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Whose World Bank?

NEW YORK – US President Barack Obama’s nomination of Jim Yong Kim for the presidency of the World Bank has been well received – and rightly so, especially given some of the other names that were bandied about. In Kim, a public-health professor who is now President of Dartmouth College and previously led the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, the United States has put forward a good candidate. But the candidate’s nationality, and the nominating country – whether small and poor or large and rich – should play no role in determining who gets the job.

The World Bank’s 11 executive directors from emerging and developing countries have put forward two excellent candidates, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria and Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia. I have worked closely with both of them. Both are first-rate, have served as ministers with multiple portfolios, have performed admirably in top positions in multilateral organizations, and have the diplomatic skills and professional competence to do an outstanding job. They understand finance and economics, the bread and butter of the World Bank, and have a network of connections to leverage the Bank’s effectiveness.

Okonjo-Iweala brings an insider’s knowledge of the institution. Ocampo, like Kim, brings the advantages and disadvantages of being an outsider; but Ocampo, a distinguished professor at Columbia University, is thoroughly acquainted with the World Bank. He previously served not only as minister of economics and finance, but also of agriculture – a critically important qualification, given that the vast majority of the developing countries’ poor depend on farming. He also brings impressive environmental credentials, addressing another of the Bank's central concerns.

Both Okonjo-Iweala and Ocampo understand the role of international financial institutions in providing global public goods. Throughout their careers, their hearts and minds have been devoted to development, and to fulfilling the World Bank’s mission of eliminating poverty. They have set a high bar for any American candidate.