World Bank President Calls on Civil Society to Drive Change

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today said civil society plays a critical role in driving innovation and progress on tough issues and called on the sector to lead the way on issues such as climate change and poverty.

“The movement has to start in rooms like this,” Kim told an audience at Forum 2013, an annual conference put on by the NGO alliance InterAction.

“I hold out great hope that civil society will rally around issues like poverty, issues like shared prosperity…I say that knowing that I may very well be a target for civil society later, to which I would just say, ‘Bring it on,’” he said. “You need to force organizations like the World Bank to respond to you.”

Kim, during the conversation with InterAction President and CEO Sam Worthington, referenced the HIV/AIDs movement a couple of times, calling it a revolutionary movement powered by civil society. The same urgency and zeal is needed to tackle climate change, Kim said.

Worthington began his conversation with Kim by highlighting the former Dartmouth College president’s civil society roots.

“I am honored that you still consider me one of you,” Kim replied, and began by recalling a story he frequently tells. He had just graduated from college, Kim said, when he traveled to Washington, DC for a protest against the institution he now leads.

“We were calling for a complete closing of the World Bank. I have to tell you: I’m very glad that we lost that argument,” said Kim, eliciting laughter.

Back then, the World Bank was not at the forefront on issues such as gender equality and climate change, Kim said. But Kim – who has been in his position for 10 months – said that has now changed.

Asked how his new job compares to the old one, Kim joked: “Compared to dealing with tenured faculty members, the World Bank is a breeze.”

Still, he said the biggest challenge for the World Bank is moving quicker while maintaining essential safeguards, and reducing bureaucracies.

The World Bank has set a target to end extreme poverty by 2030, and Kim said that annual measurements are key to reaching that goal.

“I see this as every year, presenting to the world, ‘Here’s how we’re doing by the poorest 40 percent',” said Kim, calling numbers a weapon that draws media attention and drives up pressure on people to act.

In order to achieve a bold goal such as ending extreme poverty, creativity in financing is essential, he said. The international community did not spend enough time thinking about how to finance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he said. With the post-2015 agenda, diverse financing is a must.

While concerned about the decline in official development assistance in the current economic climate, Kim said, “my own sense is that we have to think much broader than that anyway.”

Kim, who was born in 1959 in South Korea, reflected in his talk on how South Korea has transformed in his lifetime from a post-conflict and fragile State into a country now exporting culture such as “Gangnam Style.” The transformation happened despite predictions that the country would not advance.

“Development,” Kim said, “is fundamentally an optimistic enterprise.”

After speaking at the conference, Kim contributed to InterAction's "Five Minutes At Forum" video series.

Watch Kim's conversation with Worthington on C-SPAN.

Submitted by Erin Stock