The 12th president of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, is arguably the most powerful anthropologist in the world. As the co-founder of the groundbreaking NGO Partners In Health, the former president of Dartmouth College, the former head of the World Health Organization’s 3 by 5 Initiative, and longtime champion of “the science of global health delivery” (Kim, Farmer, & Porter 2013) and liberation theology’s exhortation to make a “preferential option for the poor,” Kim’s work has routinely used the “re-socializing” disciplines of anthropology and the social sciences to build arguments for greater investment in caregiving programs for poor people around the world. As a clinician and a scholar, Kim has coupled his work as a doctor for the poor to an ongoing process of “ethnographically embedding evidence within the historically given social and economic structures that shape life so dramatically on the edge of life and death” (Farmer, 2004). This is certainly a different approach from any past—or, likely near future—presidents of the World Bank, who have tended towards business titans or highly quantitative economists.
Historically, Kim has also been a fierce critic of the World Bank. Co-editing the tome, Dying for Growth, which takes aim at the market fundamentalist policies of powerful governments and neoliberal financial architecture built into the structure of World Bank loans and development assistance through the 1990’s, Kim has routinely advocated intellectually linking the widespread suffering of the global poor, to particular neocolonial policies and extractive financial procedures of the powerful people residing in places like Geneva, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Which is why Kim’s latest reform agenda as the head of the World Bank is so puzzling. It deserves special scrutiny by social scientists interested in global governance, international development, global health care delivery, and social justice.
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