Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A bookish look at the World Bank President nominees

Who would have thought that there would be so many Rights Readers angles to the appointment of a World Bank President? At first I thought the hook was a movement to draft Nobel Prize Winner and guru of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, (Banker To The Poor). But, he politely demurred. But then I read that the Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is seeking the position. Her son, Uzodinma Iweala, is the author of a novel we read, Beasts of No Nation. The Economist has strongly endorsed her candidacy,
Ms Okonjo-Iweala is an orthodox economist, which many will hold against her. But if there is one thing the world has discovered about poverty reduction in the past 15 years, it is that development is not something rich countries do to poor ones. It is something poor countries manage for themselves, mainly by the sort of policies that Ms Okonjo-Iweala has pursued with some success in Nigeria.
And then there is President Barack Obama's nominee, Jim Yong Kim. Mr. Kim, currently the President of Dartmouth College, is a co-founder of Partners in Health along with Paul Farmer. We learned about their innovations in global public health when we read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. If you have the time, this lecture on global health from a couple years ago is a nice introduction to Jim Kim, or check out this Bill Moyers interview to find out, among other things, what insights his unusual background in medicine and anthropology might bring to the culture of the World Bank,
BILL MOYERS: You are trained as an anthropologist too, as well as in medicine. What do you think the eye of an anthropologist sees, that a physician on his or her own might not see?

DR. JIM YONG KIM: Well, I think that in medicine, what we're trained to do is to look for patterns, to build order out of great complexity, out of very subtle signs and symptoms, and then have a plan where you can act. Anthropologists are a little bit different, we don't often act on what we do. So I'm sort of in the middle now. I do the ethnography, to try to get a sense of what the culture is. 

You know, if you want to know what anthropologists do, one of my great professors, Sally Falk Moore once said, it's very simple. You walk into a room and you say, "Who are these people and what do they want?" So if you're constantly asking that question, over time, you build up a sense of how a particular social system works. That's always what we've done. Paul Farmer's also an anthropologist, we've done this together for many, many years.

What is it that we need to do to actually change policy around HIV treatment or drug resistant TB treatment? And that anthropological piece of it, linked to a physician's approach to solving a problem and putting a solution on the table, taking people through difficult times-- That's been a very good combination for me.
Both Mr. Kim and Ms. Okonjo-Iweala would be ground-breaking appointments. It should be exciting to see where the World Bank goes from here.
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