The World Bank's new country engagement strategy

A scene outside the World Bank headquarters, where world leaders are meeting this week for the bank’s spring meetings. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The World Bank is changing the way that it develops its economic development strategies with client countries. The effort aims to align country-level programming with the bank’s overarching goals — to eliminate extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity in the countries where it works.

Bank officials gave an overview of the new process Tuesday morning at the financial institution’s spring meetings. And it involves a lot of new terminology.

The new “country engagement model,” officials said, will consist of four steps: a “systematic country diagnostic” to find the main constraints to reducing poverty and increasing inclusive growth, the development of a “country partnership framework” (formerly called a country assistance strategy) that will spell out the bank’s priorities and planned interventions in a country to address those constraints, followed by “performance and learning reviews” to guide midcourse corrections, and finally a “completion and learning review” to learn from the country interventions and feed that into new strategies.

All those steps would be aimed at making the bank’s country-level strategies more evidence-based and more focused on the bank’s goals and have them draw more on the bank’s various institutions, including its private-sector lending arms.

Despite the proliferation of new jargon associated with the process, it may be one of the most meaningful ways that the bank translates its new vision into changes on the ground.

“We’re not being shy about saying we care more about the bottom 40 percent.” said Ana Revenga, who is guiding the diagnostic part of the process.

Revenga is currently an acting vice president and head of the bank’s poverty reduction and economic management division and will, on July 1, become senior director of the newly created poverty “global practice” — part of the bank’s new organizational model that includes 14 global practices and five cross-cutting areas. She said she is on a mission to make sure that the bank’s country engagement focuses on poverty and inclusive growth.

Still, the revamped country engagement framework may not relieve the tensions that can arise as foreign officials negotiate development priorities with partner governments, civil society representatives and other stakeholders. How the bank will navigate those challenges could be seen as a major sign of success or failure of Kim’s ambitious reform plan.

Meanwhile, civil society representatives, in particular, worry that the bank won’t give them and individual citizens enough opportunities to provide input on new partnership frameworks.

Revenga said that the reason the bank has not given country teams a mandate on how to consult with civil society was simply to allow the freedom for country teams to adapt to diverse country realities. The bank, she said, has been doing those types of consultations for a while.

“I have no illusions that these won’t still be difficult conversations that we have with our clients and with our stakeholders,” said Kyle Peters, the bank’s vice president for operation policy and country services, who is responsible for implementing the new country partnership frameworks. “I can’t put in place a new partnership framework that’s going to eliminate all the these tensions, but I’m hoping it will bring them to light and we can discuss them and design our programs around them.”

Both said that the fact that the new diagnostics would be more evidence- and fact-based would help those conversations, and Revenga used the example of gender as an area where data would support civil society in pushing for a greater focus on gender equality.

And they were quick to emphasize that the new process was still being tweaked.

“We are going to be in learning mode for the first year” or so, Revenga suggested.

Organizations and individuals still have an opportunity to provide feedback on the directive’s draft until mid-May.

For the most comprehensive coverage of the World Bank’s spring meetings, check out daily updates via Storify, and be sure to follow Devex on Twitter and Facebook. You may tweet questions and comments to our reporters Paul Stephens @pauldstephens, Michael Igoe @twigoe, Rolf Rosenkranz @devexrolf and Adva Saldinger @deveximpact.

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  • Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a former Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost, and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia: one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.