Questions and answers about the World Bank

April 16, 2012 - 3:45 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The World Bank's selection of Jim Yong Kim to be its next president returned a spotlight to the agency and the grip the United States has held on its leadership.

An American has always led the Washington-based World Bank under an unwritten agreement in place since its creation in 1944. And a European has always led its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund.

Representatives of developing countries have pushed to receive equal consideration for the top leadership posts of the two agencies. This is especially true of the World Bank because, as an anti-poverty institution, it focuses its work on emerging economies.

Though an American, Kim is an unconventional choice for the post. A Harvard-trained public health specialist, he will be both the first physician and the first Asian-American to lead the World Bank. His five-year term begins July 1.

Here is a closer look at the agency and the man chosen to lead it:

Q: What is the World Bank?

A: Despite its name, it's not actually a bank. Rather, the World Bank is an international development organization with 187 member countries dedicated to fighting poverty. The bank raises money from its members and sells bonds on international financial markets. It uses the money to provide low-interest loans to developing countries.

Q: How does it carry out its mission?

A: Last year, the Work Bank issued $57.3 billion in loans, grants and loan guarantees. It is involved in 1,800 projects, from road maintenance in Vietnam to raising AIDS-prevention awareness in Guinea to helping rebuild Haiti after that country's devastating 2010 earthquake. From its base in Washington, the World Bank oversees 10,000 employees, including 3,000 outside the United States. Its overseas staff includes engineers, environmental scientists and financial analysts.

Q: How much money does the United States contribute?

A: The United States boosted its contribution in recent years as the Work Bank stepped up its lending after the financial crisis and global recession. Congress approved $1.9 billion this year, up from $1.2 billion in 2009.

Q: Who chooses the bank's president?

A: The World Bank's 25-member executive board, which voted Monday. The World Bank didn't reveal the board's vote. But it said "the final nominees received support from different member countries" — indicating that Kim's selection was not unanimous. The United States is the largest donor and controls the largest share of votes on the board — nearly 16 percent. The tradition by which an American runs the World Bank and a European the IMF dates to the waning days of World War II, when the two institutions were created. Developing countries have tried to end that arrangement but haven't been able to.

Q: Who is Jim Yong Kim?

A: Kim is president of Dartmouth College and a former chair of the global health department at Harvard Medical School. He co-founded Partners in Health in 1987, which provides health care to poor residents of Haiti and in five other countries. Previous World Bank presidents have been mostly former high-profile U.S. government officials with deep international experience. The outgoing president, Robert Zoellick, who will step down in June, was President George W. Bush's trade representative and deputy secretary of state. He was preceded by Paul Wolfowitz, who was Bush's deputy secretary of defense.