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  • In every country, some groups confront barriers that prevent them from fully participating in political, economic, and social life. These groups may be excluded not only through legal systems, land and labor markets, but also discriminatory or stigmatizing attitudes, beliefs, or perceptions. Disadvantage is often based on social identity, which may be derived from gender, age, location, occupation, race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship status, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), among other factors. Exclusion robs individuals of dignity, security, and the opportunity to lead a better life. Unless the root causes of structural exclusion and discrimination are addressed, it will be challenging to support sustainable inclusive growth and rapid poverty reduction. 

    The current COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on deep rooted systemic inequalities. As COVID-19 continues to have wide-reaching impacts across the globe, it is important to understand the differentiated impact the pandemic has on the most marginalized, including the disabled, women, unemployed youth, sexual and gender minorities, the elderly, and indigenous peoples. For example, many persons with disabilities have additional underlying health needs that may make them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, if they contract it. Women and children are affected by increasing rates of domestic violence. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people struggle more than ever to access health services and are overrepresented among those without access to social security. The pandemic also exacerbates existing forms of exclusion based on race and ethnicity as some groups are being stigmatized and experience difficulty accessing basic services like health, education, and water.

    Social inclusion is the right thing to do, and it also makes good economic sense. Left unaddressed, the exclusion of disadvantaged groups can be costly.  At the individual level, the most commonly measured impacts include the loss of wages, lifetime earnings, poor education, and employment outcomes. Racism and discrimination also have physical and mental health costs. At the national level, the economic cost of social exclusion can be captured by forgone gross domestic product (GDP) and human capital wealth.

    Exclusion or the perception of exclusion may cause certain groups to opt out of markets, services, and spaces, with costs to both individuals and the economyGlobally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality alone is estimated at $160.2 trillionAfro-descendants continue to experience significantly higher levels of poverty (2.5 times higher in Latin America). 90 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. In many countries, it is especially difficult to tackle LGBTI exclusion, discrimination, and violence. To date, 70 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality.

    A 2018 World Bank paper estimates that Africa alone lost $ 2.5 trillion in human capital due to gender inequality and 11.4% of total wealth in 2014.  Another study found that exclusion of the ethnic minority Roma cost Romania 887 million euros in lost productivity. Over time, exclusion can also lead to social tensions and even conflict, with significant long-term social and economic costs.

    Social inclusion is vital to achieving the World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), which applies to all investment project financing,  emphasizes that social inclusion is critical for all of the World Bank’s development interventions and for achieving sustainable development.

    Inclusion is also a priority in the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stimulus packages for the COVID-19 recovery will need to be designed to counterbalance the widening social gaps and will have to guard against creating new forms of exclusion. 

  • The World Bank’s work on Social Sustainability and Inclusion has a new strategic direction that focuses on creating opportunities for all people and addressing deep rooted systemic inequalities.

    The World Bank supports social sustainability and inclusion by fostering inclusive and resilient societies where citizens have voice and governments respond. This is essential to support growth and poverty reduction not only today, but also tomorrow.  We start with a focus on people – their values and aspirations – while also focusing on the communities where they live and work.  Too often development policy focuses on national and regional governments or private sector development, while not putting enough attention on developing the communities, particularly those with marginalized or vulnerable populations, or those or in conflict or remote areas. We use a whole-of-society approach, focusing not only on strengthening communities but also the quality of their engagement with government and the private sector. To this end, we work through CSOs, producer associations, private actors and wherever possible institutionalized citizen engagement.  The vision is to create vibrant communities that offer opportunities to all residents to reach their potential and a business climate that can support livelihoods and the advancement of everyone in the community.

    The World Bank is expanding the inclusion agenda to explicitly address the exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities. In Latin America, Afro-descendants are 2.5 times more likely to be impoverished. Furthermore, experts believe minorities like Afro-descendants likely suffer more during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Social inclusion means ensuring all groups, irrespective of race or ethnicity, have meaningful voice and can live prosperous lives.

    The Bank engages on issues of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) through its operations. Although IPs make up 5% of the global population, they account for about 15% of the extreme poor. Deepening the understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ issues and needs, especially the interrelationship between cultural and community resilience, and their lands, territories and natural resources, and responding to these issues through WB projects and programs is a key role of the World Bank’s work.

    The WBG is committed to citizen engagement. Citizens play a critical role in advocating and helping to make public institutions more transparent, accountable and effective, and contributing innovative solutions to complex development challenges. Engaging citizens is especially important during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic as the effectiveness of response efforts can often hinge on behavior change at the micro-level. Informing and receiving feedback from citizens in real time can provide insight into how the crisis is affecting communities and enable real-time course correction and fixing problems in fast evolving situations as well as post-crisis.  

    In 2018, the World Bank launched its first Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework and announced ten WBG commitments to accelerate global action for disability-inclusive development. A Global Disability Advisor serves as a focal point for integrating disability inclusion into the World Bank’s development projects through its analytical work, data, and good-practice policies.

    The WBG has established a multi-sectoral task force to spearhead work on sexual orientation gender identity (SOGI) issues. The World Bank also continues to increase research on the economic impact of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons as well as other groups. Two years later, in November 2016, the Bank appointed a Global Advisor on SOGI—responsible for promoting LGBTI inclusion throughout the work of the World Bank.

    A new Gender Strategy aims to help countries and companies achieve gender equality as a pathway toward lasting poverty reduction and shared prosperity and security. Social Inclusion and Gender Platforms have been established by the World Bank as a consolidated approach toward social inclusion. Platforms in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan provide strategic support to project teams on social inclusion and gender issues by sponsoring frontier technical and analytical work, promoting innovation and knowledge sharing, and mainstreaming through Bank operations. In-country partnerships are a significant part of the implementation strategy of these platforms.

    In October 2016, the World Bank launched a Global Gender-Based Violence (GGBV) Task Force to strengthen the institution’s response through its projects to issues involving sexual exploitation and abuse. Community-driven development (CDD) approaches and actions are important elements of an effective poverty reduction and sustainable development strategy. The World Bank has supported CDD across low to middle-income—and conflict-affected—countries to support a variety of urgent needs.

  • Examples of the World Bank’s reports and analytical work on social inclusion include:

    • Disability-Inclusive Disaster Recovery (2020). The guidance note provides action-oriented direction for government officials and decisionmakers with responsibility for post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. The guidance will enable the development of disability inclusive planning and programming across sectors and government. The note is expected to be of interest to wider government and nongovernment actors, including disabled persons' organizations (DPOs), concerned with inclusive recovery. For more on Disability Inclusion.
    • Inclusion Matters in Africa (2020). Grounded in the experience of African countries, this 2020 report  highlights examples of the remarkable innovations that abound in Africa and of the policy and programmatic movement towards social inclusion. It surmises that social inclusion must be based on a clear social contract that recognizes both the costs and benefits of policies and interventions towards social inclusion.
    • Breaking the Cycle of Roma Exclusion in the Western Balkans (2019). This report aims to inform policy making by relying on data from the Regional Roma Survey (RRS), the most comprehensive survey to date on living conditions and human development outcomes among marginalized Roma households in the Western Balkans, as well as non-Roma households in the vicinity.
    • Released in August 2018, the Afro-descendants in Latin America: Toward a Framework of Inclusion report is an important step toward better understanding the conditions in which Afro-descendants live to help foster social inclusion and improve their economic situation across Latin America.
    • In 2018, the World Bank developed the Social Inclusion Assessment Tool (SIAT), a methodology to assess social inclusion in projects, programs, and policies. The WBG’s Global Lead on Social Inclusion provides overarching technical leadership and guidance to advance these efforts.
    • Scaling the Heights: Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development in Himachal Pradesh (2015).  The report looks at Himachal’s achievements and the factors underlying the Indian state’s success in fostering social inclusion and boosting shared prosperity. The report found empirical application of the main concepts illustrated in the Inclusion Matters report.
    • Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century (2015) is a report that shines new light on the situation of Indigenous Peoples across the region and concludes that despite important advances, indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by poverty and continue to face widespread economic and social exclusion. 
    • Inclusion Matters (2013). The Foundation for Shared Prosperity defines social inclusion for the World Bank and is one of the most comprehensive reviews of social inclusion available. It provides a frame of reference for policymakers, academics, activists, and development partners to help understand and move toward social inclusion. The report suggests how policies and programs can be designed through the lens of three main domains in which individuals and groups want to be included: markets, services, and spaces.
    • Afghanistan COVID-19 Relief Effort for Afghan Communities and Households (REACH). The project will help provide relief to Afghan households through grants to Community Development Councils (CDCs) to purchase food and sanitation packages for households in their respective communities. 
    • BangladeshEmergency Multi-Sector Ronhingya Crisis Response Project. The objective of this project is to strengthen the Government of Bangladesh’s systems to improve access to basic services and build disaster and social resilience of the population of Cox’s Bazar district.
    • Burundi Emergency Demobilization and Transitional Reintegration Project. The project had a strong focus on social inclusion, particularly through supporting ex-combatants with mental or physical (e.g., surgeries, physiotherapy, prosthetics, etc.) disabilities and providing housing to those with severe disability. To facilitate social inclusion of ex-combatants, the project also included conflict mitigation activities.
    • Democratic Republic of Congo: Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response Project. The World Bank committed $100 million to help prevent GBV in the DRC. The project aims to reach 795,000 direct beneficiaries over the course of four years and provide help to survivors of GBV, shifting social norms by promoting gender equality and behavioral change through strong partnerships with civil society organizations.
    • India: The development objective of the Nai Manzil : Education and Skills Training for Minorities Project for India is to improve completion of secondary education and market-driven skills training for targeted youth from minority communities. . The program provides school dropouts from minority communities in 26 states and 3 union territories with six months of education and three months of skills training, followed by a further six months of support to help them establish themselves.
    • Nepal: Integrated Platform for Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response. The project has a focus on supporting capacity building activities that facilitate support to GBV victims, including those from indigenous groups and other vulnerable communities.
    • Nicaragua: Second Support to the Education Sector Project. It is a primary education project designed to address the needs of rural and indigenous communities. The project seeks to increase student retention rates in Nicaragua’s primary education schools. It also aims to improve infrastructure and services for displaced people and build social capital to promote trust. The project has a longstanding commitment to incorporating social inclusion into development agenda.
    • Nigeria For Women Project. This is the first World Bank-assisted standalone gender operation in Nigeria to directly impact 324,000 women beneficiaries through investments in comprehensive skills training, the leverage of financial and technical resources, and support to policy dialogue on women’s economic empowerment. It also aims to create and strengthen Women Affinity Groups to facilitate social networks and increase women’s voice and participation in the economy.
    • Pakistan: Youth inclusion in the digital economy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. World Bank support to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s poorest provinces, has helped develop and roll out digital skills programs for youth, such as the Youth Employment Program, establish public co-working spaces for youth to promote access and training, and convene thousands of youth and industry experts at the Digital Youth Summits (DYS).
    • Panama: Indigenous Peoples Integral Development.  This project aims to improve public services in indigenous territories, based on the Indigenous Peoples’ own views and development priorities. It also seeks to strengthen the governance and coordination capacity between the government and the indigenous authorities while respecting the indigenous cultural identity and ways of life.
    • Papua New Guinea: Urban Youth Employment Project. The Project's development objectives are to provide urban youth with income from temporary employment opportunities and to increase their employability.
    • Philippines National CDD Project. The project tracks the inclusion of excluded groups in local planning and budgeting. The project aims to empower communities in targeted municipalities, ensure their participation in local governance, and help them develop their capacity to design, implement, and manage activities that reduce poverty.
    • Poland: The objective of the Post-Accession Rural Support Project (PARSP) for Poland is to increase social inclusion in rural underdeveloped areas (gminas) by enhancing the capacity of local governments to identify, plan, and execute social protection strategies through a Social Inclusion Program (SIP).
    • Vietnam: Central Highlands Poverty Reduction Project. The objective of the Central Highlands Poverty Reduction project is to enhance living standards by improving livelihood opportunities in Project Communes of upland Districts of the central highlands of Vietnam.


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Washington, D.C.
Uwi Basaninyenzi
ubasaninyenzi@worldbankgroup.org