Anthropologist Nominated by US to Head World Bank

NEW YORK (AFP) ― Singing rap, citing Buddhist teachings, and once dreaming of being a sports star, the likely next head of the World Bank may not be widely known ― but he’s no faceless bureaucrat.

Korean-born Jim Yong Kim is the president of Ivy League Dartmouth College, a medical doctor and, above all, a renowned campaigner against AIDS and tuberculosis in some of the world’s poorest regions.

The 52-year-old’s CV glitters with prestigious posts at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, among others. An anthropologist, Kim is also one of the foremost actors in the kind of global health problems that are often seen as nearly hopeless.

In the mid-1990s he worked in Peru to develop the first large-scale treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in a poor country, a program now run in some 40 other nations.

Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College, who was picked by U.S. President Barack Obama as a nominee to become president of the World Bank. (Bloomberg)

Between 2003 and 2007 he also led a World Health Organization initiative to bring antiretroviral drugs to three million new HIV/AIDS patients in developing countries, while a nonprofit he co-founded, called Partners in Health, works with impoverished communities everywhere from Haiti to Russia.

That work has brought Kim fame in academia and global health institutions, but the bespectacled professor tapped by President Barack Obama to head the World Bank is virtually unknown to wider circles.

A closer examination reveals a passionate character prone to a surprising mix of the straight-laced and quirky.

From the day his parents brought him from South Korea to Muscatine, Iowa, at the age of five, Kim was the archetypal, breathtakingly high-achieving American immigrant…. Kim’s dentist father taught at Iowa University and his mother had a Ph.D. in philosophy, so not surprisingly the young sports fan quickly veered to more cerebral pursuits, graduating first from prestigious Brown University, then Harvard Medical School, and finally earning a Harvard Ph.D. in anthropology.

Married to Lim Youn-sook, a pediatrician who has worked with HIV children in Africa, Kim talks movingly about his work in combating infectious diseases.

“The lowest points were back in the mid-1990s when we discovered all of these patients who were suffering from drug-resistant tuberculosis ... sitting there in a slum in Lima, Peru, watching them die,” he recalled in the Charlie Rose interview.

Dealing with such misery, he said, was easier thanks to lessons learned from a Buddhist monk.

“One can be mindful and at peace and experience great happiness while at the same time struggling against some of the most difficult problems one can imagine,” he said.

But thanks to his job at Dartmouth, there’s a racier aspect to this serious and outwardly placid man’s life…. Last year at the university’s “Idol” music contest, the college president appeared in a studded white leather jacket, with fingerless gloves, spaceman glasses and glowstick bracelets, to rap alongside students. “I came up in here to make it rock, light a fire, make it hot,” he sings in a widely circulated video of the performance, while doing a robot dance.

From the cheering in the audience, it appears the probable future head of the World Bank stole the show.

Source: “World Bank Nominee Has Colorful Side” Korea Herald 3/25/2012. Other articles in Washington Post, NY Times, etc..