I recently attended a brown bag on the Bangladesh Investment Climate Fund (BICF), an advisory facility that seeks to help improve the country’s investment climate. The International Finance Corporation’s Advisory Services team runs the initiative, generously supported by the UK’s Department for International Development and the European Commission.
Core program areas include regulatory reforms, economic zones, and capacity building and institutional strengthening. According to Syer Akhtar Mahmood, BICF’s Senior Program Manager, results include the following: a 50% reduction in property registration fees; an online system for business registration; effective consultation mechanisms to identify regulatory issues and recommend reforms; platforms for broad-based public-private dialogue on policy formulation and implementation; and a core group of mid-level government officials who have, among other things, generated notes on reform options and authored 10 articles/op-eds which, according to Mr. Mahmood, rarely happens in Bangladesh.
Most noteworthy about the BICF is its innovative approach to multi-stakeholder engagement. The program applies a political economy approach to the reform process, which results in an effective engagement strategy. The BICF team works hard to understand the relevant characteristics of the country context, including where key stakeholders are and where they need to be, if reforms are to be successful. They also delve into why things work or do not work, how what doesn’t work might be addressed, with whom, and in what sequence. All of this feeds into multi-stakeholder engagement efforts informed by a keen appreciation of on-the-ground realities. The result is the BICF providing targeted support toward collaboration with the following stakeholders:
• Coalitions of reform champions
• Chambers and business associations
• Universities and academia
• Government policy-makers
While impressed with the BICF’s approach and accomplishments, I kept asking myself: “Where’s the public?” Aren’t these reforms ultimately about poverty reduction in a developing country through an improved investment climate? And although public opinion data were presented, suggesting increasing support for reforms among both opinion leaders and the general public, why wasn’t the public mentioned as a stakeholder?
In retrospect, I think the answer is embedded in various parts of the BICF presentation. In several graphs and charts shown during the brown bag, the media are repeatedly identified as an influential force in reform processes. Perhaps the media serve as a stand-in, a proxy of sorts, for public opinion? The charts denote that the media influence government actors and are linked to other influential societal sectors. Is it indeed the case that in contested reform contexts, the media are perceived to be the public’s proxy? In the BICF reform story, I get a sense that this is true in some ways and not so true in others. More on this in my next post.
Photo credit: screenshot of http://myadvisoryspace.org/bicf/default.aspx