Published on Arab Voices

Arab citizens demanding a seat at the virtual table

Development agencies, such as the World Bank, have often been criticized for not sufficiently listening to the people they are trying to help. For acting without first systematically assessing whether beneficiaries agree with the strategies produced and projects developed on their behalf.

World Bank | Arne Hoel | 2011To address this, many World Bank teams now arrange in-country consultations with a broad range of people including civil society, young people, and government representatives, depending on the type of project. These gatherings provide the Bank team with an opportunity to get input directly from some of the people who can benefit from a Bank supported effort before the work begins and the strategy is set. This may be a promising approach, but it carries with it a great limitation: reach. There are only a limited number of people that can be invited to these face-to-face consultations.  

The World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has recently begun tapping into the potential of social media to learn from a broader spectrum of citizens across the region. For example, in January the MENA region Vice President, Inger Andersen, held Live Web Chat conversations with 600 people to better learn about their priorities.

Another approach, tried by the MENA Social Protection Team, entails reaching out to citizens –in addition to face-to-face consultations - via twitter, Facebook, live chat and blog posts. The aim is to create an enormous virtual discussion table and to seek input on specific topics. The idea is that citizen feed-back will directly help form more nuanced and pertinent World Bank products.

This is the World Bank learning from the Arab street via social media. This is citizen empowerment via social media.

The ‘Arab Spring’ has revealed a technology savvy and creative new generation. This generation is now taking a seat at the table, or rather, they are demanding a seat at the table and a say in the way development choices that affect them are made. Terminology such as “helping” and “aid” is becoming timeworn. It is more a matter of working alongside a generation that wants to be in charge of their own future.

Please stay tuned and do join the discussion the coming couple of weeks. One of the first topics to be discussed at the virtual table will be: How can young people and females better be included in the labor market?


Amina Semlali

Human Development Specialist

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