discuss the “issues” going forward. John Cassidy of The New Yorker said it is now time for Kim to outline his views and beliefs. He said the low-key president of Dartmouth may represent a new approach to economic development, but as Kim has mentioned “so little, nobody can be sure.”

    Many have expressed worries that Kim might just focus on health issues, with him being a doctor and co-founder of Partners In Health. Nancy Birdsall, president of Center for Global Development, said the world “doesn’t need another aid agency.”

    But perhaps the biggest challenge Kim needs to address is how he will keep the bank “relevant” in this changing world. Many countries, including China and India, have already transitioned from low to middle-income economies.

    William Easterly, director of the Development Research Institute at New York University, said the bank has no “obvious role” in the current world environment and that it is “losing its traditional market share,” The New York Times quotes.

    Kim, who was in Peru doing his “listening tour” when the announcement was made, said he will “seek” a new alignment of the bank with a rapidly changing environment: responding effectively to needs, delivering more powerful results, prioritizing evidence-based solutions over ideology, “amplifying” the developing worlds’ voices and drawing on the expertise of “the people we serve.”

    All these, however, will have to take the back seat on Kim’s first day in office. He told Annie Lowrey of The New York Times his day one strategy is to “meet people and introduce myself.”

    Read more:

    Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.