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On Friday, President Obama surprised the international development community with the news that Jim Yong Kim would be his choice for the presidency of the World Bank. Kim is a distinguished medical doctor and anthropologist, the president of Dartmouth College, and the co-founder and former executive director of Partners in Health.
There is some skepticism about Kim's qualifications but I am optimistic that the Bank and Kim might be good for each other. Three reasons:
Better Project Evaluation. Kim could play a critical role in the Bank’s (sometimes reluctant) push into rigorous evaluation. Somewhat belatedly, the Bank has begun to use randomized controlled trials and other technologies to understand the impact of its projects. It has an excellent blog, Development Impact, which describes some of these efforts. Kim probably understands this work better than anyone else in the Bank. To date, the medical profession has conducted tens of thousands of RCTs for the development of new drugs; these experiments date as far back as 1948. RCTs are the standard for “rational therapeutics” in medicine. Kim could focus his efforts on making sure that state-of-the-art evaluation becomes a standard component of every Bank project. He could draw on his own medical background as well as the work of evaluation powerhouses such as IPA and J-PAL, and on the work of individual researchers, including my colleagues Michael Clemens and David Roodman.
A Fresh Perspective. The Bank could be great for broadening Kim’s horizons beyond health interventions, and may in turn benefit from his views. Against all odds, the Bank still has excellent development economists who work on issues that Kim is not familiar with, such as private investment, deregulation, and governance. It will be critical for Kim to debate and engage with this group openly, and to circumvent the Bank’s internal hierarchy, which often succeeds in replacing creative thinking with bureaucratic nonsense.
That Video. If Kim is brave enough to wear a white leather jacket and neon shades, and sing the Black Eyed Peas cover of the classic Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ song, Time of My Life I firmly believe that he can take on the challenges of the World Bank. The video showcases his ability to have fun and convey an important message at the same time. At time of writing, it has been viewed almost 80,000 times. More broadly, Kim’s personality could help to loosen up the Bank and allow its younger talent to flourish.
The bottom line is that the Bank needs a dynamic leader to maximize its vast financial and human resources in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. If Kim does become president, the development community must do all it can to help him achieve his goals.
With Jim Kim’s abrupt departure from the World Bank, there has been a swirl of commentary on questions of legacy, the best of which aim to answer the question, “how is the bank doing?” For large multilateral institutions like the World Bank, that’s a frustratingly difficult question to answer. Seemingly objective measures like volume of financing or sectoral targets are simplistic and bring their own value judgements about what the institution should be doing. Annual reports give us a narrative about institutional performance, but a heavily biased one.