FEATURE STORY

Record Number of Executive Directors Engage with CSOs during the Spring Meetings

May 26, 2015


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The Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Roundtable with Executive Directors (EDs) has become a highly anticipated event at the bi-annual Civil Society Policy Forum. Twice a year, against the backdrop of the Spring and Annual Meetings, civil society representatives from around the world meet face to face with World Bank Executive Directors to discuss the issues they find the most pressing and mutually relevant. It is an important opportunity for those at the helm of the World Bank Group to engage directly with CSOs.

This year, 23 EDs and/or their Alternates, more than ever before, participated in the session co-chaired by Merza Hasan, Dean of the Board and Lindsay Coates, Vice President of InterAction – a coalition of 160 human rights organizations, who moderated the session. What ensued was a candid discussion that did not avoid even the most sensitive topical issues dominating CSO advocacy, and was a testament to the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years to increase engagement between the World Bank Group and Civil Society.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Hasan laid out the opportunities and challenges for development that lie ahead in 2015 and beyond. He stated that continued cooperation between the World Bank and Civil Society would be critical to facing them head on.  “Your feedback actually keeps us improving our ability, improving our operations and our development [progress].  So, that’s why it’s very important for us as a Board to have this feedback from you, and have this engagement [in order] to reach our goal, which is eradicating poverty and increasing shared prosperity,” he said.

Prior to opening the discussion, Lindsay Coates called for CSO contributions within the frame of three overarching themes: (1) The Bank’s efforts to mitigate negative impacts of its work and practices; 92) What the institution is doing to frame its work for maximum impact; (3) Emerging issues.

CSOs kicked off their intervention with recommendations that included a call on the World Bank to recognize and protect human rights, especially through the revised Environmental and Social Framework currently being drafted – a topic that remained of clear interest throughout the discussions.

EDs emphasized the importance, but also the challenges inherent in designing safeguards that went beyond “doing no harm” to “maximizing the good”, and stressed the World Bank’s commitment to working with CSOs to try and get it right.


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A number of CSOs expressed concerns about the Bank’s lending to governments with questionable human rights records, including countries that discriminate against LGBT groups. Several EDs said that they took these concerns seriously and highlighted some of the work that the World Bank was doing in the space of human rights within the parameters of its remit. One ED said that one of the Bank’s aims was to create a space for citizens to generate change from the inside. And another noted that the best way to change attitudes was to provide an evidence basis showing that discrimination against marginal groups has adverse effects on economic development.  The ED pointed to the Bank’s newly developed systematic country diagnostic tool as a means of applying such pressure and providing the evidence base to support the premise that discrimination is bad for development.

CSO representatives also talked about the growing importance of data and technology in development and how these tools are increasingly supporting improved access to information. Both EDs and CSOs stressed the need for more open data, which was still lacking in many countries, and both sides agreed that the Bank could play a leadership role in encouraging governments and NGOs to share information in the shared interest of better development outcomes.

On Citizen Engagement more generally, one ED noted that a particularly exciting area that the Bank was moving into was beneficiary feedback.  He said that while it wouldn’t always be easy to identify and involve project beneficiaries, there were a lot of exciting developments in the area and called on civil society to be closely involved in helping the Bank create the tools needed.  He added that beneficiary feedback would give the Bank a real opportunity to involve project affected people beyond initial consultations and was critical to making sure that projects were adapting to needs as they went along.

Other topics discussed included the Ebola response, with one CSO representative asking if the World Bank Group planned to play a role in creating the Ebola Multi-donor Trust Fund an issue that was subsequently addressed in the Development Committee communique. There were also dialogue about the Bank’s work in Fragile and Conflict - affected States, private sector engagement, gender and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.  Several EDs emphasized their commitment to the implementation of strong environmental and social safeguards, and encouraged CSOs present to keep engaging and promoting constructive dialogue on this topic.

In closing remarks, Mr. Hasan noted the open and frank discussion with the over 200 CSO representatives, a mark of the continued progress in engagement between the Bank and external stakeholders. Lindsay Coates wrapped up the meeting by thanking the ED’s for opening themselves up to this kind of conversation, saying that she was “… proud of the range and thoughtfulness of interventions…” and noting that “It will make all of us more effective and stronger”.

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