President Barack Obama picked Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim as the U.S. nominee to lead the World Bank, choosing a global-health expert to head the development institution.
Dr. Kim, an American physician who was born in South Korea and raised in Iowa, is a surprise pick for a job that has usually been held by people with political or finance experience. The novel choice was designed in part to counter criticism from officials in developing nations who have complained about the U.S. lock on the position.
"Jim has spent more than two decades working to improve conditions in developing countries around the world," Obama said Friday. "It's time for a development professional to lead the world's largest development agency."
Dr. Kim, 52, became Dartmouth's president in July 2009. He is a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, where he launched an initiative to treat 3 million patients living with HIV. He holds a medical degree and a doctorate in anthropology, both from Harvard University, and an undergraduate degree from Brown University.
Other candidates for the World Bank job include Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former top World Bank official whose nomination was announced Friday, and Jeffrey Sachs, a prominent development economist at Columbia University who launched his own campaign for the job and has won endorsements from some smaller developing nations.
The White House's pick is nearly certain to become the next World Bank president after its current leader, Robert Zoellick, steps down as planned in late June after a five-year term.
The White House has selected the World Bank president since the institution was created in 1944 under an informal agreement with European nations, who pick the head of the International Monetary Fund. The combined shares of U.S. and European nations in each organization make it nearly impossible for a candidate from other nationalities to break the unwritten compact.
The World Bank's board, which represents its 187 member nations, plans to meet next week to consider nominations and issue a shortlist of three people to interview. It plans to make a final decision ahead of the bank's spring meeting next month.
The White House announcement came as the nominations window was set to close on Friday. The decision to wait until late in the process allowed other nations to discuss their own candidates, creating the first competitive race in the bank's history. But the delay also stoked criticism of the U.S. based on early reports of whom the White House was considering.
The U.S. shortlist included Lawrence Summers, a former World Bank chief economist who served as a top economic adviser to Obama, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Both officials are considered potential appointees in a second Obama administration, an administration official said Friday.
Dr. Kim, before heading to Dartmouth, led the global-health and social-medicine department at Harvard Medical School. At the World Health Organization, he focused on helping developing countries improve AIDS treatment and prevention programs. He has also worked on tuberculosis, including efforts to cut the cost of treatment and finding treatments for drug-resistant strains.
Since joining Dartmouth, Dr. Kim interacted with the Obama administration on several occasions.
In June 2011 he called Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "one of the great sons of Dartmouth" when he introduced the alumnus as part of a lecture series. In October, Dr. Kim attended the White House state dinner for South Korean president Lee Myung-bak. During his visit, he met with Geithner again and was seated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to Dartmouth's website.
Dr. Kim was known for wearing a green tie every day since becoming president of the school in 2009. He is the first physician to ever serve as head of the school.
This story first appeared on WSJ.com.Gerald F. Seib, David Wessel and Damian Paletta contributed to this article.