A week at the World Bank and IMF

The 2015 Spring Meetings and Civil Society Policy Forum brought people from many different sectors together to discuss how fiscal and development policy and governance can be made to serve real human need future-focused thinking and enforceable transparency. The news of the week, the running theme, and the most under-reported story in mainstream financial reporting, is that the work these institutions are looking forward to is about actual service to all people everywhere, especially the most vulnerable.

The World Bank’s mission is to end poverty and foster shared prosperity; the IMF focuses on fiscal solvency, and works to ensure nation-states don’t collapse from runaway inflation or crippling debt burdens. For decades, critics have argued that though well-intentioned, many of their projects have had the opposite effect, leaving harm where it didn’t need to be or propping up illegitimate regimes. As the voice of civil society has grown inside the Bretton Woods system, that critique has led to stronger safeguards, and to a renewed commitment to use the institutions’ influence to counter corruption and enable better outcomes.

Civil Society Roundtable with the Executive Directors

It is still true that where multilateral development banks (MDBs) do business with authoritarian or corrupt regimes, they run the risk of enabling criminal leaders. During a town hall-style roundtable discussion between civil society and the World Bank’s executive directors, on Tuesday, April 14, this concern was raised in forceful terms. At the request of a woman advocating for victims of human rights abuses, everyone around the table stood for a moment of silence, to honor those who have died as a result of projects that had funding from the World Bank.

The moment could have been awkward, or confrontational, but it showed a shared desire, among civil society and institutional leaders, to secure good outcomes and to prevent harm to human life and wellbeing. One executive director responded that the World Bank seeks to create a space where human rights, transparent governance, legitimate process, and enforceable grievance mechanisms can operate. For that reason, the new thinking is: aim to work within each country, but don’t accept any abuses in Bank-sponsored projects.

To many, that feels like an uncertain assurance, but it simply means we need strong and enforceable protections so that the world community can ensure spaces for responsible civics, even in landscapes where open and responsive civics would otherwise be a near impossibility. Safeguards and grievance mechanisms are a way to strengthen those protections built into policies or into projects, and reporting on and strengthening safeguards and grievance mechanisms is a focus of the Civil Society Policy Forum. But direct citizen participation is increasingly a priority.

The roundtable discussion was open, far-ranging and gave both civil society representatives and leading decision-makers the opportunity to express in their own terms their personal and organizational values. For some, the event was an opportunity to express concerns or to request assistance, collaboration or leadership. After many questioners intervened with suggestions that outside voices need more of a hearing, I was called on to ask a question.

Everyone Wants More Engagement

I chose to highlight the connections between comments and questions from people who spoke before me, from Mongolia, from El Salvador, from India, from the US, all of whom wanted more open information flows and more access for citizens and stakeholders, whether online or in person. I wanted the decision-makers in the room to take note of the fact that on nearly every topic discussed, the right of people to participate directly, in an ongoing way, in the processes affecting their lives, was of concern to those present.

My question was: Since we know from experience that building real working relationships improves policies, political dynamics, and outcomes, can’t we work together to establish a standard whereby citizen engagement is direct, substantive, and ongoing, beyond the initial consultation?

The response was direct, and significant: an executive director of the World Bank embraced this idea, saying that while genuine, quality direct engagement is not easy in all circumstances, it certainly makes sense to work together to facilitate such improvements to the engagement process. Specifically, she noted that with direct, substantive, ongoing citizen engagement, it would be possible to understand better and faster how projects are evolving, and where changes need to be made, without having to wait for a two-year progress report. The takeaway: we can make more progress, in ways that improve human-scale outcomes, by working more regularly and more closely together. Citizens should be at the table.

Direct Engagement in Global Governance

For many, the notion that intergovernmental (multilateral) negotiations can allow for direct citizen participation seems improbable. Governments enjoy sovereignty, want expediency, and require expert technical assistance for many aspects of the work they do through intergovernmental institutions. But none of that provides another urgently needed resource: relevant, reliable, nuanced, local information about the lived experience of stakeholders.

Adding to the policy process the voices of people who will have to live with the policy outcomes can pre-empt many of the worst-case scenarios, and even give affected parties a stake in the projects in question. Our Pathway to Paris World Bank Working Session, held at the Civil Society Policy Forum on Wednesday, April 15, focused on the role of direct citizen participation in the global climate negotiations.

Prof. Susanna Cafaro set the tone, discussing her vision of “supranational democracy”, whereby individual citizens and stakeholders participate as global citizens beyond the boundaries of their own national political systems. For Prof. Cafaro, this is a process of building, and each individual human being has a role to play in making our civics not only more active and engaged, but more global.

Prof. Cafaro was followed by Sarabeth Brockley, an experienced youth leader, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and participant in the global climate policy process. She now works with UN DESA (the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) and the Adopt a Negotiator platform. Sarabeth made the very significant observation that each of us is a disaggregated data set, reiterating “That’s what we all are” and noting that the policy process doesn’t adequately consider this.

Bruce Parker, a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer, shared his experience of choosing not to surrender. By engaging the policy process, by working with others and forming a team, with the deliberate aim of building relationships with elected officials, his role as a citizen was transformed. No longer was citizenship simply a status; it was now a realm of possibility, a right, a power, a capability, and a way to achieve better outcomes for society and for the world.

Jim Parks, founder of the Parksonian Institute and an accomplished leader, investor, and executive coach, showed how what we see matters. When looking at a landscape of possibility, the degree to which your mind is able to see both variation and coordination can determine the degree to which your aims and aspirations are achievable.

In the room, there was a lot of interest in the problem of marginal excluded views and lived experience. We have to say “marginal excluded”, because marginal views might be less well thought of, or simply less commonly examined, but the issue was really the exclusion of certain views because they don’t reach into the spaces where the dominant thinking is determined. Entire communities, cultures, nations, can be excluded from consideration.

What we do and don’t know

A running theme of the Civil Society Policy Forum is the gap between what we know and what we need to know, especially about the lives people lead in connection with policies decided on their behalf. Expertise is vital, to ensure that experience and studied judgment are at the heart of the policy process, but the inclusion of non-expert stakeholders must also be central. If we don’t include such voices, then the landscape of our thinking must be incomplete.


The Bretton Woods II panel brought this problem into focus, in a number of ways, but none more stunning or salient than the contribution of 8-year-old Sabine. Sabine’s mother was a panelist, and said she had promised her daughter 1 minute of talk time in front of the room. Sabine joined her mother on the panel, and with poise and clarity of mind explained that she felt financing for development should give us three main things:

  1. A world without litter, i.e. a clean environment;
  2. Education for all children, especially improving conditions for girls;
  3. A way to expand job opportunity for people in poor communities.

Her intervention was short, direct, and lucid, and seemed to indicate to the room that it was acceptable to have a sense of hope about the future. One participant intoned that hers was the most perfect description of overseas development aid and finance he had ever heard.

The aim of the Bretton Woods II initiative is to ensure that what is actually most conducive to good human-scale outcomes is built into the policy infrastructure designed to enable it. Sabine’s intervention was a reminder: people know what is needed, and they can articulate it with local perspective and moral clarity.

A network of moms with global reach

Jen Burden is a friend from my university days. And our alma mater, Villanova University, has adopted the slogan Ignite Change, so it was with great joy but not surprise that I can say Jennifer used her wisdom and leadership skills to create the World Moms Blog, one of the most important online publications for expanding the reach of women’s voices around the world. In our session, Jen humbly said she works with “a bunch of global moms”. The phrase seemed almost casually powerful, so we dug into its meaning, to highlight the fact that these women have been able to bring their local perspective and their wisdom about human-scale needs and outcomes to a global audience.

They have become a network of women using their voices to achieve a global redefinition of policy, stakeholder input, community leadership, and online authorship.

During a panel she shared with colleagues from RESULTS, it became clear that this opportunity to connect, and then to collaborate in order to raise their voices, had been instrumental in making women in many parts of the world feel relevant to the global community. Communications technologies and social media were one part of that process of liberation; much more important was the fact that someone was putting their attention on those relationships.

Allison Grossman and Cindy Changyit-Levin, from RESULTS, echoed the message Bruce Parker and I had shared on the Pathway to Paris panel (CCL uses the RESULTS methodology): the work of citizens engaging in sincere, mutually empowering working relationships with their own elected officials changes what is possible in the landscape of political will. In so many ways, the greatest need of women, children, stakeholders of all kinds, is to be more engaged, so that they are effectively in the room. Decisions are made by those that show up, so showing up matters.

Scaling Up Climate Finance

On Thursday morning, April 16, in the Board Room of the World Bank Group, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Vice President for Climate Rachel Kyte and Werner Hoyer of the European Investment Bank (EIB) hosted a meeting with finance ministers, policy experts and civil society representatives, to discuss the ongoing effort to build into the global climate policy process the financing needed to mobilize solutions around the world.

Dr. Kim noted that we already have $30 billion per year moving “from North to South” in support of climate-smart investment; if public and private funds are going to mix to achieve the Green Climate Fund’s $100 billion/year charter requirement, then we are closer than ever, but there is still much to do. Collaboration between institutions and civil society, and between the public and private financial sectors, will be crucial to ensuring resources move where they need to.

EIB Pres. Hoyer wanted to orient the room toward three crucial perspectives:

  1. Forward motion: “We have an obligation to think ahead”
  2. Crowd-in partners: “Wherever possible, we must strive to crowd-in private investors”
  3. Act now: “2015 is an action year for sustainable development and climate change”

He capped these comments by adding that “We can commit to shaping our future, instead of just managing it.” Mitigating climate risk and building resilient economies is not simply a passive response to a mounting crisis; it is an opportunity to take the reins and commit to shaping a future in which the worst degradations no longer exist and we avoid catastrophic threats together.

Rachel Kyte and Pierre Moscovici made clear that effective, transparent, forward-directional carbon pricing will be crucial for creating an enabling environment for robust climate finance and clean investment. Dan Kammen put the issue of solar microgrids on the table, and we were able to discuss the fact that multifaceted locally held distributed generation is the new global economy of scale in energy investment.

Dr. Atiur Rahman, Governor of the Central Bank of Bangladesh, called for better, more robust, standardized and transparent documentation of what is being done to motivate clean development and climate finance. The aim is so widely desired that building awareness will also build value for projects, industry, funds, and investors.

In support of our Pathway to Paris coalition, and the aim of efficient, human-friendly clean investment policy, I was able to put the following on the table:

Carbon pricing is crucial to ensure the optimal affordability of clean development. Depending on the design, you can build real, new value, at the human scale. How do you see the most innovative, efficient, inclusive options for ensuring we don’t have carbon pricing gaps, so we can ensure robust, effective funding for ongoing clean development?

The answer—which came from various participants indirectly, as part of their responses to a last round of several questions—was: Policy design matters; local relevance matters; supporting policies must play a role, and we need to make sure we are pulling together the smart, relevant, network of policies that can best condition a local market for scaled up climate-smart investment.

And, it seems appropriate to give Laurence Tubiana the last word. She is the French government’s Climate Ambassador, and a leading architect of the COP21—the global climate negotiations to be held outside of Paris in December. Laurence put the need for collaboration front and center: working closely with the Peruvian COP presidency, the French planning team has been looking to engage subnational governments, major emitters, policy experts and civil society organizations, in facilitating an open negotiation that should put most of the legal framework in place by October.

Young leaders redesigning the future

I was privileged to have the support and hard work of Sarabeth Brockley, a contributor to our Pathway to Paris working session, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and scholar in Environmental Policy Design, now working with UN DESA and the Adopt a Negotiator platform. These young leaders are doing more than learning and contributing; they are creating a culture of global responsibility and direct participation.

What has, in the past, been a project of urging leaders to be better than past experience is now becoming a conscious effort to reimagine the nature of power and the means of participation in the policy process, across the world. Sarabeth, Kaia, Julio, Luisa, and many others, are creating a future in which policy outcomes are more likely to match up with their own best intentions and committed character.

These young leaders participate in World Bank and IMF meetings, and travel to UN conferences, because they are busy redesigning the future. Through participation-building projects, like Pathway to Paris, we now have a chance to work deliberately with people of conscience, of all ages, to not only influence the policy process, but to be directly involved in making it work.

The Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF will be held in Lima, Peru, in October. Last year, when the UN climate negotiations were held there, I was fortunate to be able to address a bold, smart, and committed group of students at the Colegio Roosevelt, who had just wrapped up their own international climate conference. We will look to smart young people who are opening new terrain in the study of environmental economics and clean energy research, to add force to the coming shift in global policy.

In Paris, at this very moment, young leaders with what is already a lot of their own direct experience in global leadership, through the climate negotiations, are working to support a coordinated, positive outcome from the COP21 in their city. The CliMates, COP in My City, Coalition Climat 21, and the Make it Work project, through Sciences Po, are making sure the actual structure of global governance is better attuned to effective service and positive outcomes than in the past.

The Spring Meetings featured a public event, in which youth leaders spoke to those gathered about how and why they support the goal of ending extreme poverty. Rachel Han and others explained to a packed Atrium in the Main Complex building their priorities for Action 2015, ending poverty, and building inclusive development and participatory climate politics.

The Takeaway

There is so much more we could report on from this diverse and far-ranging week of policy decisions, intergovernmental negotiations, and civil society dialogue, too much to allow this report to be of reasonable length. From the entire week, the takeaway seems to be: more input is better; more openness is catalytic; open examination of diverse insights can make consensus easier to achieve; we get smarter together.


Between now and the World Bank / IMF Annual Meetings, in Lima, Peru, in October, we will see negotiations on carbon pricing standards (Barcelona), the composition of the Paris climate agreement (Bonn), Finance for Development (Addis Ababa), and the Sustainable Development Goals (New York). There will be many other summits, conferences, and side events between now and October, and less than two months later, the world will be agreeing a new way to collaborate, as nations and blocs of nations, to mitigate climate risk and build a resilient and prosperous future for humanity.

We will do much better if we are more open, include more voices, and allow civil society to sit at the table with leading decision-makers. Every person everywhere counts, and we cannot do well by that standard, not well enough, unless we first acknowledge that fact, and then “crowd in” the human need and local genius, of everyone who can help.

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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