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A Reorganization – To End Poverty and Reduce Inequalities

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Two years ago today, I was honored and humbled to become president of the World Bank Group, whose mission – ending poverty – I have been working toward most of my life. One of my first questions for the World Bank economists was whether it would be possible to end extreme poverty, and if so, how long it would take. The answer came back that it would be difficult but possible to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Since then, the 188 countries that hold shares in the World Bank have endorsed this goal, which previously few people believed would ever be achievable, let alone in our lifetimes. And it’s been my mission to find the best ways to leverage the talent, knowledge, and influence of the Bank Group to make it happen.

What I Learned from Bill Gates

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I have the great privilege in my job as president of the World Bank Group of speaking to some of the most creative political and business leaders around the world. One of the consistent themes across all of these conversations is the recognition that we must accelerate innovation to end extreme poverty and to grow economies in a way that is shared by all. What we lack is clear consensus around the best ways to foster and scale new ideas.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with Bill Gates, and our conversation naturally turned to what inspires innovation. Bill and his wife Melinda launched their foundationin 1994 and since that time they have transformed the world’s development aspirations in health, education and poverty reduction.

I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of the Gates’ generosity. In 2000, their Foundation made a $44.7 million grant to Partners In Health, which I co-founded. At a time when most of the global health world was in denial about multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), the Gates made the largest single tuberculosis-related foundation gift in history in order to find ways to treat this disease in developing countries. This pattern of visionary, innovative philanthropy has been repeated again and again in their efforts to tackle some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

I Set a Target. I Failed. I’m Still Setting Them.

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I’m a big believer in setting highly ambitious targets in order to galvanize communities and countries to take action on serious issues. When I was at the World Health Organization in 2003, we set a target called “3 x 5” – committing to treat 3 million people with HIV/AIDS in the developing world by 2005.

At the time, just a few hundred thousand people in the developing world had access to the life-saving treatment. When we announced the target, the global health community was still arguing about whether HIV treatment in poor countries was possible. Some called it an impossible dream that would give people false hope.

I responded that no one ever said treating 3 million people would be easy. But we needed a measurable and time-limited target to change fundamentally the way we thought about the challenges of HIV in developing countries. The target helped change the way we worked – we had fewer arguments about if we should do it, and focused on how to get it done.

Another Lasting Impact from Smartphones

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For a very long time, the rich have known to some extent how the poor around the world live. What’s new in today's world is that the best-kept secret from the poor, namely, how the rich live, is now out. Through the village television, the Internet and hand-held instruments, which a rapidly increasing number of the poor possess, life-styles of the rich and the middle class are transmitted in full color to their homes every day.

Last year, when I traveled with President Evo Morales to a Bolivian village 14,000 feet above sea level, villagers snapped pictures on their smartphones of our arrival. In Uttar Pradesh, the state in India with the highest number of poor people, I found Indians watching Korean soap operas on their smartphones.

We live in an unequal world. But while the rich world may be blind to the suffering of the poor, the poor throughout the world are very much aware of how the rich live. And they have shown they are willing to take action.

What Can You Do to End Poverty? Take It On!

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Often, people ask me how they can get involved in a social movement to end extreme poverty. Not so long ago, I participated in a MOOC – a massive open online course – organized by Wesleyan University called “How to Change the World.”

Wesleyan President Michael Roth asked me for advice to students who wanted to get engaged in a social movement to end poverty. My response is that we’re going to need everyone – doctors, writers, engineers, lawyers, social workers, and visionaries in governments and in the private sector.

So what is it going to take to build a successful social movement to end poverty? What role can you play? Take a minute to watch the video. What I really hope is that it inspires you to get involved, to take it on. Please share this with your friends, and let me know what you think.

How We’re Taking On Extreme Poverty

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Next week, we’ll be hosting our Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C., which will attract a few thousand leaders in development from around the world. To set the stage for these meetings, I talked this week about the fundamental issues in global development and how we’re undergoing dramatic changes inside the World Bank Group to meet those great challenges.

We live in an unequal world. The gaps between the rich and poor are as obvious here in Washington, D.C., as they are in any capital. Yet, those excluded from economic progress remain largely invisible to many of us in the rich world. In the words of Pope Francis, “That homeless people freeze to death on the street is not news. But a drop … in the stock market is a tragedy.”

While we in the rich world may be blind to the suffering of the poor, the poor throughout the world are very much aware of how the rich live. And they have shown they are willing to take action.

Why Investing in Poor Countries Helps All of Us

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Many people have the misconception that my field -- global development -- is just about do-gooders and charities helping the poor. To be sure, many charitable groups are doing generous, laudable work. But global development extends far beyond charity and has a greater impact on the global economy than most people think.

Strong economic growth in developing countries became an engine for the global economy after the 2008-09 financial crisis, accounting for roughly 50 percent of all global growth. In addition, fully half of the United States’ exports now go to emerging markets and developing economies.

Global economic development can be good for your bottom line. Our focus is on helping more than a billion poor people lift themselves out of extreme poverty and on boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 percent in developing countries. To do that, we need to find economic growth strategies that help all segments of society in emerging markets -- reaching even fragile states striving to put years of conflict behind them and to create good jobs for their people.

The question I ask my team all the time is, what’s our plan? Increasingly scarce public funding isn’t enough to get the job done. We need to attract private sector investment that creates jobs. Ninety percent of all jobs in the developing world are created by the private sector. If we have high aspirations for the poor and vulnerable, there is no argument: We need the private sector to flourish, even in the poorest countries.

3 Blind Spots for Gender Equity: Work, Education, and Violence

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Woman in Nepal

As we mark International Women’s Day, women and girls are better off than just a few decades ago. Boys and girls are going to school in equal numbers in many countries. Women are living longer, healthier lives.

But even with the steady progress we’ve seen over the past few decades, one of our biggest challenges today is to avoid falling prey to a sense of self-satisfaction.  We don’t deserve to, not yet. 

We need a renewed sense of urgency and a clearer understanding of the remaining obstacles.   When it comes to improving the lives of women and girls, we have blind spots.  In fact, we know of three shocking inequalities that persist in education, the working world, and women’s very security and safety.

Blind Spot No. 1: Education of Girls.

We have made impressive gains in achieving universal access to education, but what we’re failing to see is that girls who are poor—those who are the most vulnerable—are getting left behind.  

While wealthier girls in countries like India and Pakistan may be enrolled in school right alongside boys their age, among the poorest 20 percent of children, girls have on average five years less education than do boys.  In Niger, where only one in two girls attends primary school, just one in 10 goes to middle school, and stunningly only one in 50 goes to high school. That’s an outrage.

Best Advice: Give It a Shot

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One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received sounds pretty simple: Give it a shot.

Dr. Ted Alyea, a senior resident at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gave me this advice in 1991 when I was the most junior of physicians, an intern.

We were standing outside a patient’s room in the Intensive Care Unit. Our team was discussing the plan for treating a very sick patient when Ted said to me, “Tell us what you think we should do next. Give it a shot.”

During patient rounds, interns take turns outside a hospital room presenting the patient’s background; reciting what is known about the patient and the disease or condition including careful recounting of symptoms, laboratory data, diagnostic studies and current treatment. Then the intern and senior resident go into the room to examine the patient and afterward the team decides on a plan for treatment.

Want to Build a Movement? Learn from AIDS Activists

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Building social movements. I often hear about the need to create social movements to tackle a number of entrenched global challenges such as ending extreme poverty, promoting greater income equality, and combatting climate change.

History is full of social movements that have succeeded and failed. The lessons from one ongoing movement that I know well – the fight against AIDS – should be examined closely by those looking to build movements today.

Lesson No. 1 from the AIDS movement is to believe only in the possibility -- not the inevitability -- of success. Opponents will fight and appear immovable. As those of us who lived through the early days of the AIDS fight, it was always far from certain that we would reach our goals.

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