Reflecting the competitive nature of the appointment, the release made no mention of consensus on the bank’s board, but rather said that “the final nominees received support from different member countries, which reflected the high caliber of the candidates. We all look forward to working with Dr. Kim.”
Kim was an iconoclastic choice. A native of South Korea, he will be only the second World Bank president born outside the U.S. The bank’s ninth president, James Wolfensohn, was born in Australia and became a U.S. citizen.
But perhaps more significantly, President Obama reached outside the worlds of finance and government in nominating Kim, whose career was built around one of the more intractable problems in development — how to deliver expensive HIV and tuberculosis medicines to poor or remote parts of the world.
A physician with a doctorate in anthropology, Kim was criticized by some development professionals concerned that his narrow expertise was wrong for such a diverse institution. The bank offers loans and grants to the poorest nations and pursues an array of projects in better-developed nations as well — from helping fund power plants and other infrastructure to helping countries strengthen their financial markets and government institutions.
However, Obama administration officials said Kim’s background is more related to development than that of previous bank heads drawn from the top ranks of government or the corporate world. Zoellick had spent much of his career in the top echelons of the U.S. government, serving as U.S. Trade Representative and in the State Department. His predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz, moved to the World Bank from the Defense Department.
Kim, traveling from Peru as part of a global “listening tour” launched after his nomination last month, was not immediately available for comment.
But in a statement to the bank’s executive board when he was interviewed last week, he characterized himself as someone who is “not afraid to challenge existing orthodoxies.”
His appointment continues a 66-year tradition of the U.S. nominee being chosen as the head of the bank. But there were other nominees this time — Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo.
Their candidacies prompted Kim to travel the world in recent weeks, introducing himself to the finance ministers and other key world officials he needed to help secure his appointment by the bank’s board.