President Barack Obama on Friday nominated Dartmouth College president and global health expert Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank.
The president was joined by Kim, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who first recommended that Obama consider Kim for the World Bank post. But the announcement has many scratching their heads.
President Barack Obama stands with Jim Yong Kim in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
"Dr. Kim’s name was closely held and not among those widely bandied about since Mr. Zoellick announced his plans to move on,” the New York Times writes.
"At this moment, across Washington, hundreds of surprised reporters and government aides are Googling ‘Jim Yong Kim’ to find out who he is,” joked Washingtonian magazine editor Garrett Graff on Twitter, according to Politico.
The president said Kim, a Korean-born physician and pioneer in the treatment of HIV, AIDS. and tuberculosis, has the breadth of experience on development issues needed to carry out the financial institution's anti-poverty mission.
"It's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency," President Obama said Friday morning.
Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. at age 5. He is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard University. He served as director of the World Health Organization's department of HIV/AIDS and co-founded the global health organization Partners in Health (PIH).
During his time with PIH, Kim gained notoriety for his work in the battle against tuberculosis.
In fact, during an interview on “The Charlie Rose Show,” Kim was asked what he considered to be the high point of his career. He responded [emphasis added]: “The high point was when we started receiving support, first from George Soros who gave us our first grants [to battle tuberculosis] and then we received a huge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
And by "we," he means Partners in Health.
To this day, Kim and PIH are credited with changing global health and development, which might explain why he would be picked to head an organization that focuses on fighting poverty and promoting development.
The World Banks is also a leading source of development loans for countries seeking financing to build dams, roads, and other infrastructure projects.
Since its founding in 1944, the World Bank has always been headed by an American. But developing countries, who have long sought to gain more power in the organization, planned an unprecedented challenge to Obama's pick this year and considered nominating three other candidates.
However, Kim is still expected to succeed outgoing president Robert Zoellick, who announced in February that he was stepping down.
The actual selection will be made next month by the World Bank's 25-member executive board. The United States, as the world's largest economy, has the largest percentage of the votes.
Kim is expected to travel around the world on a listening tour to rally support for his nomination ahead of the board's vote.
Senior administration officials said Obama took a strong personal interest in filling the World Bank vacancy after current president Zoellick announced in February he was stepping down. Obama and his advisers considered more than a dozen candidates, including well-known figures in the administration. But in the end, officials said, Obama pushed for a nominee with broad development experience and was particularly drawn to Kim's innovative work fighting the spread of AIDS and tuberculosis.
Plus, he can rap, robot-dance, and "[get] down with his bad self," as Mediaite's James Crugnale put it. Watch Kim make an appearance on “Dartmouth Idol” (at the 2:05 mark) via http://dartmouthidol.com:
"Jim has truly global experience. He has worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages. His personal story exemplifies the great diversity to our country," the president said Friday.
Administration officials said former President Bill Clinton weighed in with support for Kim during Obama's deliberations. In a statement Friday, the former president applauded Kim's nomination.
"Jim Kim is an inspired and outstanding choice to lead the World Bank based on his years of commitment and leadership to development and particularly health care and AIDS treatment across the world," he said.
And did we mention he can dance (via http://dartmouthidol.com)?
Obama administration officials said the pick was already being well-received in the developing world. After learning of Kim's nomination, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the physician was "a true friend of Africa" and "a leader who knows what it takes to address poverty."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.