Media Inquiries
Washington, D.C.

Colum Garrity

This page in:

Social Development Overview

Putting People First

Social Development focuses on the need to 'put people first' in development processes.  Poor people's voices tell us that poverty is more than low income - it is also about vulnerability, exclusion and isolation, unaccountable institutions, powerlessness, and aggravated exposure to violence.

Mainstreaming social sustainability involves addressing a comprehensive range of social opportunities, risks, and impacts that will ensure the social sustainability of the World Bank's development assistance. 


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 - 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.

Development experiences from client countries of both the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) have shown that overcoming poverty requires more than getting economic policies right. Many of these societies are torn by conflict, fragility and violence, or beset by inequality of opportunity based on gender, race, ethnicity or other factors. Governance problems such as corruption and lack of citizen voice and engagement afflict many societies and nations, undermining public participation in decisionmaking that affects communities’ futures.

There are several challenges affecting the World Bank’s client countries, such as: the issue of social inclusion, enabling the vulnerable and marginalized segments of society to have a say in defining their development paths; the increasing global consciousness of the challenge of climate action and its social dimensions; an increasing focus on the problems of "fragility" - of countries, states and societies - and the implications for poor people; increasing urbanization and its impact on developing societies; and revolutionary changes in information and communication technologies.

Social Development staff work with governments, communities, civil society and the private sector to help promote a state that is accessible, responsive and accountable to citizens.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

Social Development "puts people first." It stands for a bottom-up approach to development that brings voices of the poor and underprivileged into the otherwise top-down development process. It does this by making substantial evidence-based policy and program contributions through:

  • Undertaking better and more timely social and political risk analysis, including poverty and social impact analyses;
  • Mainstreaming fragility and conflict-sensitivity and responsiveness into analysis and operations;
  • Building a greater understanding of the resilience of communities and institutions to a range of natural and man-made shocks, be it economic crises, climate change, natural disasters or violent conflict;
  • Promoting gender differentiated social and economic empowerment programming for youth;
  • Strengthening links between citizens and their government representatives, and promoting more accountable government structures; one aspect of this agenda is the work on mainstreaming citizen engagement for enhanced impact in World Bank Group operations, which includes initial pilots in the Middle East, North Africa Region;
  • Empowering communities in rural and urban settings by transferring the control over development decisions and resources for poverty-reduction to the communities through the Community Driven Development (CDD) approach. In FY13, 41 new CDD projects were approved totaling $3.96 billion and as of end-December 2013, the active CDD portfolio consisted of 335 CDD projects totaling $18 billion;
  • Enhancing positive impacts, mitigating negative impacts, and managing social and political risks, including compliance with the Bank’s social safeguards policies on Indigenous Peoples and Involuntary Resettlement. As of end-FY13, 64 percent of Bank-wide active and pipeline projects triggered either OP 4.12 (Involuntary Resettlement) or OP 4.10 (Indigenous Peoples); and
  • Mainstreaming gender concerns and ensuring that operations are gender-informed. 
Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

As of mid-FY14, Social Development had an active operational portfolio of 29 projects totaling $2.7 billion, consisting mainly of projects that adopted the CDD approach.  The largest share of this portfolio is in the East Asia and Pacific Region, which had 13 projects, consisting of 73 percent of the overall Social Development portfolio. Examples of results in operations include:

  • The first stand-alone citizen security investment project was approved by the World Bank in December 2012. The Honduran Safer Municipalities Project (US$15 million credit) is designed to improve the capacity of national and local governments in violence prevention. 
  • Two new CDD projects were approved by the Board in December 2012 in Indonesia -- US$650 million towards the ongoing National Program for Community Empowerment in Rural Areas (PNPM Rural 2012-2015), and US$266 million towards the Fourth National Program for Community Empowerment in Urban Areas. PNPM-Rural is one of the world’s largest community-based poverty reduction programs, covering over 64,000 villages. PNPM programs have had significant impacts in terms of poverty-reduction, including an increase in household expenditures among the poor by an average of 11 percent, benefitting approximately 45 million poor people. 
  • The Myanmar National Community Driven Development Project, the first operation in Myanmar, was approved by the World Bank in November 2012 (US$80 million IDA grant).  The project supports the government's shift to a "people-centered" approach to development by enabling poor rural communities to benefit from improved access to, and use of, basic infrastructure and services.
  • The Second Azerbaijan Rural Investment Project approved in July 2012 (IDA US$30 million) follows on a successful earlier project (AzRIP) which was designed to improve living standards through improving community rural infrastructure. It supported the rehabilitation of critical infrastructure in over 300 poor rural communities across the country reaching over 1.7 million beneficiaries.   
  • The Morocco National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) was launched in 2005 with the objectives of combating social and economic exclusion and improving the living conditions of poor and vulnerable groups through enhanced economic opportunities, better access to basic services and improved governance. INDH is based on local participatory governance and community-driven development (CDD) principles, and incorporates core values of inclusiveness, accountability and transparency. The first phase of INDH (2007-2010) was supported through a $100 million sector-wide project during which more than 22,000 sub-projects were financed, reaching over 5 million beneficiaries. INDH-2, the first Bank-wide Program for Results operation was launched in June 2011 and is the largest ever loan to Morocco of US$300 million. INDH-2 expanded the target population, geographic scope and resource allocation.

In 2012, the World Bank began a two-year process to update and consolidate the Bank’s policy framework for social sustainability and safeguards. The first phase of global consultations with staff, shareholders, and a wide range of external stakeholders was completed in May 2013. Consultations included 65 meetings in 30 countries, across all regions, with over 1,800 stakeholders sharing their views and recommendations for modernizing the safeguard policies, along with recommendations regarding specific policies, with a strong emphasis on Involuntary Resettlement, Environmental Assessment, and Indigenous Peoples. The next steps in the consultation process include drafting the components of the Integrated Framework and the second round of global consultations will begin in 2014.

37 Social Development knowledge products were produced in FY13, including the Flagship Study on Social Inclusion, ‘Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity’ which was launched during the Annual Meetings in 2013.  Work is ongoing on a flagship report on social accountability, which will be completed in 2014. The report will explore how social accountability impacts on state-society relationship, and how this impact is mediated by various contextual factors. In FY13, gender issues were integrated into 100 percent of Social Development projects putting the sector ahead of other sectors in terms of the attention it pays to gender.

Given the persistent challenges of poverty and widening inequality, with the poor increasingly found in middle-income countries as well as in fragile states, the Social Development principles of inclusion, cohesion, resilience and accountability will continue to be integrated across the institution: at the country level – through diagnostics and programming work; across the World Bank’s portfolio – in its development policy and investment lending alike; and through analytical work exploring key social sustainability challenges.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

Around The Bank Group

Find out what the Bank Group's branches are doing on Social Development.