This week, the World Bank — along with the International Monetary Fund — is holding its annual spring meetings in Washington, D.C. Thousands of government officials, civil society actors and stakeholders from academia and the private sector are gathered in the U.S. capital, where conversations will range from World Bank safeguards to procurement reform to climate change.
Devex will be on the ground at the bank's headquarters talking to bank officials and delegates from around the world. We'll provide continuing updates on the buzz from the meetings — and insights into President Jim Kim's ongoing reforms — on this running blog, so check back regularly and follow @devex on Twitter.
Panelists seem to largely blame the U.N. Mission for Emergency Ebola Response for "sucking the oxygen out of the room" last June as the Ebola epidemic was gaining steam. The agency apparently claimed to have the situation under control, then "almost overnight," Jeremy Konyndyk, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance said, officials on the ground in Conakry said that the army needed to be called in.
Rupert Simons, CEO of Publish What You Fund, said donors’ capacity for quick reaction is especially hampered when they’re constrained by the limited abilities of the countries that they're serving, as was the case in the three Ebola-affected countries.
A lot of energy in a packed safeguards session — although most of the attention centered on the piece released yesterday by The Huffington Post, which shed light on people displaced by World Bank projects. In response to a question about the report, one bank official who works specifically on gender issues said:
"The news story points to weaknesses we've admitted ourselves. We feel we can do better. Two years ago we started looking carefully at internal systems and found several weaknesses."
The official went on the say it was clear from their own internal investigation that "we need to improve a lot, both in implementation and in our information systems. We have an action plan that you have seen, we're also having an internal conversation in how to improve that plan."
Global Delivery Initiative launches at World Bank headquarters with the aim of creating a "global library" for development and delivery solutions — expanding the notion of "science of delivery."
The private sector is out in force in the overflow room as the Ebola session closes, with many individuals — a lot of consultants — hoping to catch a moment not with World Bank officials, but with officials from international organizations like Oxfam and Save the Children. Those individuals and others have put forth some unexpected recommendations during the last minutes of the session.
Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, called for more oversight for these contributions, some of which came under fire in the news recently when Sierra Leone reportedly lost track of Ebola money.
Byanyima also pointed out that "to train doctors and nurses in all three countries, heavy investment of $420 million is necessary," citing a report released today.
A representative from Save the Children commended the humanitarian workers on the ground, but also expressed concerns that organizations will focus on "rebuilding health systems of the past, rather than building the systems of the future."
A lot of interest in the overflow room about Margaret Chan's comments, which were markedly less sunny than others: "We have not seen the end of this virus," said the director-general of of the World Health Organization.
Chan is so far one of the only participants to not use the "zero cases" rhetoric.
"Our research shows that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that this virus will re-emerge in the near-term," she said.
Many participants are expressing concern about the likelihood of another Ebola-like outbreak in the near future.
Mark Bowman, U.K. Department for International Development Director General of Humanitarian, Security, Conflict and International Finance, is pressing on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to examine the state and military response to Ebola when Ban convenes his high-level panel on lessons learned.
"There are many lessons for shared institutions," Bowman said. "We've had to rely on military capabilities, is that what we want to do next time?"
The leaders of the three Ebola-hit nations are asking for an additional $8 billion for the recovery of Ebola over the next two years.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf describes the Mano River Union's desire to implement a "Marshall Plan."
"The Marshall Plan was a consequence of war, but Ebola is like a war," Guinean President Alpha Conde said.
Conde stresses the need for more border support.
"We don't want to wait until the conference in July, we want to leave here with new hope," Conde said.
World Bank President Jim Kim announces the new $650 million contribution over the next 12-16 months to the Ebola recovery, but participants are curious about the second announcement: the "repurposed catastrophe and containment fund," as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde put it, from the International Development Association.
"We can announce that Germany and others have already contributed more than $20 million to the fund,” she said.
The safeguards debate raged on at the packed session on accountability for better development outcomes.
President of Oxfam America Ray Offenheiser told bank officials and CSO representatives: ”It’s shocking to us that nearly half of all World Bank projects fall outside of the safeguards.”
Offenheiser is referring to recent findings announced today by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Huffington Post. The findings show remarkable oversight on the part of the bank regarding widespread displacement of communities as a result of bank projects.
“We at Oxfam are campaigning to close loopholes in the safeguards,” Offenheiser said.
Only a few weeks ago, World Bank President Jim Kim admitted that the bank had done a poor job of relocating and compensating displaced communities, and vowed to do better.
Working with developing countries to build and professionalize their procurement systems is a priority for the newly formed Governance Global Practice at the World Bank. And an important aspect of the World Bank’s procurement reform is an openness to working with country procurement systems for bank financed development projects.
Packed atrium. Momofuku's David Chang sits down to discuss the future of food with World Bank President Jim Kim. Chang says: "The people who need good food most have the least access to it. That didn't sit well with me."
“I make food for very very few people,” David Chang, elite chef and founder of Momofuku restaurant tells World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. “But the more I’m in this business, the more I realize that I need to make food for more.”
Chang and Kim are discussing the issue of food subsidies, with Kim pointing out the food subsidies benefit the rich more than the poor. Is the culture of food one that drives elitism and shames the poor? Chang argues that the elitism of food is largely imposed by society.
“All over the world you realize that food can be amazing at all price points, and that’s when I realized that great food should be available to everyone,” Chang said.
Kim wants to know what this revolution would look like: "I'm ready to get behind it, but where does it start?"
Justin Forsythe, executive director of the Save the Children, spoke from the audience to ask how organizations can use the Brazil Olympics to mobilize engagement.
"How do we make a moment for nutrition in the Brazil Olympics to galvanize the public for nutrition?"
Michael Anderson, CEO of the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, responded that "we have to connect to the strong political leadership of the country to tell nutrition's story," and that he knew Japan was very interested in taking on the issue for its own role in the Olympics.
Civil society can't be underestimated, added UNICEF's Executive Director Anthony Lake. Local NGOs, he said, "are players we haven't been using enough until now."
There is growing attention to nutrition this year, Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF pointed out at a World Bank panel this morning on the power of nutrition. Nutrition not only stunts the growth of children, but also stunts economies, he said.
The structure of a new joint fund to mobilize high-network individuals that is backed by the World Bank, UNICEF, U.K Department for International Development and others is “going to make a big difference," Lake said.
"By matching funds, the fund will have a leveraging effect for UNICEF,” he added.
The fund will empower 500 nutritionists working around the world, Lake said, to “help them achieve greater results.”
World Bank President Jim Kim tells reporters that bank reforms are "much smoother," emphasizing the need for change.
Room packed for World Bank spring meeting event on transitioning to a low carbon economy. Large crowd outside the fourth floor room unable to enter.
An attendee and former British member of parliament is questioning the need for the new layer in the bank's grievance mechanism.
Known as the "grievance redress service," the new system is a corporate level medium for complaints, and adds to the current independent inspection panel.
"Wouldn't it be more efficient to have a single door and a single mechanism rather than one layer for fraud and corruption and another for social issues?" the former MP said.
Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar interviews World Bank President Jim Kim about the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, World Bank safeguards, internal reforms, preventing pandemics and career growth.
At the CSO roundtable with World Bank Group executive directors, the first question proposed by the CSO community was not a question, but a request for a moment of silence for all lives lost "directly or indirectly due to World Bank actions."
As she spoke, other attendees took off jackets to reveal bright yellow T-shirts that read: "Danger, Human Rights Violations Ahead."
When asked to curtail her statement, the spokesman said, "investment without adequate safeguards is a human rights hazard," at which point members of the crowd applauded.
Discussion of World Bank safeguards is already in full swing. How will the bank's alleged "diluted" safeguards affect the formulation of safeguards of new institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?
"We are learning from the WB," said Chen Yu of China's own development institutions. "If you stop putting your own policies to a high standard, how would you expect us to do better?"
Indonesian civil society representative Rio Ismail told participants gathered at a World Bank safeguards panel that "the second round of consultations has been even worse than the first."
The list of invitees and participants was kept secret, he said, and many CSOs that had been previously invited were left out.
Questions of how the bank will improve its policies around displacement continue to emerge. Peter Kitelo of Kenya's Forest Indigenous Peoples Network said that his community is currently divided by a World Bank project that evicted them from their forest homes.
World Bank counsel and justice reform specialist Nicholas Menzies encouraged members of civil society to continue to push the World Bank to do more for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights.
“I encourage you to keep pushing us from the outside and there are people inside who are pushing as well,” Menzies said on Tuesday — the opening day of civil society gatherings during the World Bank’s spring meetings in Washington, D.C.
To advance the LGBTI agenda, the World Bank needs to focus on three priorities: research, networks and staff training, Menzies said.
The bank has a comparative advantage when it comes to economic studies, Menzies said, adding that research into the economic benefits of supporting LGBTI rights can help convince government officials as well as World Bank economists to support the agenda. Networks with civil society actors at the country level are also critical to advancing LGBTI rights according to Menzies, who encouraged civil society actors to engage directly with World Bank country directors to build those relationships.
And since not all bank staff believe that LGBTI rights is a development issue, staff training will be another critical component in terms of advancing the LGBTI agenda at the bank, Menzies said.
Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.