IFI governance


The World Bank and civil society

17 November 2003 | Inside the institutions

Why does the Bank engage with CSOs?

Officially because it makes the Bank more effective in reducing poverty. A 1999 Bank report entitled Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why, found that government agencies that actively sought to encourage involvement of beneficiaries achieved a 62 percent success rate in their projects, while those that did not achieved just 10 percent. The Bank attributes the link between CSO engagement and successful implementation to the promotion of public consensus, the provision of local knowledge and professional expertise, and the improved transparency and accountability which accompanies CSO involvement.

Unofficially, the Bank has no choice but to seek endorsement from increasingly powerful civil society actors to boost the legitimacy of its lending activities. From within the Bank however, there continues to be resistance to cementing this tenuous relationship; some staff question both the legitimacy of CSOs and the costs of engagement. Such attitudes are reinforced by an optional policy framework with respect to CSO participation.

Ticking boxes?

A recent discussion paper by the Bank’s Civil Society Team said relations with CSOs were “fragmented” and “lacking clarity”. Engagement is described as “ad-hoc” and “disconnected from policy processes”. High demands on staff time, ambiguous guidance and poor monitoring systems “fuel the tendency among task managers to ‘tick the box’ that they have involved CSOs rather than take proactive steps to ensure engagement that is viewed as satisfactory by all stakeholders.” Added to this chaotic picture is the fact that the Bank cannot account for the amount of its funds which are channeled through CSOs. Confusion persists over how to distinguish CSO roles as watchdogs/critics and service providers/clients.

government agencies that actively sought to encourage involvement of beneficiaries achieved a 62 percent success rate

A chequered history

The Bank divides its history of civil society engagement into three phases. During the 1980s, it “opened its doors to CSOs”, establishing the first operational directive on working with NGOs in 1981, and the Bank-NGO Committee in 1982.

Phase 2, from 1992-1999, a period of rapid growth in the capacity of CSOs to confront the Bank, is characterised as “mainstreaming participation in Bank operations and policy dialogue”. This period includes the creation of the Bank’s first information policy (1993) and an independent monitoring and evaluation institution (Inspection Panel, in 1993). During this period the Bank-NGO Committee withered on the vine due to persistent concerns over its representativeness. Despite the participation rhetoric, the Bank turned its back on two of the most innovative multistakeholder processes, the World Commission on Dams (1997-2000) and the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (1997-). In 1998, the Bank reviewed its relations with NGOs, issuing ‘Good Practice’ 14.70 Involving NGOs in Bank-supported activities, which replaced its 1981 directive. This optional note remains the Bank’s only official guideline for Bank staff on CSO relations.

Phase 3 is described as a period to “deepen and mature relations and address more political concerns”. However, frustration with the Extractive Industries Review (launched in 2001), and concerns over the Joint Facilitation Committee have already raised question marks about what it is that truly differentiates this ‘third phase’ with those that preceded.

Who’s who in Bank-civil society relations?

Some 120 civil society and external affairs specialists are located in most departments at Bank headquarters and in nearly 70 country offices. These staff can be divided into three levels:





Civil Society Country Staff (CSC)

70+ staff in country offices Undertaking social auditing and stakeholder analysis for loans; research on World Bank, government, civil society relations; promoting dialogue on Bank policies and programs. Each regional department has a different model for managing CSO relations. Some of the countries and regions have CSO working groups, others do not. Civil Society Focal Points List

Civil Society Group (CSG)

40+ staff in Washington Overall institutional and global-level focal point and resource for Bank management, staff, and CSOs on Bank-civil society engagement, and promotes information sharing and collaboration across the Bank. CSG includes focal points for specific constituencies such as trade unions (Human Development), faith-based organizations (External Affairs), foundations (Resource Mobilization and Cofinancing), and poor people’s networks (Poverty Reduction and Economic Management). Civil Society Group Contacts

Civil Society Team (CST)

9 staff in Washington from the Bank’s External Affairs and Social Development Departments Formulates institutional strategy, provides advice to senior management, coordinates civil society engagement staff across the institution, provides guidance and technical assistance to program staff on how to consult and involve civil society in Bank operations. John Garrison, Senior Civil Society Specialist

Proposed actions

The CST has made a number of recommendations to improve CSO engagement at the Bank. They include:

  • Establishing a Bank-wide focal point, housed in External Affairs, “to provide coordination, clearer guidance, technical assistance and quality assurance”
  • Creating new mechanisms for Bank-CSO engagement
  • Updating provisions relating to CSO engagement in the Bank’s operational policy framework and guidelines
  • Identifying criteria for selecting which CSOs to engage on a given issue. As a guide, criteria might include “credibility, competence, local or thematic knowledge, transparency, and accountability”
  • Putting in place a code of conduct for CSO interaction