No matter who you are, any international conference can be an overwhelming experience. As with most things, the surest way to fully grasp what to do and where to go is by experiencing it. But everyone will experience a first time, so I’ve jotted down a few notes from past experience that helped me here in Istanbul, and will hopefully lower the learning curve for you at your next international conference.
Yesterday, I attended a session of the World Bank Institute’s Flagship Course on Health, attended by health specialists from various countries. An expert panel shared experiences of using communication and persuasion toward bringing about pro health outcomes. Several success stories were shared on applying behavior change communication in areas such as hygiene and sanitation, nutrition and education, and immunization in Africa and Asia. Complementary to this focus on individual and social change was a presentation by Patricia Sosa, Esq. on experiences of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The organization advocates for policy change in various countries and the core of their strategy is changing the rules of the game to reduce tobacco use.
On the last day of the World Bank Meetings, UNDP Turkey organized a session on the 2009 Human Development Report, titled “Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development.” The panel had some great speakers, including Kemal Dervis, former UNDP Administrator and current director of the Brookings Institution.
“A resounding success. We have had open, honest, and frank discussions, making this year’s session most fruitful.” So were the words of the President of the World Bank/IMF Group Board of Governors. I picked up a rumor that the Prime Minister will be addressing the plenary session this morning and made my way to the grand hall. It seems I am early but just in time for the closing remarks.
While I’ve yet to meet an actual youth delegation, there are still a number of young people here. Interns, assistants, conference support, information desks, coffee, photocopying, mic running, IT support, and of course depending on your definition of “youth,” active members of NGOs.
My first day at the Annual Meetings, and it’s a good thing I’m here early. Security is tight and traffic is backed up. Still, delegates can be seen happily chatting away as they wait to pass through the metal detector, the press is photographing the lines, and meetings are being planned for lunch. A thermal camera screens us as we are cleared through.
It’s not like I was expecting apathy, but in any case it’s not what I got at all. The World Bank meetings are well-known, and opinions are pointed. Perhaps it’s because of a recent shoe-throwing incident aimed at IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Khan at a pre-meeting university seminar. Perhaps it’s because of the protests organized around the city (activists can be seen handing out flyers and the police running drills). Or perhaps it’s simply a collection of pointed opinions on all things political, economic, or cultural.
At a Program of Seminars session Monday on “Greening Recovery, Seizing Opportunities,” more than 300 people turned out to hear experts such as Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner outline how “green” investments are being used as parts of economic stimulus packages.
They were joined by Luciano Coutinho (President, BNDES – Brazilian Development Bank), Yoon-Dae Euh (Chairman, Korean Presidential Council on Nation Branding and Chairman, Steering Committee, Korean Investment Corporation), and Hasan Zuhuri Sarikaya (Undersecretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Turkey).
For Stiglitz, the principal question now in responding to the financial and economic crisis is how to increase global aggregate demand. Instead of increasing consumption, he said, more funding should go to increase investment – particularly green investment.
Today the day starts early. The morning is dreary, gray sky, a sprinkling of rain…but that’s more than likely to change as the day continues. I’ve just arrived in Istanbul, not the capital, but Turkey’s commercial, financial, and transportation hub nonetheless. The airport has welcome signs to the IMF-World Bank meetings for all the international delegates expected this week. I smile as the passport officer greets me. I’ve been living abroad for nearly a year, and it’s always nice to visit.
Global attention is mounting about this year's Annual Meetings of the Bank and the Fund in Turkey. From Egypt, where I am on MIGA business on my way to Turkey, the discussion is around whether the meetings will advance the G20 communiqué in terms of substance and specific implementation measures.
I spent two days earlier in the week with global private equity investors. Their anxiety mostly revolves around how financial sector regulation will evolve over the coming months. They feel the cold wind of oversight, and the discussion revolves around two competing plans for financial regulation, one emanating from Brussels and the other from Washington. But everyone accepts that an overhaul of financial sector regulation is the unfinished business from last year's financial crisis, even though views differ on the extent and content of the changes needed. My own concerns are whether the world's piecemeal international governance system will enable a coherent global regulatory structure to emerge from the wreckage of last year's financial meltdown.
In Istanbul I'm looking forward to taking the temperature of the financial world. I hope and expect the meetings to be more subdued than in past years, because we have some serious business to do; and many players who were around at the Singapore meetings are no longer with us (Lehman, Bear Stearns, Merrill, AIG...).
It's a new world.