Social Sustainability and Safeguards

August 14, 2013


  • Social sustainability means responding better to local communities; ensuring responses are tailored to local country contexts; and promoting social inclusion, cohesion, and accountability.

Sustainable development requires balancing the needs of present and future generations and has become a rapidly growing global concern. Three critical factors - economic, ecological, and social/political - take a central place in discussions of growth and poverty reduction. Social sustainability is a critical aspect of achieving long-term development that significantly improves the lives of the world's poorest people

Social development adopts an approach that focuses on the need to "put people first" in development processes. Poor people's own voices tell us that poverty means more than simply low incomes - it is also about vulnerability, exclusion and isolation, unaccountable institutions, and powerlessness. As such, overcoming poverty is not just a matter of getting economic policies right, it is also about promoting social development, which empowers people by creating more inclusive, cohesive, and accountable institutions and societies.

The basic notion of sustainability refers to taking future generations into account while living with the awareness that our actions do have an impact on others and the world at large.

Social sustainability takes that larger worldview into consideration in relation to communities, culture, and globalization. When working on development projects, this means undertaking adequate social analysis and assessment, which in turn allows for adequate identification of social opportunities, as well as adequate mitigation of social impacts and risks, including through the proper application of the Bank's social safeguard policies.

Safeguards policies play an important role in enhancing positive outcomes of development projects - the "benefit" side of the equation. Several policies require meaningful consultation with, and participation by, affected people during the design, preparation, and implementation of Bank-financed projects. The appropriate implementation of the Bank's safeguard policies plays a central role in ensuring the effectiveness, sustainability, and positive development impact of its projects and programs.

Social safeguards policies on involuntary resettlement and indigenous peoples aim to promote inclusion of the most vulnerable groups and protect involuntarily displaced persons and indigenous peoples. These two policies can be used as entry points to address social issues involved in investment lending operations, and to mitigate and compensate adverse impacts on indigenous peoples and persons displaced by development projects.