As we enter the last week of the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement— developed here at the Bank in partnership with London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS— let’s explore the central question posed in the course: Is Citizen Engagement a Game Changer for Development?
In a blog following the London MOOC event, Duncan Edwards argued the need to think hard about the approaches we adopt in advancing citizen engagement to address development challenges.
Nearly every week, I read news stories about citizens clamoring for change in governance- citizens who want their voices heard and acted upon. In countries all over the globe, citizen groups are working (sometimes with governments and sometimes against them) to build a more citizen-centric approach to governance. Why? People—ordinary citizens—are at the heart of good governance, and governments are genuinely more effective when they listen to and work with citizens to tackle development challenges.
Engaging citizens can help improve transparency and accountability of public policies, promote citizens’ trust, forge consensus around important reforms, and build the political and public support necessary to sustain them.
The central puzzle has often been wondered about in a thousand and one fora since the global financial crisis that began in 2008 erupted, wreaking havoc with several economies and millions of lives: how is it that social convulsions have not been the resultant of the financial crisis, the deep depressions it led to in the major economies of the West, the misery inflicted on millions, and the super-elite-pampering policies introduced to deal with the crisis? Why did puny efforts at protest like Occupy Wall Street and its many imitators vanish like candlelight in a storm?
In the new e-book, The End of Protest: How Free-Market Capitalism Learned to Control Dissent,[i] Alasdair Roberts, who is the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, takes on this puzzle and offers an explanation.
The growing militancy of middle class citizens in developing countries is very much in the news these days; and there is a corresponding attempt to understand why so many protest movements in developing countries are now being led by hitherto quiescent middle classes. I have particularly enjoyed analyses by Francis Fukuyama in the Wall Street Journal, President Lula of Brazil in the New York Times and James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. The humble contribution I’d like to make (from my personal experience) is this. To understand the growing anger of middle class citizens in developing countries you have to understand two aspects of the conditions under which they live: the merely bit and the barely bit.
Let’s begin with the merely bit; that is, why in many of these countries when you are merely middle-class you have a problem. To grasp why being merely middle class is a tough situation to be in you have to understand what those they aspire to be like (the well to do in their societies) are able to provide for themselves. Before I left Nigeria in the middle 1990s, the wife of one of our leading politicians came up with the following insight: that to be comfortable you had to become your own local government. And she was right. Here are the things that your local government should provide and it did not and so you had to provide these things for yourself:
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.
The financial contributions that diasporas make to their countries of origin have received an enormous amount of attention. It’s not surprising with figures like $372 billion, the estimated amount of remittance flows that developing countries received in 2011. Indeed, this is a significant contribution that warrants our attention, but there is another type of currency that diasporas provide that has received much less consideration—the political capital attained through citizen activism.
In countries facing governance challenges, diaspora communities, particularly those living in more democratic countries, have a number of advantages over local activists in their home countries. For one, their economic contributions often provide them with influence over important social and political issues. Their organizational power is another important contribution, one that Steven Vertovec writes about in his piece entitled, The Political Importance of Diasporas. He notes that diaspora based associations can lobby host countries to change polices in favor of a homeland and influence homelands in support of or in opposition to governments.