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Four reasons the World Bank should engage more with civil society

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Transparency Int'l

In recent years, we have witnessed a significant shift in approach of both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to addressing the concerns of civil society and recognizing their contribution to development outcomes.

As one of the largest sources of development finance, the World Bank plays a prominent role in driving progress on alleviating poverty and boosting shared prosperity. However, as practitioners, policy experts and advocates working directly with communities, civil society also plays an important role in addressing these critical global challenges.

Last month, the Civil Society Policy Forum of the World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings offered several opportunities to make the case for why both organizations should be doing more to engage with civil society, at national and global levels, to drive the global development agenda.

What is important to CSOs, is also important to the World Bank

During the Forum, I had an opportunity to moderate a roundtable discussion between Civil Society and the World Bank Executive Directors, where participants highlighted issues of shared concern that were critical to global development today: the climate crisis, human capital and young people, the shrinking space for civil society, transparency and accountability, fragility, conflict and violence, and inclusion.

Together with my co-moderator, Hervé De Villeroche, Co-Dean of the World Bank Board and Executive Director for France, we heard from CSO representatives from Nigeria to Fiji and Afghanistan to Honduras. Discussion ranged from what the World Bank can do to support governments to deliver quality education without discrimination in Ghana to how the Bank should respond to closing civic space in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Governments, international institutions and the private sector all play a critical role in finding shared solutions to these common challenges. Civil society groups can also add value and contribute to the global agenda, even as space for civil society to speak out continues to shrink in many countries around the world.

Four ways CSOs can contribute

While gathering input from a host of organizations in preparation for the roundtable discussion, I was struck by the invaluable and diverse insight of many of my CSO peers. Specifically, CSOs can contribute to the important work of the WBG in at least four ways:

1) Expertise:

The CSO community is composed of some of the world’s greatest experts on global development issues. NGOs can provide up-to-date, evidence-based input and suggest concrete areas where progress is needed, with specific recommendations for action. However, this expertise will remain untapped unless CSOs are consulted consistently and have opportunities to provide input.

2) Accountability:

CSOs can hold governments and international institutions accountable to their existing commitments and ensure the effective implementation of World Bank recommendations and assessments.

3) Awareness and Communication:

CSOs can help communicate important WBG policies in a way that is more accessible to citizens. We can also provide feedback on how these policies may impact people in the countries that the WBG works with and help break down complex, technical jargon.

4) Legitimacy and Representation:

To be effective, NGOs need to have a seat at the table. Some international bodies are reluctant to include civil society representatives in the same way they include business. But, this only serves to promote exclusivity and distrust, and it’s why many people around the world, including in Latin America and the Caribbean, are quickly losing confidence in public institutions.

As you can see, there is a lot to gain from engagement with CSOs that make them ideal candidates for establishing partnerships and strategic alliances. Trust us! Engage with us! We can be your strong allies!

Moving forward

CSOs greatly appreciate the WBG’s commitment to working with us in this important forum. While the roundtable was a great opportunity for CSOs to discuss important issues with the World Bank directly, the WBG should also pursue additional opportunities to collaborate and work together with CSOs throughout the year. It’s critically important for WBG and CSOs to work together at both the global and national levels, to engage more effectively across these spaces.

Patricia Moreira is the Managing Director of Transparency International.

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