WASHINGTON - The World Bank named Jim Yong Kim as its next president, maintaining a seven-decade U.S. lock on the post after the first challenge by candidates from other countries.
Dr. Kim, a global public-health expert and president of Dartmouth College, will become the 12th president of the development institution on July 1. The Korean-American physician and anthropologist, who spent decades working on diseases such as tuberculosis and the AIDS virus, will be the bank's first leader drawn from the development world rather than politics or finance.
Dr. Kim said Monday that laying the groundwork for job creation would be his top priority.
"In every single country I've been to, they are really hoping private-sector growth can happen quickly so that jobs can be created," he said, in a brief telephone interview from Lima, Peru, where he was concluding a "global listening tour."
"I think there's a very strong sense that job creation, especially for youth, is an extremely important issue. We've heard more than once a mention of the Arab Spring and the importance of economic growth that is inclusive and creates jobs."
The three-week contest marked the first time a U.S. nominee has faced opposition to lead the institution, which makes loans and provides advice to developing nations.
The leading challenger, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister and a former senior World Bank official, drew support from development experts and emerging economies such as Brazil, despite her long odds.
Another candidate, former Colombian Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo, withdrew Friday, saying the race "is not based on the merits of the candidates but is a political exercise."
Dr. Kim's selection was virtually assured given support from the U.S. and Europe. The White House has picked the bank's president since the institution was founded in 1944, and in turn the U.S. has backed the choice of European governments to lead the International Monetary Fund. Their sizable stakes in both institutions make it nearly impossible for other nations to challenge that alliance. Dr. Kim also won support from major shareholders in advanced and developing economies including Japan, Canada, Mexico, Russia, India and China.
But the first contested race renewed criticism that the selection process is stacked in favor of Western economies and is based on nationality instead of only the candidates' qualifications.
"The handicap initially for Jim Kim is that it's not clear how he was selected…and whether in the end he was elected because the U.S. wanted him to become elected," said former World Bank official Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank. Still, she called the contested race as a historic development for the bank. "It's a way for emerging-market economies to make clear that they want more influence, they want more voice," she said.
Dr. Kim said he was confident he would have "a very strong consensus" at the bank. "The ministers and the heads of central banks and others I've spoke with have been very supportive," he said in the interview. "I've presented my credentials as a development specialist, as someone who has spent his whole life working on, investing in humans in order to enable them to go down the path of growth."
Dr. Kim, 52 years old, became Dartmouth's president in 2009, and earlier served as the director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization.
In 1987 he co-founded the nonprofit Partners in Health in 1987, which provides health care in poor countries, and has been widely recognized for his work on global health problems.
Dr. Kim will take over an institution whose mission is becoming less clear. The bank engages in a long list of economic concerns around the world, such as climate change and financial regulation, and provides direct aid to the poorest countries struck by wars or natural disasters.
But some of the largest countries that had long been recipients of World Bank loans, such as China and India, are now emerging-market powerhouses that can borrow on their own in financial markets to finance infrastructure and other development projects.
"The bank cannot rely anymore on its old model of lending significantly large amounts of money to these countries," said Uri Dadush, a former World Bank official now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It has to move towards being more of a knowledge bank, a specialist in a large number of sectors."
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