Click here for search results
Online Media Briefing Cntr
Embargoed news for accredited journalists only.
Login / Register

World Bank's Change Agenda: Participation in Decision-Making

Press Release No:96/41S

Contact: Jannette Esguerra (202) 458-5204
fax: (202) 522-3405
David Theis (202) 473-1955

WASHINGTON, February 26, 1996 -World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn today announced that the Bank will go beyond traditional cooperation with member governments to include ‘participation in decision-making’ by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, community groups, cooperatives, women’s organizations, and the poor and disadvantaged.

The announcement came at today’s launch of the World Bank Participation Sourcebook, an event which included over 300 Bank staff in Washington and 40 African NGOs meeting in Accra, Ghana.

Who are the stakeholders?

  • Borrowers, that is, elected officials, line agency staff, local government officials, and so on. Governments, representing borrowing member countries, are the Bank’s most significant partners in that they are shareholders as well as clients and are responsible for devising and implementing public policies and programs.

  • Directly affected groups, i.e., the intended beneficiaries, often including the poor and others who are disadvantaged in terms of wealth, education, ethnicity, or gender.

  • Indirectly affected groups, such as NGOs, private sector organizations, and so forth with an interest in outcomes.

  • The Bank—Bank management, staff, and shareholders

Empowering Stakeholders

“The message is very simple: participation works,” Wolfensohn said. Empowering stakeholders—particularly the poor—beyond information sharing and consultation to decision-making gives project ‘ownership.’ This sense of ownership is vital to the goal of sustainable development—one of the five guiding principles of Wolfensohn’s Change Management Agenda, initiated last year. Wolfensohn stressed that “as we move forward in a renewed Bank, in a changed Bank, participation is one of the guiding principles that we will follow.”

The Bank’s Learning Group on Participatory Development defines participation as “a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them.”

Focus on Poor and Disadvantaged Groups

The poor and disadvantaged groups—in terms of wealth, education, ethnicity, or gender— are usually without a voice in the development process. Because these groups are directly affected by projects, the Bank has reached out to engage them in development activities by learning from them about their needs and priorities. “The truth is that the Bank doesn’t have all the answers. Because the people in the field know the locality better than we do and know the issues better than we ever will, we need to join together,” said Wolfensohn. “Participation is about breaking down barriers.”

Speaking at the launch event, Mr. Ismail Serageldin, the Bank’s Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development, emphasized the importance of using participatory approaches in development: “Participation is about empowering the weak and the marginalized—we are committed to using participatory approaches in all our work, not as a passing fad, but as an integral part of the way in which we do business.”

Getting Results on the Ground


Benin Health Services Development Project

Bank task managers convinced government officials and villagers of the utility of participatory approaches by holding town meetings in remote villages. Once stakeholders were enlisted, the project was prepared using participatory planning workshops. A result of the effort was that villagers now serve on the boards of national bodies and are responsible for important local health care delivery.

Participation achieves results through learning and by changing people’s attitudes, values, and commitment to managing development and problems. It also builds the capacity of local people for self-organization and action. For example, in the Philippines and in Mexico, when irrigation systems were turned over to farmers groups, fee collections doubled and tripled from the levels generated by government revenue staff. In Karachi, Pakistan, costs of sewage systems were 10 times lower when communities got involved in design and demanded new, lower cost systems.

Learning about participation has been a grassroots movement within the Bank and has led to a change from the usual way of doing business. Using participatory approaches, the Bank is doing more listening than imposing. The Bank has identified 19 “flagship” participatory operations which it is monitoring in the following regions: five in Africa, three in East Asia, three in Europe and Central Asia, three in Latin America and the Caribbean, two in the Middle East and North Africa, and three in South Asia. The Bank has also hired NGO liaison officers in its offices worldwide, including 28 in Africa, 10 in Latin America and two in South Asia. The goal is to have an NGO liaison officer in every Bank resident mission to facilitate participatory approaches in Bank-financed projects.

The Participation Sourcebook

The Participation Sourcebook emphasizes that local participation in projects is a vital ingredient for success. It is a tool intended to encourage Bank task managers to use participatory approaches in their work. It is the result of a 5-year learning process initiated by Bank staff through the creation of a Bank-wide network, the Participatory Development Learning Group, with contributions from over 200 staff. Staff nominated by the Bank’s six Regional Vice Presidents for their outstanding contributions to advancing participatory processes in the field were recognized at the launch event today.

A unique feature of the launch was a live two-way video conference between Mr. Wolfensohn and 40 African NGO representatives meeting in the Bank’s office in Ghana. Mr. Edward V.K. Jaycox, the Bank’s Vice President for Africa, also took part in the discussion from Ghana, along with NGO representatives—Charles Abugre, Executive Director of the Integrated Social Development Centre in Accra, and Jalal Abdel-Latif, Director of Inter-Africa Group, based in Addis Ababa.

What Needs to Be Done

Wolfensohn said that he is deeply committed to participation as a key element of his Change Management Agenda and recognizes the need to internalize participation in all aspects of the Bank’s work. “Development is a tough business. We need partnerships—and if we can’t internalize participation, then we shouldn’t be in this business,” Wolfensohn said.



To focus on, be close to, and responsive to our clients


To hold ourselves accountable for achieving high-quality results on the ground


To ensure maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness in resource use


To work in partnership with other public and private organizations, stakeholders, and external groups to help clients reach the goal of sustainable development


To commit ourselves to professional and managerial excellence and to continuous learning

At the Bank’s Annual Meetings last year, Mr. Wolfensohn said that the process of institutional change was one of his immediate priorities. His intention to “change the way the Bank does business—to break the armlock of bureaucracy on the institution” led to the creation of a small Change Management Group late last year. The group—led by three Managing Directors—Gautam Kaji, Caio Koch-Weser, and Sven Sandström—will push forward the Bank Group’s change agenda. The goal of group is to foster and encourage change initiatives by providing a focus for fast learning and the spread of best practice and by fostering open communication about change across the Bank Group.

The World Bank Participation Sourcebook, priced at $15.95, was produced by the Bank’s Environment Department’s Social Policy Division. Journalists may receive complimentary copies by calling Jannette Esguerra, (202) 458-5204 or David Theis (202) 473-1955.

Permanent URL for this page: