Tuesday, October 7, 2014

World Bank...here I come!

Today, I'm flying to DC to stretch my metaphorical wings as a blogger and an activist. I've been invited by the World Bank to attend the civil society meetings preceding the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Who would have thought in 2004 that this stay at home mom struggling to make a difference in the world would be a sponsored guest of the World Bank 10 years later?

My daughters and I with World Bank president Dr. Jim Kim
It started with a blog post I wrote this summer for World Moms Blog - "What the World Needs to Know About the World Bank" - after meeting World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim at the 2014 RESULTS conference. A representative at the World Bank liked how I reported his speech in simple, plain-spoken terms. She reached out to invite me to their Civil Society Program, which has a goal to promote dialogue and exchange of views between Bank staff, civil society representatives, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. I guess now you can add "mom bloggers" to that list of stakeholders!

I'm attending with my friend Jennifer Burden who is a fellow Shot@Life champion and the founder of World Moms Blog.  As bloggers, Jen and I will represent everyday moms who want to create a better world for our children. Our assigned mission is to 1) Live tweet the sessions to help spread word in real time about World Bank activities 2) Blog about the content of the meetings and 3) Consider how everyday people like us might constructively be involved with the World Bank moving forward.

Hooray!...and uh oh! Generally, when I blog about global poverty I work from fact sheets and summaries published by trusted organizations like Bread for the World or the UN Foundation. I take their summaries and put it in the context of my experience as a suburban American mom. This week, I'll be getting information unfiltered and straight from the source. I hope I can keep up! :)

But nevermind all that. I'm nothing if not a thorough student. I've dutifully picked up two books to help me get some perspective of what I'm about to see. "A Guide to the World Bank" is a publication put out by the World Bank itself. "50 Years is Enough: The Case Against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund"was written in 1994 by critics of the World Bank during an era when large protests accompanied every annual meetings. Here are some preliminary observations from my reading:

My prior understanding of the World Bank was a tad simplistic. I had been thinking about the World Bank as one entity. In fact, the World Bank Group is made up of five institutions with different tasks. Only two of them are actually known as the World Bank: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) which lends to governments of middle-income or creditworthy low-income countries and the International Development Association (IDA) which provides interest-free loans and grants to the poorest countries. The graphic to the side lists all the World Bank Group orgs and their functions.

The World Bank Group really does have a confusing alphabet soup of programs, organizations, and committees. It's not just me. The IBRD, IDA, IFC, MIGA, and ICSID? Here's my favorite committee name I found in the Guide: "Joint Ministerial Committee of the Boards of the Bank and Fund on the Transfer of Real Resources to Developing Countries." What? Couldn't get one more prepositional phrase in that title? Wow.

The Millennium Development Goals are a centerpiece of World Bank strategy. Whew! This is a relief because I have been lobbying about these goals for years now. Knowing that they set the Bank Group's  priorities and provide targets for measuring results gives me reassurance that I know where they are headed and that I'm on board with it.

It's not just WHAT the World Bank says it's going to do. HOW they do it is at least - if not more-important. The World Bank was formed in 1944 after World War II to help with the recovery of Europe. It's had a mission to combat poverty for many, many years. However, with the sheer amount of money they have to disperse as loans, the projects can be massive in scope. This is great when projects have the best interests of impoverished people at heart and terrible if they are misguided. Spiderman knows that "with great power comes great responsibility." Well...with great sums of money comes great responsibility as well and it is the civil society groups that make sure the World Bank Group is fulfilling their responsibility.

Past criticisms of the World Bank were a lot harsher than I realized. Here are a few gems from the essays in the "50 Years is Enough" book. "When the Banks projects go wrong, they go wrong on a disastrous scale, causing massive social and environmental ruin." "...at least 6 million children under 5 years of age have died each year since 1982 in Africa, Asia, and Latin America because of the anti-people, even genocidal, focus of the World Bank SAPs." Yikes!

I am a part of this whole picture as well. Within the five areas of reform, I found the goal of "increasing transparency, accountability, and access to information." The World Bank Group seeks to share its global knowledge and experience with a wide audience and to enhance the quality of its operations by providing more information about projects and programs than ever before. Making information and projects more comprehensible to a wider audience...that sounds like something I might be able to help with from my own kitchen table.

So, now that I've armed myself with a little more knowledge. Here are the questions I'm heading to DC with:
  • Fifteen years ago, the civil society organizations I know and respect were criticizing the World Bank and calling for its elimination. What happened that has reversed the protests? Has real reform happened?
  • What do various civil society groups think about World Bank programs now?
  • Do developing countries feel they have adequate say in World Bank policies and procedures?
  • What is the mood of the World Bank and civil society groups as the Millennium Development Goal deadlines looms closer?
  • How can regular, everyday activists like me connect with the World Bank in a way that is comprehensible to us? Do we have a role we can play?
So, wish me luck and follow me on Twitter (@ccylevin) to see what I'm up to. Comment here or tweet me with questions to which you'd like me try to find an answer!


Teresa Rugg said...

Go Cyndi! Go! I have learned so much from this blog! Can't wait for my next dinner party to share my new found knowledge! Thanks for demystifying the World Bank. Daily news reports just assume we all know this background information and we don't. But now, because of you, us moms are starting to get it!

Richard Smiley said...

Bravo Cindy! My question is what should the Bank's role be in developing countries and what aspects should they just stay out of? All the best!