Jomo Kwame Sundaram (born 11 December 1952), known as Jomo, is a prominent Malaysian economist. He holds the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia, and is Visiting Senior Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute, Visiting Fellow at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, and Adjunct Professor at the International Islamic University, Malaysia.
He served as the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) during 2005–2012, and then as Assistant Director-General and Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome during 2012–2015. He was also Research Coordinator for the G24 Intergovernmental Group on International Monetary Affairs and Development during 2006–2012. During 2008–2009, he served as adviser to Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, President of the 63rd United Nations General Assembly, and as a member of the [Stiglitz] Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System.
Jomo is a leading scholar and expert on the political economy of development, especially in Southeast Asia, who has authored or edited over a hundred books and translated 12 volumes besides writing many academic papers and articles for the media. He is on the editorial boards of several learned journals. He was founder chair of International Development Economics Associates (IDEAs), and sat on the Board of the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva. He has received several honours and awards for his work including the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.
Before joining the UN, Jomo was already widely recognized as an outspoken intellectual, with unorthodox non-partisan views. Before the Asian financial crisis in 1997–98, Jomo was an early advocate of appropriate new capitalaccount management measures, which then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad later introduced. When then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act, Jomo publicly condemned the repression. In late 1998, he was sued for defamation for 250 million ringgit by Vincent Tan, a Mahathir era billionaire, who later dropped the case after almost a decade.
Named after two African anti-colonial leaders, Jomo was born in Penang, Malaysia, soon after the first Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta was incarcerated by the British in late 1952 and years after the first Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah served as Secretary of the Pan-African Congress. He spent his early years studying at Westlands Primary School (1959–63), the Penang Free School (1964–66) and the Royal Military College (1967–70), when he was selected as Malaysia’s delegate to the World Youth Forum in 1970.
After graduating cum laude from Yale with a major in economics, Jomo went to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and received his MPA in 1974, before returning to teach in Malaysia at the Science University of Malaysia(USM). Jomo then returned to Harvard to complete his doctorate in late 1977 while teaching at Yale, after earlier teaching stints at Harvard during 1974 and 1975 in the Economics Department, the Social Studies program and the Kennedy Institute of Politics. In mid-1982, Jomo moved to the University of Malaya, where he remained until 2004. He was a British Academy Visiting Professor and later Visiting Fellow at Cambridge (1987–88, 1991–92), Fulbright Visiting Professor at Cornell University (1993) and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2004).
Jomo was Founder Director of the independent Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN) (1978–2004), editor of the monthly bilingual magazine, Nadi Insan (Human Pulse) (1979–1983), President of the Malaysian Social Science Association (1996–2000) and Convenor of the first and second International Malaysian Studies Conventions (1997, 1999). He was Founder Chair (2001–2004) of International Development Economics Associates and has also served on the Board of the United Nations Research Institute on Social Development, Geneva.
Jomo was also a member of the National Economic Consultative Council during 1989–1991 when he worked on post-New Economic Policy or post-1990 policy reform proposals. Since the 1970s, he has worked with government ministries, business organisations, trade unions, and civil society organisations. Since the 1980s, he has also worked with many international organisations.
From January 2005 until August 2012, Jomo served as Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and (Honorary) Research Coordinator for the G24 Intergovernmental Group on International Monetary Affairs and Development since December 2006. He also led the response to the 2005 Summit call to help Member States develop national development strategies to achieve the internationally agreed development goals while promoting their greater coherence as the United Nations Development Agenda. Jomo has tried to ensure greater UN system-wide collaboration in report preparation including the annual World Economic and Social Survey and biennial Report on the World Social Situation.
Together with the Bank of International Settlements, the UN and the G24 – under his leadership – have been acknowledged as the only international organisations who warned of the impending 2007–2009 crisis. In response to the crisis, he initiated the UN system-wide supplementary Macroeconomic Advisory Capacity to offer ‘second opinions’ on appropriate policy responses emphasising economic recovery and employment generation, served as a member of the [Stiglitz] Commission of Experts of the President of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System during 2008–2009, and led a parallel effort for the G24 to articulate international financial system reform proposals.
From 2010 until he departed UN DESA, he served as the G20 ‘sherpa’ for the UN Secretary General besides serving as G20 ‘Finance Deputy’ for the UN since 2011. In these different capacities, he has worked to build an international consensus to ensure UN system-wide coherence, complementary economic and social policies for balanced and sustainable development, appropriate investment incentives, employment generation and, more recently, a strong and sustained economic recovery.
Jomo has addressed ministerial meetings of UNCTAD, most UN regional commissions, Funds and Programmes, several UN agencies as well as ECOSOC and the General Assembly’s Second, Third and Fifth Committees as well as the World Economic Forum (Davos), Global Policy Forum (Yaroslavl), World Public Forum (Rhodos), World Social Forum (Porto Alegre) and many academic, business and civil society conferences.
His extensive writings have covered development economics, international economics, industrial policy, privatisation, rent-seeking corruption, economic liberalisation, economic distribution, affirmative action, ethnic relations, Islam, and Malaysian history. Jomo has authored or edited over a hundred books and translated a dozen volumes besides writing many academic papers and articles for the media. Some of his better known books include A Question of Class, Privatizing Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s Misunderstood Miracle, Tigers in Trouble, Malaysia’s Political Economy, Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development, Malaysian Eclipse, The New Development Economics, Flat World, Big Gaps, Reforming the International Financial System for Development, Poor Poverty and Good Governance for What? In 2007, he was awarded the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.
Jomo is married to Felice Noelle Rodriguez; they have three children: Nadia (born 1987), Emil (born 1989) and Leal (born 1990). His father Shree Kaliana Sundaram died in February 1974 after a distinguished military record in Europe, Africa and Asia during the Second World War and subsequent civic activism including the independence, cooperative and labour movements. His mother Chua Sock Liang died in December 2010. After retiring from two decades working in a home and school for blind children, she volunteered for women’s support groups and supported Jomo’s advocacy work.