A new report from the World Bank sets out how it is responding to its Poverty World Development Report. It claims that the WDR “is changing the way the Bank and other development organisations do business”. It recognises, however, that the most innovative part of the WDR on empowerment, “poses special challenges for the Bank”. Many outside the Bank, while welcoming its new recognition of the importance of political power, question whether it is legitimate for it to get involved in ’empowering’ people and whether it is really prepared to tackle in-country vested interests.
The Bank’s new report says that it is interpreting empowerment partly as a continuation of its efforts to increase participation in Bank operations. It intends to expand support for systems of public expenditure management and monitoring and “efforts to enhance citizens’ access to information”. It also plans further work to support countries’ decentralisation efforts and to explore ways to expand support for poor peoples’ organisations. The latter is likely to be especially delicate, as many mass organisations will not be keen to be supported by an institution that they regard as hostile to their objectives.
The Bank’s approach to empowerment will be tested not only in its ongoing approaches to PRSPs and projects but also in the development of other strategies. In the coming months the Bank is drafting a Social Sector Strategy and a methodology for institutional assessment, among others. Bank-watchers will examine their coherence with the WDR.