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Civil Society Relations

Blame It on Rio

John Garrison's picture

Unlike the 1984 movie “Blame it on Rio”, which attributed a bawdy affair between a middle-aged man (played by Michael Cain) and a teenager on the tropical vibes of the stunningly beautiful city, the recent hosting of the Rio +20 Conference served to showcase a different face of the Rio ambience -- its global environmental leadership role.  The city not only maintains the world’s two largest urban forests, Pedra Branca and Tijuca (see photo), but has just completed a state of the art waste treatment center which will allow for a 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and are installing 300 kilometers of bicycle lanes.  For the World Bank, the city has been the setting for the improbable significant improvement in relations between the Bank and environmental CSOs over the past 20 years.

When Rio hosted the original UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the Bank participated with a small staff delegation and its modest publications booth at the parallel NGO “Global Forum” held on Flamengo Beach was set on fire by environmental activists.  They were protesting the Bank’s financing of the Narmada Dam project in India, which threatened to displace hundreds of thousands of small farmers without a fair and sustainable resettlement plan in place.  Some were expressing disapproval of the Polonoroeste project funded by the Bank in Brazil where the paving of a highway linking two Amazonian state capitals led to widespread deforestation in the 1980s.  

Why are Increasing Numbers of CSOs Coming to the Spring Meetings?

John Garrison's picture

A record number of CSOs participated in the recently concluded Spring Meetings in Washington.  Over 550 civil society representatives (see list) – 200 more than in 2011 – attended the Civil Society Program which spanned five days from April 17 to 21.  Of these, the Bank and Fund sponsored 29 CSOs / Youth Leaders and Academics (see list) from developing countries in order to ensure that voices and perspectives from southern civil society and young people were adequately represented at the Spring Meetings. These sponsored participants participated actively in a week-long schedule of events, including numerous bilateral meetings with Bank and Fund senior managers.  

Bridge over Troubled Waters: Navigating the Policy Divide

John Garrison's picture

The World Bank has been engaging a wide variety of policy advocacy CSOs on the issues of access, rights, and financing of urban water and sanitation programs over the past five years. Of particular concern to CSOs have been the issues of water privatization, cost-recovery approaches, and lack of affordable water services for low income populations in Bank-financed water and sanitation projects. For its part, the Bank has welcomed this dialogue because it clearly shares with civil society the goal of extending universal coverage to the poor in developing countries and improving delivery effectiveness. Within this context, the Bank has undertaken a watershed process of meetings and joint research with leading NGOs, trade unions, and research centers. The Bank’s most significant civil society interlocutor to emerge during this period has been the Freshwater Action Network (FAN), which is an international coalition of several hundred CSOs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America who work on water and sanitation issues.

Leveling the Playing Field on World Bank – Civil Society Dialogue

John Garrison's picture

After years of feeling that its policies were unfairly criticized by civil society organizations, the Bank is now ‘turning the tables’ by being formally asked to critique civil society ideas and papers.  Likewise, after years of feeling ‘shut out’ and ignored by Bank experts, CSOs are confidently seeking Bank views on their macro- economic research findings.  This trend is best exemplified by the launches of books written by well known CSO leaders at the Bank’s Infoshop over the past two years.  These include the launch of “From Poverty to Poverty” by Duncan Green (Head of Research for Oxfam/GB) in November 2008, “Development Redefined” by John Cavanaugh (Director of the Institute for Policy Studies) and Robin Broad (Professor of International Development at American University) in February 2009; and "Unheard Truth” by Irene Khan (Secretary General of Amnesty International) in October 2009.  In all three cases, Bank staff were asked to be discussants and offer their critiques of the books.