Barack Obama has nominated Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim to be head of the World Bank, in a surprise move revealed Friday.
Kim, a US national who was born in the South Korean capital, Seoul, and raised in Iowa, is a physician by training and a prominent figure in the global health world.
Kim became Dartmouth's president in July 2009 and is a former director of the department of HIV/Aids at the World Health Organization. The job more usually goes to someone with wider economic and political experience.
Flanked by two other once-rumoured candidates, secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Treasury secretary Geithner, Obama praised Kim's work on HIV/Aids and his experience of working in countries around the world.
"Jim has truly global experience," that makes him "ideally suited" to lead the World Bank, said Obama. "I do not think that the World Bank could have a better nominee."
US officials have been facing a backlash over the World Bank nomination, which has traditionally gone to an American citizen. Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and one of Obama's top economic advisers, had been seen as a frontrunner.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia university in New York and an adviser to the UN secretary general, had also thrown his hat into the ring, and had been backed by the governments of Kenya, Malaysia, Jordan, and East Timor.
After the news of Obama's choice became public on Friday, Sachs tweeted: "Jim Kim is a superb nominee for WB. I support him 100%. I thank all who supported me and know they'll be very pleased with today's news."
Clinton and Geithner had apparently ruled themselves out of contention.
Summers was not a popular choice among many of the World Bank's developing country members.
The World Bank job has always gone to an American candidate. Its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, has always been headed by a European.
After the resignation of Dominique Strauss Kahn as head of the IMF, developing countries pushed for a non-Euroean replacement. But the US and Europeans quickly rallied behind France's Christine Lagarde.
The US still needs Europe onside on side to secure their nomination but after the US backed Lagarde for the IMF job, that support is all but guaranteed. Obama will travel to South Korea Friday, where he is likely to press for support among Asian World Bank members.
David Blanchflower, Bruce V Rauner professor of economics at Dartmouth College, said the nomination looked politically astute on Obama's part. "He would be the first person at the World Bank with development experience and the fact that Jeremy Sachs is 100% behind him is very positive. He's also non-white, non-Wasp and he's not Larry Summers."
Blanchflower said Kim was "extremely smart and dynamic. The only issue might be that he is not an economist and after all this is a bank", he said. But Blanchflower said that given his expertise in other areas and the backing he is likely to receiove from Europe, south Asia and the US, his nomination looked fairly secure.
Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and a former IMF chief economist, said it was a very smart appointment. "If you go to the World Bank headquarters in Washington, there is a very moving statute depicting someone afflicted by river blindness. That's a disease that the World Bank has been working to eradicate. I think it's time to make a real push on public health, which is also part of the bank's mandate."
Johnson said he was far less concerned about Kim's lack of economic qualifications.