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FEATURE STORY

CSOs Roundtable with World Bank Executive Directors

April 29, 2014


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The Spring Meetings Civil Society Roundtable with Executive Directors was held on Tuesday April 8, 2014.  These policy discussions have been held since 2011 and are geared to promoting policy dialogue on a wide range of issues between World Bank Group Executive Directors (EDs) and Civil Society Organization (CSO) representatives attending the Spring and Annual Meetings. Some 120 CSO representatives participated, together with 12 Executive Directors (or Alternates) and Advisors from the following countries: Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Netherland, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, and the United States. Topics covered during the meeting included human rights, the ongoing safeguards review, inclusion of sexual minorities, and the impacts of several specific WBG-funded projects.  The roundtable was chaired by Mr. Merza Hasan (ED for Kuwait and other Middle East countries and Dean of the Board) and Victoria Tauli Corpuz (Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research / TEBTEBBA in the Philippines).  Two discussants were asked to make initial comments: Ms. Sara Aviel (Alternate ED for the United States), and Mr. Collins Magalasi (Executive Director of the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development / AFRODAD in Zimbabwe).

Mr. Hasan opened the meeting by welcoming the participants, introducing the EDs, and reiterating how important this policy dialogue is for informing EDs on CSO concerns and ideas for improving the development effectiveness of the WBG investments.  He provided an update on efforts by ED offices to enhance their websites in response to a letter received from numerous CSOs.  He also announced that a new web platform is being introduced that will make it easier for ED offices to share information on staff and policy positions.  Ms. Corpuz followed by thanking the EDs for their participation and expressed her appreciation for continuing practice of meeting with CSOs during the Spring and Annual Meetings. She noted that such a candid exchange of views and ideas helps to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of CSOs to engage with the WBG, as well as improve their role in promoting sustainable development at both the country and global levels.

Ms. Aviel spoke next and emphasized that the WBG’s new Citizens Engagement framework is a key priority for the institution as it has the potential to be a transformative tool in terms of improving development outcomes and increasing governments’ accountability to their citizens.  She also spoke about the significant steps being taken to reform the WBG in terms of organizational structure, budgeting, and staffing in order to better position it to meet its dual goals of ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Mr. Magalasi noted that he has been engaging the WBG for many years and has noticed steady improvements in the quality of the dialogue with civil society, as well as with some of its accountability instruments such as the Inspection Panel. He mentioned several ongoing projects in Guatemala, India, and Kenya which are being perceived by CSOs as having negative impacts on local populations and/or the environment and expressed hope that this meeting would allow for a fruitful dialogue on them. He emphasized that CSOs would also be interested in understanding better how the WBG uses staff incentives to promote improved results and what the impact has been of IFC’s growing tendency to use financial intermediaries to promote development.

When the floor was opened for discussion, CSO representatives brought up a number of issues. Several CSO representatives asked the EDs about the ongoing safeguards review process, and whether the World Bank would incorporate human rights and gender equity into its updated standards. Another asked about whether the revised safeguard standards would strengthen the Bank’s work in the areas of forest conservation and climate change in such places as Indonesia. Several CSO representatives brought up the issues of accessibility and affordability associated with IFC-funded private sector water projects in the Philippines and India. An LGBT activist asked what steps the WBG was taken to address growing levels of homophobia in some countries and whether it was ready to include sexual minorities in its policies on social inclusion. Several questions were also raised about why the IFC continues to support the expansion of India’s Tata Mundra Power Plant project when there is evidence of performance standards violations and harm being experienced by local fishing communities.


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The EDs were called on by the ED co-Chair to respond to the various questions depending on their geographic area of responsibility and thematic expertise. They generally thanked the CSOs for the incisive questions and noted that the WBG does indeed make mistakes sometimes but that it has gotten better at identifying these and taken corrective steps.  On the other hand, several EDs reminded the audience that the mission of the WBG is to address chronic poverty and promote needed reforms, which involve both risks and opportunities.  For this reason, the Bank is open-minded about different developmental approaches to be taken such as public-private partnerships depending on the desired development goals and country context.  It will continue to support all kinds of governmental and private sector projects as long as they are cost effective, environmentally sustainable, and reach their development goals. In this regard, another ED noted the positive contribution CSOs can make by providing the Bank with real time information and data on the local impacts, positive and negative, of high-risk projects.

On the issue of the safeguards review, several EDs reiterated the Bank’s commitment to not dilute the safeguards as they have become a hallmark of the WBG’ quality standards, while at the same time trying to update and streamline them. The Bank needs to continue to work in difficult settings to address complex problems and thus its safeguards standards also need to be practical and enforceable.  Another ED noted that while the WBG supports gender equity, adding a ‘gender’ safeguard policy may not be the best way to promote this goal and there are other instruments which can be more practically used to mainstream gender in Bank operations.   Another ED noted that social inclusion, including the rights of sexual minorities, plays an important role in helping the WBG achieve its dual goals. In addition, it is important to improve the capacity of CSOs to work in this area and to constructively engage governments around this issue. On the issue of the Tata Mundra project several EDs thanked the CSOs for the detailed information they provided and noted that the IFC is working to implement an Action Plan which will address the concerns raised by the local population.

Mr. Hasan closed the meeting by thanking everyone for a substantive, frank, and productive discussion.  Ms. Corpus agreed and added that perhaps we should consider extending the meeting longer next time as not all CSO participants were able to comment or ask questions.

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