Kim Champions Knowledge in Building 'Solutions Bank'

December 5, 2012

China Daily China Daily

Q+A | Jim Yong Kim

Editor's Note: Jim Yong Kim stayed in Beijing and Sichuan province during his four-day visit, going to four reconstruction sites in Sichuan and visiting small counties such as Yanting. The following is the transcript of China Daily's interview with Kim during his visit to the southwestern province.

Q: What has been your impression of your visit to China so far?

A: You know as a Korean, I always feel a great closeness to China and people in Sichuan, because we both eat spicy food, right? I am a physician and an anthropologist, and I study Chinese medicine. I am very happy to be here in this place that I have known about for so long.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when coming to Sichuan, and we all remember the devastation of the earthquake. To see how much it has been rebuilt is very inspiring.

I went to the maternity and children's hospital of Yanting county, Mianyang city. I was so impressed. Because I am a physician, I know what to look for. The quality of the facilities and the services and care the patients are getting greatly impressed me.

This is a tremendous accomplishment that the World Bank has participated in, and it's really a testament to the government of Sichuan. It's a story I will take with me now into the rest of my job. You know I was just in Haiti where another huge earthquake happened, and Haiti was in a worse situation. It can learn from what has happened in Sichuan.

How many times have you been to China, and what has impressed you most?

This is my third trip to China, and each time I come back, I am even more encouraged by what I see. This is a country that is developing so rapidly.

There are so many people, and there are so many challenges, but it seems to me that the government and the private sector are stepping up to the enormous challenges. The scale of China and the scale of the efforts of the government and the private sector to respond to the needs of the people are very impressive.

The first time I was here was in 2005, in Beijing at the center for disease control, as a representative of the director-general of the World Health Organization, and I was the head of the HIV department. I was extremely impressed by China's active response to HIV.

The second time was just a few months ago when I was campaigning for this job. And the growth and development of the country in the past seven years has been really, really stunning.

Before I came to Sichuan I asked whether there were slums here. I was told slums are illegal, and everyone has a place to sleep. And that is itself a great accomplishment.

Would you like to come here more often?

As president of the World Bank, I will come here on a very regular basis. My guess is I will be here at least twice a year, as China is such an important country for the region and for the world, and especially for the World Bank Group.

You met Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, and talked about urbanization. Do you think that urbanization should be a priority for China to maintain sustainable growth?

I think there are many things to tackle, but the vice-premier had an extremely insightful view on urbanization. He said urbanization is about services, food security, healthcare, education and retirement.

He said that urbanization in a way was strategically about the overall development of the country. So I was very impressed by the way that he conceptualized urbanization.

Q: In what way will the World Bank cooperate with China on urbanization?

We agreed to undertake a major project. He (Vice-Premier Li Keqiang) was very supportive of the 2030 report (on China's economy and reforms). And we are planning to do another major report, not just for China, but also for the rest of the world. Many developing countries can learn so much from China's support for urbanization.

The vice-premier gave us a very clear focus that urbanization will be a central activity for the initial period of the cooperation.

China has been advanced in its strategic thinking about urbanization. What we would like to do is to simply help China collect the experiences.

At the same time, from all over the world, we are going to collect the experiences of urbanization that we think have been successful. And we will bring those experiences to China and consider all of them together when preparing the documents.

We hope that not only could China understand its own experiences effectively, but we will have the opportunity to compare its experiences with the other countries. And this could help China to think about its future strategy in urbanization.

China and the World Bank agreed to set up a knowledge hub on the first day you arrived in Beijing. Is the project on urbanization part of the knowledge hub?

Yes, it is.

We know that since you took office, you proposed to build the World Bank into a "solutions bank". What is the motivation behind this? And why is it important?

I am a development practitioner. For me, knowledge is something very specific ... it's data experience, the result of experimentation. Many people misunderstand knowledge, and they think knowledge is a book, a pamphlet or study, but for the people here in Sichuan province, we can give them as many books and pamphlets as we want, and then have nothing to do with them.

In the "solutions bank", our people didn't come to Sichuan and give them the reports, but they came and worked with them and implemented projects. This is the part I want to stress.

I am the former president of Dartmouth College. I know a lot about knowledge creation. For me, the strength of the World Bank is both knowledge creation and taking knowledge and helping countries like China use that knowledge by putting it into action.

Is it hard to implement that strategy?

One of the happiest surprises is that we have so many implementers among our staff. Our staff are engineers, economists, with PhDs from the best universities around the world. For many of them for decades, what they have been doing is using their academic training to help places like Yanting and put knowledge into action.

The organization itself is full of people that are implementers, so it's not so much shifting the bank's action. It's simply putting a new focus and providing great incentives and rewards to people who are really the best implementers.

We already have the resources, but we just lack the rewarding system to reward people who are the best in putting knowledge into action.

What is China's role in the new strategy? In what way could China contribute to or benefit from it?

China is still a developing country, but it has resources. At this point, I think our greatest contribution to China is exactly in an area like urbanization. We can help China capture its own experiences, bring to the table the experiences of the other countries and help China shape its future.

Going into the future, we will still be focusing on ending poverty in the poorest countries, but in countries like China, we hope we will have a major role as the "solutions bank", and as a group to help China find their own solutions, prodding the process of providing services and infrastructure that the people want.

Besides the knowledge hub and urbanization project, in what other areas would you expect to cooperate with China?

We still provide loans for China, and the reason that China continues to get loans from China is that we bring both money and knowledge to the table at the same time.

And until China graduates from the World Bank sometime in the future, we will continue to provide loans and continue to get deeply engaged with knowledge.

And one of the newest things for the World Bank is that we will help countries that graduate from the World Bank improve the investment climate and business environment.

What is your impression of Chinese officials?

The government officials I met are extremely impressive. We had very frank and direct conversations.

I told them that the World Bank will get deeply engaged with China, and they said they still valued the relationship with us very much.

I think the establishment of the knowledge hub and also the report on urbanization is a very good indication of what our relationship will be like in the future. I think it will grow.

As a Korean-American and head of the World Bank, do you believe that your South Korean origin will assist you in communicating and cooperating with China in a better and effective way?

I really hope so, because I feel I understand the culture, the language and the way they think. In South Korea, we still use Chinese characters. Although I don't speak Chinese, I can understand so many words.

There are so many fundamental aspects of Chinese culture that are so similar to Korean culture. When I am here, I know the language is different, but in so many ways, the two cultures feel so familiar to me. And I hope this is helpful.

Do you believe your background as a physician and an anthropologist could in some way help you in your current job and in advancing the concept of the "solutions bank" you insist on? And will this make you different from the previous heads of the World Bank?

There are many differences between me and the other heads of the World Bank. Part of this is that I am a development professional. The World Bank is a bank, but it is a development bank. It's special.

The fact that I have been in so many developing countries working on development gives me very high-level familiarity with my current position. I feel very comfortable in this role.

Being an anthropologist is extremely helpful to me in the sense that before going to the World Bank I spent a lot of time trying to understand the culture of it.

In development, what I think is very important is that you have to understand that every country is different and every region is different. If you come in thinking you have all the answers and telling people what to do, you are going to have trouble.

So the anthropologist in me is very focused. I am sure to understand the context and be respectful to other cultures, and won't try to come in and provide my own answers to a particular problem, but try to be clear and helpful in the context of a particular culture.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a very optimistic person. Many people say you worked in Haiti, you worked in Peru, so how can you be optimistic? But my own view is, when you work with very poor people, you have to be optimistic. If you are a person who has access to resources and you go to a poor setting, and you are pessimistic, then it's not hopeful.

You have to be optimistic. Today, to see a 90-year-old mother and her son, who have been digging water out of a dirty well for decades and decades, have running water and gas at home, this makes me feel optimistic. And to see what happened with a province that was devastated by an earthquake, this gives me optimism.

I feel that optimism is not a feeling that you have based on analysis. I feel optimism is your choice. When you go to the worst situation, you have to bring out all of your optimism. Being in Sichuan (which is recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2008) makes me feel more optimistic than before.