Reporting from Washington — President Obama's decision to nominate a South Korean-born educator and health expert to lead the World Bank — and not someone with experience in global finance or diplomacy — reflects the increasingly fractious politics of international agencies and the need to address growing demands for representation outside the U.S. and Europe, analysts say.
Obama's nomination of Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to succeed Robert Zoellick comes as developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America clamor for more seats at the international table.
The president praised Kim as a champion of improving global health and the lives of people in underdeveloped nations. And he also highlighted Kim's strong international background, something that may help deflect criticisms from emerging economies about the United States' having a lock on the institution's top position.
"Jim has truly global experience. He's worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden, with Kim standing beside him, shortly before the president left for a summit in South Korea.
"His personal story exemplifies the great diversity of our country and the fact that anyone can make it as far as he has, as long as they're willing to work hard and look out for others," Obama said.
Kim, 52, didn't speak at the ceremony but issued a short message to his Dartmouth colleagues: "This is one of the most critical institutions fighting poverty and providing assistance to developing countries in the world today. After much reflection, I have accepted this nomination to national and global service."
Standing to Kim's right at the Rose Garden was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose name was briefly rumored as a possible successor to Zoellick, who announced last month that he would step down at the end of June when his five-year term is completed.
But analysts said Clinton declined to pursue the job, and she reportedly was the first to recommend Kim for the post. Former President Bill Clinton issued a statement applauding Kim's nomination, as did Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who also happens to be a Dartmouth alumnus.
Past presidents of the World Bank have typically come from financial and political circles. Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, noted that there's never been a medical doctor heading up the World Bank, which he said raised questions about whether Kim would have the diplomatic skills needed for the job.
"I think you're going to hear a lot of criticism," he said, but added that Kim was nonetheless likely to be approved.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also was nominated Friday for the top post, as was José Antonio Ocampo, former finance minister of Colombia.
Since its creation in 1944, the World Bank has always been headed by an American, while another post-War World II global financial organization, the International Monetary Fund, has been headed by a European. More recently, however, as emerging economies have taken on greater influence in the world economy, pressure has mounted for change.
Kim has spent much of his career as an educator and leader in the cause of global health. He was a former director of the World Health Organization's department of HIV/AIDS, and is a co-founder of Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with impoverished communities in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Rwanda and other countries to provide medical care and social services.
President of Dartmouth since 2009, Kim moved to the U.S. at age 5 with his family and grew up in Muscatine, Iowa, according to his biography posted on Dartmouth's website. He graduated from Brown University and received his medical degree from Harvard.