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World Bank Leader Says Investing In Children Is Critical For All

Amy Mayer/IPR
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who grew up in Iowa, spoke during the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines Thursday.

The annual Borlaug Dialogue, a week-long celebration of global food and agriculture in conjunction with the World Food Prize, is underway in Des Moines.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who grew up in Muscatine, said today when he first went to the World Bank, economists there were reluctant to give cash assistance to help people out of poverty. But he said that has changed. Now, they see that offering both money and services, like education and healthcare, can lift children out of poverty.

"The difference now is that it's not just a moral argument, it's not just a nutrition argument," Kim said. "It's an argument about the fundamental stability of societies and, actually, the world."

The future for many countries will require more skilled workers, Kim said. Unskilled farm jobs and light manufacturing will give way to more technologically challenging work. He said children need early nutrition and education to prepare them for the learning required to fill those jobs. Rich countries  and organizations like his need to invest in babies and the very young, Kim said.

"The point we’re making," Kim said, "is if you don't do that, the refugee crises that we've seen could pale in comparison to what we see in the future, with so many young people coming onto the job market unable to compete."

The Borlaug Dialogue brings farmers, scientists, and advocates from around the world to Des Moines.

The World Food Prize is awarded in a lavish ceremony at the Iowa Statehouse. This year's winners spoke earlier this week on Iowa Public Radio's River to River.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames