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Inspired choice for evolving World Bank

The head of the World Bank, by custom an American, traditionally has come from a relatively small circle of bankers, diplomats and economists.

President Obama, then, was certainly thinking outside the box when he nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to head the massive development agency.

The official he is to replace had a more conventional résumé.

Robert Zoellick, a George W. Bush appointee, held positions in the State and Treasury departments and had been a senior White House staffer and U.S. trade representative.

Kim is a Harvard-trained physician and public health expert and co-founder of Partners in Health, an organization that has had great success in delivering medicines and health services to remote and impoverished areas of the world.

From there he went on to head the World Health Organization’s department of HIV/AIDS, where he also ran a successful operation, and he devised a plan for drug companies to offer critical medicines at low cost and saw they were delivered to the proper clinics with a minimum of corruption.

Kim, 52, is as American as the Midwest. His family moved from South Korea to Iowa when he was 5 and, among his other qualifications, he is a former quarterback and point guard for Muscatine High School.

Other candidates to lead the World Bank are from Nigeria and Colombia.

The agency was founded in 1944 to help underwrite the reconstruction of Europe. It is not really a bank, but a clearinghouse for loans, loan guarantees and grants made with money raised from member nations, 16 percent of it from the U.S. Last year it provided $57.3 billion to strengthen private markets, finance infrastructure and disease-eradication programs, and support public-health and social programs.

But Kim may not represent such a drastic change in direction as it would first seem, given his background.

The number of countries needing the World Bank’s financial backing is dwindling. China and Brazil, with no problems borrowing money privately, have outgrown the bank; India is about to; and Vietnam, Ghana, Nigeria and Mongolia are said to be not far behind.

As part of its mandate to eradicate poverty and hunger, the bank has increasingly turned to funding programs to control HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.

Kim, who still must be approved by the bank’s 28-member board, would seem ideally suited to those tasks.