Published on Development for Peace

Countering fragility in complex environments – how should the World Bank engage?

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In a new paper, The Role of the World Bank in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Mercy Corps and the Center for Global Development (CGD) take stock of the Bank’s engagement in FCV contexts and provide recommendations for how the Bank should engage moving forward.

This analysis comes at an important moment. December 2019 marked a pivotal juncture for the World Bank: it released a draft of its much anticipated Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV) Strategy, and replenished the International Development Association (IDA) at a record $82 billion—which includes $18.7 billion for FCV contexts and $2.2 billion for refugee-hosting countries.

This deepened focus on FCV contexts represents a major shift within the Bank, with implications for its staff, government clients, and beneficiaries, and for humanitarian responses more broadly. As the Bank starts to implement IDA19 and operationalize the FCV strategy, there are important lessons learned that can inform and strengthen the Bank’s important work.


A promising trajectory

Working in FCV contexts, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to leverage its comparative advantages, including its convening power, credibility with governments, and long-term financing, to address sources of instability and recurrent humanitarian crises .

We have seen how the Bank can successfully leverage its relationships with, and financing to, governments to influence policy reforms needed for a sustainable response. For instance, in Ethiopia, the Bank supported a new law which creates a pathway for refugees to live, attend school and find work outside of camps.  In Colombia, it’s supporting policies that enable the socioeconomic inclusion of displaced Venezuelans.

The Bank has also forged important partnerships with United Nations agencies, and elevated its data and M&E expertise through a new World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement. These partnerships offer opportunities for better coordination with humanitarian responses on the ground.


Room for improvement

FCV contexts pose distinct challenges to the Bank’s operating model. Collapsed or fragile governments, chaotic security environments and volatile dynamics on the ground are far different from the more secure contexts where the Bank has typically worked. Even worse, the national government—the Bank’s default partner—is sometimes a direct party to the conflict.

The Bank’s longstanding practice of implementing through state systems therefore may not be viable or appropriate; the Bank will need different partnership and implementation models. (Mercy Corps has more on this here.) In addition, in these complex, unpredictable environments, the Bank will need to work at a faster pace – getting projects approved and executed more quickly– while also ensuring it takes a comprehensive ‘do no harm’ approach .

The Bank’s navigation of these challenges has had mixed success so far. In Lebanon, it demonstrated adaptability when it scaled up its cash transfers project to target host communities that felt excluded by humanitarian organizations working with refugees. Yet, a similar attempt in Yemen, while helping millions of vulnerable Yemenis facing famine, was inadequately coordinated with humanitarian actors, resulting in tension and duplication.


Looking ahead

IRC’s Watchlist indicates we will see greater deterioration of humanitarian situations over the next year. The Bank plays a significant role in preventing and responding to crises, as well as addressing their underlying causes. It is therefore even more important that the Bank get its approach in FCV contexts right. Here’s how the World Bank can do that:

1. Define comparative advantage—and don’t reinvent the wheel.

The Bank has clearly defined its comparative advantage in the draft FCV strategy; it now needs do this in each country context, avoiding duplicating capacities better met by impartial humanitarian and development actors. As a value-add of its engagement in FCV contexts, the Bank should leverage project negotiations to push for policy reforms, civil society inclusion and oversight, and good governance outcomes. 

2. Refine diagnostic tools.

The Bank should increase its investment in, and use of, context analyses , ensuring diagnostics like Risk and Resilience Assessments account for evolving environments and adequately consult beneficiaries about their needs and challenges. Diagnostic tools need to feed into adaptive management and help the Bank shift course in response to unanticipated changes in context.  The Bank should also conduct robust actor mapping to identify potential partners—and avoid actors that might worsen the crises.

3. Adapt the partnership model.

The Bank should formally and informally partner with a more diverse set of actors, including NGOs and other multilateral development banks, to ensure complementarity and principled engagement, and maximize impact.  Relatedly, the Bank should clarify how civil society will be consulted throughout project cycles. The Bank will also need to plan for the political and capacity challenges of partnering with governments in FCV contexts. This should include how the Bank will leverage its influence governments and engage with problematic governments, including implementing redlines for ‘do no harm’ and protocols for disengagement. 


Lauren Post

Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer, International Rescue Committee

Megan Doherty

Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy, Mercy Corps

Jeremy Konyndyk

Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Global Development

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