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Spending the first half of my life in a developing city in India and the second half in the gentrified suburbs of Charlotte, stark socio-economic disparities have been ever present growing up. I saw how shifts in political trends, rapid economic changes spurred by globalization and a range of social issues have all contributed to global structural inequality. 

Woman smiling in front of stone wall
Arya Patel is a current senior, studying Public Policy. 

To understand these issues better, I decided to pursue the public policy course at Duke University. I picked up frameworks, skills and historical context to help me better understand the successes, challenges and gray areas in the field of international development.

Many of my deepest doubts and most hopeful curiosities emerged at the intersection of academics and real-world events. How does equity of healthcare and vaccine distribution factor into a global pandemic? How does the global rise in populism affect government programs and poverty reduction? How do structural inequities manifest in marginalized communities and what information do governments lack to combat it?

While I have just started mulling over these questions, institutions like the World Bank, the United Nation, the International Monetary Fund, countless international NGOS and think tanks, grassroots organizations, as well as individuals in academia, humanitarianism, law and more have been working to deconstruct, study and address these issues for years. Dr. Jim Yong Kim led this effort during his tenure as the president of the World Bank, mobilizing massive amounts of resources, aligning heads of state and coordinating policies to make positive change globally.

I had the honor to meet with Kim when he visited Duke and the Sanford School in October. I was given the exceptional opportunity to take part in a small group meeting with Kim and attended his talk in Page Auditorium. Listening to Kim, I learned about the trajectory of his non-linear career, his thoughts on the pandemic’s role in shaping international cooperation and his nuggets of wisdom for aspiring global changemakers. 

Trained as both a physician and anthropologist, Jim Yong Kim started his career as the co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH) along with Duke alumni Paul Farmer, to provide community-focused healthcare in Haiti. He then helped scale up PIH to provide high quality treatments in accordance with local needs and train community members globally. Today, PIH builds hospitals and other medical facilities, hires and trains local staff, and delivers a range of healthcare, from in-home consultations to cancer treatments. It also removes barriers to maintaining good health and strengthens the rights of the poor.

Later, Kim was appointed director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, after having success with similar programs to fight the disease at PIH. He started an initiative that put three million people in developing countries on AIDS treatment and helped push the strategy for AIDS in Africa. After this, Kim served as the president of Dartmouth College, where he utilized his past experience in healthcare and international affairs to improve campus culture, create new international and philanthropically focused programs for students and addressed social issues like binge drinking and sexual assault.

Most recently, Kim served as the 12th president of the World Bank where he sought to meet two goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030; and to boost shared prosperity by focusing on the bottom 40% of the population in developing countries. He led the organization to launch innovative financial instruments which measure infrastructure needs, prevent pandemics and help the millions of people forcibly displaced from their homes by climate shocks, conflict and violence.

Speaking in Page, Kim said one of the biggest things that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it showed wealthier, developed countries the need to align their interests with poor, underdeveloped countries.

He pointed out that wealthy countries must face the fact that in an interconnected world, issues like pandemics must be reckoned with cooperatively and with ideals of equity. He said that the linkages between private firms like pharmaceutical companies and the global governments must be strengthened and improved to have better outcomes for the developing world.

One of my favorite parts of his talk was when he advised students interested in international development and change-making with three points:  

  • First, he said all students interested in international development should try to find an area of expertise that they are passionate about and have built up knowledge and lived experiences around. With a MD and PHD in anthropology, Kim said he used his technical and analytical background throughout his career to solve problems in complex and multifaceted ways.
  • Second, Kim talked about the importance of learning on the job and having a growth mindset. Going from the grassroots Partners in Health work, to global advocacy and working with the WHO, to Dartmouth, and then to the World Bank, Kim was able to adapt his skills and evolve constantly with the nature of his jobs.
  • Finally, Kim emphasized the need to always keep an eye on activism and use that energy and those ideas as a source of inspiration about what the world needs most next. Kim stressed the importance of maintaining a deep understanding of the most pressing issues in the world to ensure one’s work is relevant and connected to the community needs and grassroots movements.

As a senior looking towards graduation, the meeting with Kim taught me that education is truly never-ending. Although I will leave formal academic institutions for a while, I believe that aiming to be a lifelong learner like Jim Yong Kim will guide me to my most fulfilling challenges and important work.

Arya Patel is a senior undergraduate student studying Public Policy with an interest in women's issues and migration in international development. She is passionate about community-based organizing, applying restorative justice frameworks in the field, and leveraging lived experiences to create positive change. At Duke, she works with the Kenan Institute of Ethics as Restorative Justice fellow, serves as the Editor-in-chief of Borderless Duke's first international relations magazine, and works as a research assistant for Professor Catherine Admay to deepen her understanding of development narratives and international human rights law.