Social Development: Sector Results Profile

April 14, 2013


About 420 students attend school at the Kalbajar School #56 in the Masazy settlement in Absheron Region. The World Bank has been helping to improve living conditions and education opportunities of internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan.

Allison Kwesell/World Bank

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, resilient, and accountable institutions and societies. The World Bank integrates the principles of social development into its lending.


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 decision-making that affects communities’ futures.

The World Bank’s client countries face several challenges in this area, including creating social inclusion that enables the vulnerable and marginalized segments of society to have a say in defining their development paths; dealing with climate change and its social dimensions; 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 work at the World Bank aims to strengthen the understanding and analytical underpinnings for inclusive, cohesive, resilient, and accountable institutions. 


The World Bank's work in social development supports measures for poor, excluded, and vulnerable women and men to have equal access to opportunities and to contribute to social and economic progress and share in its rewards. Addressing common needs, overcoming constraints, and giving consideration to diverse interests helps maintain cohesion and prevents conflict. The Bank also supports community organization and empowerment to demand more effective, efficient, responsive, and transparent public institutions and service providers. This approach helps communities confront a range of negative trends and shocks whether economic, political, or environmental. 

To meet these challenges, the World Bank is 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;
  • 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;
  • Strengthening links between citizens and their government representatives and promoting more responsive and responsible government structures;
  • Empowering communities through control over development decisions and resources for poverty-reduction through the community-driven development (CDD) approach;
  • 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; and 
  • Mainstreaming gender concerns and ensuring that operations are gender-informed.


One of IDA and IBRD’s main contributions in recent years has been in bringing greater attention to socially sustainable development that supports inclusive, cohesive, resilient and accountable institutions. A key element in informing this engagement has been high-quality social analysis. At the global level, social analysis underpins the Bank’s understanding of processes of social and political change that cross borders, including migration, conflict, and the social impacts of climate change. At the national level, this analysis helps to understand and identify the key socio-political barriers to sustainable poverty reduction. At the local level, it ensures that poor people benefit as much as possible from Bank-financed projects and policies.

Some social development projects funded by IBRD and IDA include:

Global Program on Forced Displacement: The GFPD has contributed to supporting enhanced knowledge and operations in the Europe and Central Asia region. GFPD provided technical advice and support on a study in Azerbaijan on internally displaced peoples and livelihoods undertaken in order to provide qualitative and quantitative data on poverty, living conditions and economic opportunities of internally displaced peoples. This study contributed to the design of a new $50 million IDA-financed operation in fiscal year FY12, the Azerbaijan IDP Living Conditions and Livelihoods Project, which aims to improve the living conditions and the economic self-reliance of internally displaced peoples.  

Regional Centers of Excellence in Social Development: To strengthen institutional capacity in client countries for addressing social sustainability issues in a comprehensive way, which goes beyond complying with safeguards policies and impact mitigation to identifying social risks and enhancing potential benefits, Regional Centers of Excellence in Social Development (RCESD) have been established. The RCESDs support local institutions in Bangladesh, China, Colombia, India and Uganda that are engaged in capacity building for social development in client countries through policy dialogue, analytical work, training, and consulting services, while in Latin America, a Practitioners Course on Involuntary Resettlement has been developed and is being integrated into university continuing education programs.   

Country Social Analyses: CSAs identify key social and political factors affecting a country's prospects for poverty reduction and development, and can inform Bank-financed operations and dialogue with government in several ways. In 2011, the findings of a CSA conducted in Moldova identified the exclusion of vulnerable groups (Roma, the long-term unemployed, small town residents and the disabled) as key social development issues. These findings fed into the Country Partnership Strategy Progress Report for the period FY09-FY13, adopted in May 2011. 

REDD+: Sharing benefits with local communities and other stakeholders is a critical prerequisite for equitable initiatives under REDD+, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. Analysis conducted by the World Bank on the main components and criteria of sustainable benefit-sharing regimes has informed REDD+ operations in Africa, both at the policy and project levels. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, technical assistance on different vertical and horizontal benefit-sharing options was instrumental for the integration of equity concerns into Forest Carbon Partnership Facility readiness planning. In Madagascar, the Ankeniheny Zahamena Corridor REDD BioCarbon Fund project is developing a comprehensive benefit-sharing agreement with different local communities in the vicinity of the corridor. Both projects aim to offer forest-dependent peoples the opportunity to share revenues and other benefits generated from emission reductions and provide rewards for custodial activities.

Some examples of results of projects using social development themes achieved with IDA support include:

Vietnam: The Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project (US$222.5 million with additional financing of US$160 million, a Specific Investment Loan), was launched in 2004 to alleviate poverty in urban areas by improving the living and environmental conditions of the urban poor using a CDD approach with participatory planning methods, and influencing planning processes so they become more inclusive and pro-poor. The project supported improved tenure security and access to basic services in four cities for the low-income households.  As of August 2012, approximately 2 million low-income residents had benefitted from neighborhood upgrading (increased water access to 232,000 people; upgraded drainage and sewerage serving more than 1,360,000 people; improved access to electricity for about 420,000 people; along with improvements to large numbers of community centers and kindergartens). The corresponding primary infrastructure improvements are expected to benefit at least 2 million people. More than 50,000 housing improvement loans have been made to low-income households in targeted communities with 98 percent repayment rates, and property values in upgraded low-income communities have increased 2 to 3 times. 

Rwanda: The Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Project (total US$33 million IDA contribution in two Emergency Recovery Loan Projects) aimed at helping return ex-combatants to their communities to resume a productive social and economic life. As of June 2012, over 36,500 ex-combatants had been demobilized and provided with reintegration benefits, including more than 23,500 from the Rwandan Defense Force and 10,000 from armed groups of Rwandese origin. The program also provides additional reintegration support to special target groups, including children, women, and disabled ex-combatants, and as of June 2012 had supported a total of 849 children and over 13,000 disabled and chronically ill ex-combatants.  

India: The India Elementary Education Project (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or SSA) (IDA $1.25 billion over two projects, Specific Investment Loans) is an example of a project that reaches out to groups that have been excluded, aiming to boost the enrollment of children from poor families, marginalized and tribal groups and those with special needs.  It has helped the government enroll more than 17 million out-of-school children in elementary school, including girls, first-generation learners from long-deprived communities and minority communities, and children with special needs. The number of out-of-school children declined from 25 million to 8.1 million (less than 5 percent of the age cohort 6-14). Approximately 2.9 million children with special needs have been identified and are being covered with a variety of interventions, like residential centers, home-based education. With these efforts, India is moving toward its target of ensuring that all children will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling much before the international Millennium Development Goal target date of 2015. 

Bank Contribution

Over the past five years (FY08 – FY12), IBRD/IDA lending for Social Development projects totaled $4.9 billion. Close to half of the composition of IBRD/ IDA social development lending during this period was focused on the theme of participation and civic engagement, followed by conflict prevention and gender.  


The World Bank is well positioned to use its convening power and wide range of partnerships to contribute to advancing the social agenda. The Bank has been working with government ministries and partnering with academic and research networks. Work on fragility and conflict, gender, and climate change have involved partnerships with multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as bilateral development agency counterparts (the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and so forth). Global development nongovernmental organizations, including environmental groups, indigenous peoples’ organizations, and humanitarian aid organizations, are also important partners in social development work.   

Moving Forward 

Given the persistent challenge of poverty, the social development principles of inclusion, cohesion, resilience, and accountability will continue to be integrated across the Bank’s portfolio. The Bank and its client countries will need to work more comprehensively to address social opportunities, risks, and results to ensure social sustainability of policy and operational engagement. A robust framework for results monitoring will support evidence-based policy making and program formulation.

The Bank will continue to make a concerted effort to bring poor peoples’ voices and concerns into the development process. For IDA countries, this involves addressing issues of vulnerability, exclusion, isolation, violence, unaccountable institutions, and powerlessness, which are essential for overcoming poverty. Rapid urbanization, increasing urban poverty, insecurity, and violence in informal settlements require a rethink on dealing with poverty, informality, deprivation, and human dignity.


Bangladesh has been successful in reaching out to women, especially rural women through various development programs. One such program is Notun Jibon – New Life, administered by the country’s Social Development Foundation with IDA assistance. So far, over 1,400 villages have benefited from this community-driven program, which has provided critical village infrastructure in rural areas, such as improved schools, roads and bridges, and clean drinking water. Under this program, elected committee members in villages decide on and oversee what needs to be done in their communities. Women hold 80 percent of all the program’s decision-making positions, once controlled by men.

Beauty Ara, a community member from Mohodipur in Gaibandha district who is isbenefiting from the program, says she has seen a dramatic change in the role of women in the country. When she was a small girl growing up in Bangladesh, her family did not even allow her to go to school. Now she is part of her village’s decision-making process, and says she’s working to ensure that the entire community, both men and women, have a fair chance at receiving an education and applying for jobs.

Morsheda Akhter Mili is from the Ajhupipar village that has benefited from the program. She says her village is steadily making progress. “The roads which are being constructed will be beautified by us through green plants. We want to earn money by cultivating fish in the leased ponds of our village. Through our organization, we want to establish a grocery complex from where each of us can buy our required items. This is our dream.”

17 million
out-of-school children in India enrolled in elementary school, including girls, first-generation learners from long-deprived communities, and minority communities