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Jung Ho Kim

The multiplicity of fairness

A lawyer by background and (early on) a financial adviser by profession, Jung Ho Kim has carved out a career dedicated to the public sector, putting a premium on multiple skills, and along the way, demonstrating that being just can be done in various forms.

October 2018
Updated: December 2022

When Jung Ho Kim was about 13 or 14, a budding teenager growing up in a strict household in Seoul, he read a book for adults.


The book was not the controversial kind, but it did pique his interest. It was a story about fairness and lawyers helping those who cannot afford legal fees, providing their service as pro bono, and doing good things for the poor. He said, “I thought I could be like that, to do something for the poor. This is why I studied law.”

This senior urban development specialist for the Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division (CWUW) has two law degrees. He immersed himself into studying the civil law system, common law system, and even German law. However, the legal extent of his 20-year-long career was relatively short, working as a corporate lawyer. The ongoing IMF bailout in the country lured him into the world of international investment banking. He worked with Macquarie and Koomin Bank, before he moved to ADB.

Jung Ho started with the Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) and later on switched to the Operations Services Financial Management Department (OSFMD), until he finally became part of CWUW.

Asked about his 10 years of service for international development and he said: “I like development work because I feel like I’m doing a good job as a human being. I’m proud to do our mandate, to good for the poor, to improve systems, and to let people live well.”

It as if he has come full circle, fulfilling that young teenage dream spurred on by his book. “That’s right,” he added, as it dawned on him what it meant. “Finally I can say the dream I had to be a lawyer was realized as an ADB staff. Now I’m in the right direction, reaching that destination.”

Prior to the interview, in his own words, Jung Ho shared his own reflection. The following is an excerpt:  

“Today’s multilateral bank’s business landscape gets more and more complex. I have developed my career based on the principle that staff with multiple skills and broad experiences can do more things and are more valuable to the organization. In total, I have about 20 years of broad professional experiences in private and public sector urban infrastructure project development and implementation including around 10 years working experience in ADB.

I have progressed through different position titles [and these have] provided me with valuable opportunities to acquire rich theoretical and practical experiences in urban infrastructure, energy and transport sector projects.

With PSOD and OSFMD, I led and contributed to the development and implementation of power plant construction projects using the public private partnership modality (PPP), preparation of ADB’s four standard bidding documents, improvement of procurement-related policies and rules, ADB’s Consultant Management System (CMS) system enhancement, and development of new documents and standard templates.

[Currently], I am tasked to process and implement five municipal infrastructure development projects of which the main targets are establishment and rehabilitation of water supply and wastewater management systems as a team leader and deputy leader to deliver the best possible public utility services in Georgia and Uzbekistan.”

In ADB, they care more about the social effect and development impact. That made me interested, and to keep my eyes open to other risks I never looked at before… I appreciate how they focus and care more about other aspects than just the financial alone.

Jung Ho Kim
Senior Urban Development Specialist 
Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division

Why did you decide to join ADB?


Jung Ho:  I was already working with ADB even prior to joining as staff. At that time [when I was with Koomin Bank], ADB, IFC, and the other commercial and investment banks used to be invited for syndicated loan projects. I almost joined IFC in Hong Kong, but it was a coincidence that I got the call from both IFC and ADB. I was lucky and they just asked me to provide my CV.


What made you choose ADB over IFC?


Jung Ho: The work in IFC Hong Kong was somewhat different, more on syndicated loans. The function is similar to that of OCO [Office of Cofinancing Operations] in 2008. OCO, at that time, even arranges syndication loans for non-sovereign loans, a function that has been transferred to PSOD. For me, rather than doing this kind of function, I wanted to dive into working with real projects. That’s why I chose ADB.


You’ve been with ADB for about 10 years now, exposed to different departments from procurement to infrastructure.


Jung HoYes, I think that’s what I did so far, discovering new things. I’m always looking for something new. As I mentioned, in ADB I wanted to do this public sector job, so I was asked to check with all directors if there’s any person who wanted to accept me. Everyone said probably not as I may not know enough about the public sector. Now I understand. It’s a totally different job! That’s why to do that, I needed to go through and find a job where I can get more used to it. At that time, OSFMD was really the perfect job for me to tackle.


Why are you interested in the public sector and working on urban development?


Jung Ho: When I was a financial adviser, I was involved with Songdo City, contributing to the layout of the city. I was attracting foreign investments and domestic investments together, mostly banks and equity, to put their money to construct this city. The government reclaimed the land and sold the land as lots to each individual investor. From the beginning, in the lots, we would take into account what the city will look like. We called it Ubi-Quarters then, meaning everywhere we go we’re using a cellphone to do everything. It would be ubiquitous. For example, if you want to park the car, what parking lot is available? Or as the car nears the house, automatically the air-con and lights would be turned on in your home.


That sounds exciting, to build a city from scratch. 


Jung Ho:  That was really a good experience for me. Of course, there are other infrastructure projects I did. But as you know the difference between public and private sector here is somewhat different. My experience is the private sector seeks an opportunity when they believe and see the clear picture of how much they would get from a project and what’s the risk going to be like, and so on.

On the other hand, here in ADB, the risk relating to financial capacity – the amount of profits and revenues, repayment risks, or credit risks such as when lending a loan, the borrower has to be assessed whether they can pay back the principal and interest – is not as critical. What ADB really cares about are the technical risk, legal risk… ADB with its sovereign loans will carry the obligation of providing a sovereign guarantee from the country. In short, the two sectors are quite different.

Initially, I thought about this financial risk, political risk, and other risks that may affect repayment all the time; because I was used to the private sector caring only about the money. Here, they care more about the social effect and development impact. That made me interested, and to keep my eyes open to other risks I never looked at before. Of course, private sector also has corporate social responsibility, but normally they will check first before they decide to move in and inject their money. They find a way to mitigate the risk. So with ADB I learn a lot and appreciate how they focus and care more about other aspects than just the financial alone.


ADB is making a push for smart and livable cities. What can DMCs learn from the Songdo experience or what can they replicate?


Jung Ho: I think they should not create a city for the sake of amenity or to show off. They need to build a city where people can live well and better, and that could be replicated in their country, rather than showing a model city to foreign countries. Smart city for developing member countries all depends on the level of city development. Not all smart cities should be identical. They should be looking at the country, the reality, or the extent of what they can accommodate or develop. Another lesson is a city cannot be built in a day or two. It takes a long time and the vision at the beginning is important, like in Songdo.

You recently organized a workshop on PPP and smart technologies for the water sector in Uzbekistan. Is knowledge management essential for your work?

Jung Ho: Unlike the private sector we are not profit-driven, so any knowledge we have we need to disseminate and share with people so they will be able to know what to choose and do. They should have the final decision on how to build their cities, not us.

When we’re talking about projects, ADB usually provides a loan. But the loan, if you think about it, is their money. I think all our activities are to help them decide optimal options. What’s the economic way to use this money? What are the business models that will ensure financial and technical sustainability? That’s why I like to do events, and also capacity building activities and training programs focusing on hands-on work, so our clients can work on the field in a better and more efficient way.

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