NGO approach debated

15 April 1998

In March the Bank Board discussed the Bank’s approach to NGOs. A paper for the meeting recommends that

“the Bank should take an encouraging stance towards NGO involvement in projects, the policy dialogue, and CASs, while fully respecting the right of governments to draw the line on specific activities”.

The discussion was provoked by concerns from some Southern government Executive Directors who felt the Bank was too rapidly and undiscriminatingly approaching NGOs in their countries. The Bank responded that, whilst governments must lead policy and programme development, and the Bank should not meet NGOs without government consent, “the Bank has a responsibility to listen to and learn from a range of stakeholders and to make independent, professional, and well-informed judgements”. Encouraging NGOs to state their views will yield information and help maintain the international consensus on which the Bank’s future depends.

The paper is interesting in its impression of NGO opinions about the Bank. It claims that, whilst a good deal of scepticism remains about the Bank, many groups are much better informed than previously, and there is more desire for convergence than confrontation.

The Bank paper suggests:

  1. clear criteria for NGO partnerships: to limit interaction to those groups with interests and skills relevant to the Bank’s development goals. The Bank plans to issue a sourcebook to guide staff;
  2. informing the Board about draft policy consultations: whilst NGOs and academics have helped improve the quality of draft policies, it has been embarassing for the Bank when NGOs have published their views on policies before the Board has had a chance to discuss them. In future Executive Directors will be informed in writing about plans for NGO consultations on draft policies, and NGOs will be told what rules must be followed.
  3. Opening the Country Assistance Strategy process: greater consultation about and transparency of CASs can help build consensus and ownership of important government policies, but CASs must also be frank and present politically- or market- sensitive information. Management will propose to the Board that the Bank allow governments to distribute the CAS if they want to. Governments may want certain sections deleted first.
  4. Funding partnerships: the Bank already funds NGOs through its lending operations, Economic and Sector work consultancies and some direct grant funding. The Bank should not develop new funding instruments but should develop partnerships with others in a better position to fund NGOs.

The Bank’s Relations with NGOs, Issues and Directions (Discussion Draft) is available from the Bretton Woods Project, or from John Clark at the Bank jclark1@worldbank.org

DFID in the UK has started a consultation on relations with civil society with many interesting questions, including: “in what ways can civil society organisations help DFID better use its influence with multilateral organisations?”. Contact: ngoconsult@dfid.gtnet.gov.uk