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IFI governance

News

A 40 million dollar question: why fund the Development Gateway?

28 January 2004

Despite the negative comments in the official evaluation of the Knowledge Bank the World Bank’s Development Gateway internet scheme is seeking 40 million of further public funding. The Gateway is an Internet portal on development issues through which users can access studies and information, exchange services. It has been criticised since its inception for being poorly conceived and executed and representing unfair competition to the many independent sites which existed previously.

The Bank’s recent evaluation claims that “although some outside groups continue to object to what they view as the role of the Bank in ‘filtering’ global dissemination of development knowledge, the controversy that accompanied early plans for the Development Gateway has declined as the Gateway has widened the site’s base of contributors, editors, and advisers. Nevertheless, in the context of a landscape crowded with other knowledge aggregators that have a specific topical, regional, or audience focus, Knowledge/Topics lacks strategic uniqueness. It has difficulty differentiating its offerings from those of other development portals and in directing its limited resources to distinguish its value, and will need to sharpen its focus to increase its usefulness.”

This demonstrates that nothing more clearly than that to penetrate the complacent attitude of officials you need to continue to express concerns vocally and publicly. The evaluators made no attempt to contact the Bretton Woods Project, despite noting that it was the main critic of this part of the Gateway. If the OED had bothered to do so it would have discovered that the Project still has the same concerns and more about the Gateway and would still urge that major section to be scrapped.

The evaluation also expresses concerns about the financial sustainability of the Country Gateways and the Gateway’s governance- which the Bank spun off to a legally independent foundation. It says the Bank’s “role in the governance of the foundation, through control of the positions of president and treasurer, as well as of three seats on an 18-member board, has fueled criticisms of undue influence” and points out that “all but one member on the current board are financial contributors”. No mention is made of the 4 million annual contract that the Bank receives to administer the Gateway website.

The Project has obtained a leaked copy of the Development Gateway Foundation Business Plan that was circulated to the Bank’s Board in October. It does not include any mention of the criticisms by the Bank’s evaluators, simply a rose-tinted ‘Accomplishments of the Development Gateway’ paper. The Project is interested to hear from people with further information about the funding pitch being made by the Gateway Foundation as it is preparing a more detailed briefing to be published this Spring, three years on from its briefing A Tower of Babel on the Internet? The World Bank’s Development Gateway.