Jim Yong Kim: Continuing to accomplish the impossible

By Anjali Sastry and Rebecca Weintraub

In 2007, we met Dr Jim Yong Kim as he gathered faculty across Harvard and MIT to envision a new field of study in Global Health Delivery. Dr Kim already had an astounding record to build on: a practicing physician and medical anthropologist, he’d put his smarts to practical use as an early partner of Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Todd McCormack, and Thomas White in building and then continuing to lead and shape the much-admired Partners In Health. Through the years, he has been an inspiring leader, visionary strategist, and highly effective manager who oversaw the growth and development of PIH. An early and enduring insight from PIH’s hard-won experience was that healthcare delivery could only generate value when accompanied by critical, targeted investments in human resource development, infrastructure, and the diffusion of knowledge.

Dr Kim studied and designed health care delivery, always in connection with economic development and increasing equity. With his colleagues at PIH, Dr Kim provided care for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in the poorest neighborhoods in Peru, then took the evidence of its effectiveness to policy-makers, industry, and the global community. The ensuing international response drove down costs and greatly increased access to service delivery.

Dr. Kim then accomplished the impossible at the World Health Organization: this time it was via an ambitious global campaign to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment. Capitalizing on a management insight–that stretch goals, such as rapidly getting 3 million people onto previously unavailable AIDS treatment–Dr. Kim led a WHO campaign that reached his goal by 2007. The stretch goal served its purpose excellently; as the Guardian‘s Sarah Boseley recently pointed out, now the number of people on treatment is closing in on 7 million.

After Dr Kim returned to Harvard,  MIT Sloan School of Management invited him to lecture in its Dean’s Innovative Leader Series. As his talk on bridging the health delivery gap made clear, Dr Kim had management and leadership lessons to offer. The conversation that day inspired MIT Sloan to create ghdLAB, an ongoing effort that pairs academic teaching and research with field work aimed at implementation. Working alongside the leaders and managers of organizations at the front lines of healthcare delivery, ghdLAB takes on the practical management challenges that most limit enterprises’ ability to deliver more and better healthcare. This work has been addressing the implementation gap that Dr. Kim described so compellingly and is demonstrating why management tools, leadership qualities, and systems thinking are the necessary complements to medical knowledge and financial investment. This sets the agenda for our own research into healthcare delivery.

The Global Heath Delivery Project was cofounded by Dr Kim and Harvard Business School’s Professor Michael Porter. At its core is a new vision for sharing learning and advancing practice by creating Harvard Business School style case studies to train the next generation of managers in global health delivery. Public goods are being created as implementers seek counsel from experts via GHDonline.org‘s online virtual professional communities. To take these ideas further, in his three years as president of Dartmouth Dr Kim has articulated his vision of a new science of healthcare delivery. Today a growing number of innovative efforts are taking on his call for a rigorous and interdisciplinary new field of study and practice.

Over the years, we’ve seen Dr Kim at work as leader and strategist, marshaling creativity, ideas, skills, and knowledge in business, economics, and development in order to deliver–more effectively than ever before–needed services, goods, and knowledge to communities that are too often ignored. Now that he’s nominated to the presidency of the World Bank, we agree with others: it’s an inspired choice. Dr Kim has delivered results, and he’s done so in innovative, effective, and collaborative new ways. If so much has been accomplished in healthcare delivery, there is much more that can be done when its lessons are applied to poverty reduction and development.


Anjali Sastry, PhD, is Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management where she directs ghdLAB; she is also Lecturer, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Rebecca Weintraub, MD, is the Executive Director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard University and an Associate Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Global Health Equity.

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