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IMF-World Bank: New Bank President Kim Promises Dramatic Change

Jim Yong Kim vows to cut the World Bank’s red tape and focus more directly on ending poverty.

New World Bank president Jim Yong Kim made clear at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank annual summit in Tokyo today that the global financial institution he heads will become far more efficient and focused on its basic mission under his administration. That’s no easy task at a multilateral entity infamously tied up in red tape and subject to the influence of governments from the developed world. 

Kim, the first Asian-American, physician/anthropologist and social activist to head the Washington, D.C.–based global lender of last resort, told the meeting that he will focus more closely on the bank’s central mission by aligning its policies more closely with the interests of women, ethnic minorities and the impoverished masses in emerging markets and more loosely with those of governments elsewhere.

To that end, Kim vowed get the bank to emphasize results instead of processes, as it is widely criticized for doing at present.

“The bureaucracy, we’re going to eliminate it,” he told a room packed with journalists and officials. “We’re going to decrease time to go through the procedures.”

Kim, who was appointed by U.S. President Barak Obama in July to replace Robert Zoellick, cited a flow chart on the wall of the office of Caroline Anstey, the bank’s managing director, as an illustration of the problem. “Caroline has this spaghetti diagram of the bureaucracy,” he says. “We will do everything we can to shrink that diagram. We need to move away from approvals and to implementation. Of course, we will need the help of the board of governors in implementing this change.”

Though he provided few details of how he aims to go about all that, Kim’s avowals nevertheless won plaudits from many journalists and delegates from emerging markets.

“Kim is from the emerging markets and knows what emerging markets are about,” said a journalist from Latin America who asked not to be identified by name.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1959, Kim moved to the U.S. at the age of five with his parents. He went on to earn an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1991 and a PhD from Harvard’s Department of Anthropology in 1993. During his student days, in 1987, he cofounded a nongovernmental organization that specialized in emerging markets health issues, working in Haiti and later in war-torn Rwanda. He joined the World Health Organization in 2003 as a special adviser to the director general, specializing in the treatment of HIV in developing countries and later lectured at Harvard Medical School before being named president of Dartmouth College in 2009.

One of his major goals as president of the World Bank, he told the IMF meeting, is to eradicate “absolute poverty,” defined as conditions in which individual earnings average less than $1.25 a day. “If we can reduce the time to end absolute poverty, how exciting will that be?” he asked. He acknowledged that the goal was “daunting,” especially given the global economy’s ongoing weakness. But Kim said progress could be accelerated by “boosting the private sector.”

To do that, Kim said he plans to increase World Bank support for programs that supply credit to disenfranchised youth and women, especially those in emerging markets, that creates jobs and help launch small businesses. He noted that to ignore the first group was to invite violent political backlash. “One of the important things that the Arab Spring teaches us that you must include youth in your development plans,” he says.

Not surprisingly, Kim says his other top priority is lending to programs that help achieve goals four and five of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals — reducing child mortality and improving maternal heath.

Kim said he expects strong support from Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, who spent much of her time at the meeting emphasizing her commitment to the interests of women and disenfranchised.

“I want you to know that Christine and I are working very closely,” Kim says. “At the end of the day, people want good jobs that pay. We are both very concerned about ensuring there is growth, but more importantly that there are jobs.”

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