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Policy Dialouge

Is Civil Society Uncivil?

John Garrison's picture

Having worked with civil society engagement work at the World Bank for many years, it is not uncommon for colleagues to see me in the hallway and jokingly ask: “is civil society still acting uncivil?”. The assumption being that when Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) criticize the Bank they are not being constructive and thus not acting civil. While I understand the good-natured ribbing, I and most of my Bank colleagues actually believe the opposite is true. Most advocacy CSOs are being effective global citizens by monitoring the policies and programs of governments and inter-governmental organizations such as the World Bank. After all, governments and multilateral development Banks serve at the behest of citizens and thus they should welcome a watchful eye from CSOs, media, and citizen organizations to ensure that its taxpayer-generated international development funds are being well spent. In addition, as Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently said at the closing plenary of the 2013 InterAction Forum, important changes and reforms in history – such as the concerted response to the AIDS epidemic – are often driven by citizen activism spearheaded by CSOs. He further argued that what is now needed is a global citizens’ movement to advocate for effective climate change policies.

Should CSOs Have a Seat at the Table?

John Garrison's picture

The World Bank has experimented with different approaches to including civil society organizations (CSOs) in its decision-making processes over the years. These have varied from regular policy dialogue with CSOs through the Bank – NGO Committee in the 1980s and 1990s, to establishing CSO advisory committees in several Bank units during the 2000s.  Currently, two of these initiatives stand out: the Bank’s Climate Investment Funds have invited 19 CSO representatives (chosen competitively through online voting) to serve as ‘active observers’ on its five Committees and Sub-Committees; and the Bank’s Health Unit has established a CSO 'consultative group' to which it invited 18 CSO leaders to advise the Bank on its health, nutrition, and population agenda. 

Bashing the Bank: Assessing the Efficacy of CSO Advocacy

John Garrison's picture

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have been targeting the World Bank Group for 25 years in an effort to influence its economic, social, and environmental policies.  Many of these advocacy campaigns have been quite contentious and critical over the years, the most visible being the ‘50 Years is Enough' campaign of the 1990s which called for the abolishment of the Bank.  While this particular campaign was obviously not successful, it is clear that some of the most important Bank reforms adopted over the years – environmental safeguards, compliance mechanisms, and access to information – were spearheaded by civil society. 

Agreeing to Disagree on the Blogosphere

John Garrison's picture

There is growing Bank – CSO policy dialogue occurring via blogs which is generating unexpected thoughtful and frank exchange of views.  The most recent case was a few weeks back when Justin Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, was invited to be a guest blogger on the “From Poverty to Power” blog page maintained by Oxfam/GB’s Head of Research, Duncan Green.  The exchange was on Justin’s recent paper "Growth Identification and Facilitation" on the role governments play in promoting economic growth.  Many CSOs, such as Oxfam, feel that the Bank is undergoing a paradigm shift by now providing developing countries with more ‘policy space’ to design their own economic plans, including industrial policies to support nascent industries.