October 12, 2017

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World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, spoke about his lifelong belief in development, the philosophy behind his work with the World Bank, and urgent contemporary issues in the field in remarks at Columbia on October 5.

Kim visited the University to deliver SIPA’s annual Gabriel Silver Memorial Lecture, which this year was also included among the programs of Columbia’s World Leaders Forum. The hour-long speech, entitled “Challenging the World to Build New Foundations of Human Solidarity,” was delivered to a large audience of of students, faculty, and guests in the Low Library rotunda.

Kim started the lecture by recalling how his native country of Korea was largely denied international development aid in its early stage of development due to its Confucianism-oriented culture. This led Kim to formulate his concept of human solidarity; every country, he said, should have the opportunity to prosper.

“No country should be denied help or optimism,” said Kim. “Optimism and hope is not the result of analysis, but a choice.”

A passion for development and public service lead Kim, who is also a physician, to work in the field of global health. As Kim gained experience and prominence, he pioneered the concept of preferential treatment, where workers lived with the locals and asked them what they need.

By listening to the aspirations of the locals in underdeveloped regions such as Haiti and Rwanda, Kim said, his teams learned that often food, healthcare, and education were all they needed to prosper.

“The drive for human solidarity is deeply embedded in human evolution,” he said.

Turning to the most pressing issues in development today, Kim stressed the importance of investing in human capital. Human capital growth, he said, is the best indicator of economic growth worldwide in the past 25 years, but a human capital crisis is also happening where growth is the most needed.

Kim noted that childhood stunting—defined by the World Health organization as impaired growth and development resulting from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation—is prevalent in many underdeveloped regions of the world. This phenomenon will lead to even more disastrous outcomes 20 years from now, as those regions fall further behind in the age of information technology and automation.

“We can't be silent about such human capital crises,” he said. “Future generations will blame us for it.

“We must find things we'll regret not doing in 20 years and take them on now,” he concluded.

In a Q&A session following the lecture—dominated by SIPA students—Kim addressed questions like how to create political will for investing in human capital and the role of finance as a powerful development tool.

President Lee C. Bollinger opened the event with a welcome speech and shared a moment with the audience in remembering the late Gabriel Silver.

Dean Merit E. Janow joined Bollinger in welcoming Kim, observing that SIPA's mission of training the next generation of bright young minds in global development and public service aligns with that of the World Bank. She noted that the School and World Bank have collaborated since 1992 on Capstone workshops and other projects.

— Mia Li MPA ’18

VIDEO: View Jim Yong Kim’s remarks in full >