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It's Not Just the Money! Communication as Core Element of Governance Projects

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Public trust, legitimacy of governments, and good governance may be more valuable than pushing more and more money into poor countries - money that may not even reach those who need it. This observation comes from World Bank President Robert Zoellick. He spoke at the Open Forum of the Governance and Anti-Corruption (GAC) Council this week, and paid tribute to issues that go way beyond classical development economics, such as governance and accountability. Success in these areas need to mean as much to us as the traditional loan agenda, Zoellick asserted. Incorporating the GAC agenda into the World Bank's work will increase its development performance, therefore it is everybody's duty at the Bank to build the GAC agenda into our projects.

Zoellick spoke before three project managers introduced their work on mainstreaming GAC into development projects. George Soraya talked about the National Program for Community Empowerment in Urban Areas Project in Indonesia, infrastructure projects that employ specific risk mitigation strategies to avoid corruption. The project's GAC strategy has three pillars: partners in government; a website with information about the project and all related activities, plus a text message based information and complaint system; and effective and efficient supervision. The project's success: Indonesia's government is more and more willing to be accountable and provide mechanisms and channels of accountability. Infrastructure delivery and services have become cheaper, and more and more people have become aware of the need for good governance.

Michael Mills reported on the Total War on AIDS Project in Kenya. There, the World Bank actually had to fight against corruption in the NGO sector - which is actually considered unusual. The problem of syndicated and organized fraud in community based organizations was overcome through state commitment to reform. The government adopted new procedures such as a more transparent call for proposals. Decentralization was emphasized, and so were transparency in general as well as community oversight. Because it is quite difficult to establish causality in terms of impact, Mills couldn't claim any specific successes. In any case, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS today is half of what it was a decade ago, and the GAC measures work well.

The last project was the Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project that is being realized in India. Parmesh Shah explained how his project attempts to improve the financial credibility of poor people to make them attractive to commercial investors. Good governance equals good outcomes, he said. Therefore his project aimed at institutionalizing transparency and democratizing information. Improved governance and anti-corruption systems succeeded to reduce risk perception of institutions that made the poor more attractive to private and public investment.

Notice something? The GAC measures those projects employ are all communication-based. In fact, communication is the core of the strategies that make these projects stand out from traditional lending practices. The main elements here are: coalition building, access to information, transparency, perceptions, and behavior change. In Indonesia, Soraya and his team built coalitions to gain support for the project from the government and to secure supervision. In Kenya, Mills sought coalition partners in the government to introduce new and more transparent work processes that would help curb NGO-corruption. Shah built a coalition between commercial and public investors as well as the poor to change the behavior of investors. Access to information and transparency was obviously the basis of all those strategies, because eventually, coalitions, supervision, audits etc. rest on shared information. In terms of changing perceptions (norms!) and behavior, the Andrah Pradesh project provides a particular interesting example. Through communication, investor's perceptions of the credibility of the poor was changed, which in turn led to a change in investment behavior.

Witnessing this Open Forum and learning about those great projects made me just a little bit proud of the work we do at CommGAP. The work done in Indonesia, Kenya, and India demonstrates the centrality of communication to governance and anti-corruption reforms, and it demonstrates that communication can contribute considerably to development effectiveness.

Photo: World Bank

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