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Social Development

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Social Development
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Social Development

Related topics:
 Conflict, Crime & Violence 
 Demand for Good Governance 
 Indigenous Peoples 
 Social Dimensions of Climate Change 
 Sustainability & Safeguards 

At a Glance

·         Social development promotes inclusion, cohesion, resilience and accountability as the operational principles that define socially sustainable development. 

·         Mainstreaming social sustainability involves addressing a comprehensive range of social opportunities, risks, and impacts that will ensure the social sustainability of Bank’s development assistance. 

·         Social development includes the poor and excluded in the development process, and translates the complex relationships between societies, states and communities into operations.

·         Social Development staff work with governments, communities, civil society, and the private sector to help promote a state that is accessible, responsive and accountable to citizens.



Social development “puts people first”  and stands for the bottom-up approach to development that brings the voices of the poor and underprivileged into the otherwise top-down development process.

Poverty is about more than low income; it is also about vulnerability, exclusion, isolation, violence, unaccountable institutions, and powerlessness.  Overcoming poverty is not just about getting economic policies right, it is also about promoting social development that empowers people by creating more inclusive, cohesive, resilient, and accountable institutions and societies.

Social development’s integrative approach is critical to some of the most challenging development questions:  How can development contribute to a more stable society?  How can societies recuperate from, and build resilience to, violent conflict and natural disasters?  How can societies proactively adapt to climate change?  How can inclusive societies be promoted that enable the vulnerable and marginalized segments (Indigenous Peoples, ethnic minorities, youth, and women) to become equal partners in defining their development paths? How can development promote government-citizen accountability?  Social Development is striving to address these complex issues.


In parallel with the 2011 World Development Report on “Conflict, Security and Development”, the Bank’s Social Development department (SDV) recently completed and launched a flagship study entitled "Societal Dynamics and Fragility: Engaging Societies in Responding to Fragile Situations".  Drawing on case studies from Yemen, Liberia, Haiti, Central African Republic, and Aceh in Indonesia, the report frames fragility as a problem not only of state capacity but also of relationships in society.  Through this lens, the report advocates for adapting development interventions to build social cohesion and bridge divides across groups, in addition to enhancing the state’s capacity to deal with different groups in society.       

Living through Crises” , a book which explores how people endured the economic turmoil of recent years, how they were affected, and what they did to cope, was launched in April 2012.   The book brings together the results of 17 country studies conducted over 2008-2011 on the local impacts of global shocks.  It gives voice to the poor and vulnerable; analyzes crisis transmission channels and the coping responses used by those affected; and surveys the sources of formal and informal support available to deal with the shocks and their effectiveness.

Looking Ahead

In 2011 the World Bank completed an update of its 2005 Social Development Strategy after five years of implementation.  The Mid Cycle Implementation Progress Report (MCIPR) concluded that the vision and framework of the 2005 strategy remains valid.  However, the key changes in the strategy going forward are:  (i) inclusion of social resilience in the conceptual and operational framework for social sustainability, alongside the operational principles of inclusion, cohesion and accountability, as critical for reducing vulnerability and confronting trends and shocks; and (ii) strengthened efforts to mainstream social sustainability in the Bank’s development assistance.


The Social development principles of inclusion, cohesion, resilience and accountability will continue to be integrated across the institution: at the country level – through diagnostics and programming work; across the Bank portfolio – in its development policy and investment lending alike; and through analytical work exploring key social sustainability challenges.

Social development specialists across the Bank Group are involved in key corporate initiatives that address social sustainability across the institution. These include supporting the update and consolidation of the Bank’s policy framework for social sustainability and safeguards, as well as preparing two flagship reports.  The Flagship Study on Social Inclusion will cover the various aspects of social inclusion, drawing on background materials, new empirical work, and findings from case studies.  The Flagship on Accountability  aims at analyzing the main contextual factors that appear to be critical to social accountability; and to explore how social accountability impacts on state-society relationships; how this impact is mediated by various contextual factors; and how this knowledge can be used to design social accountability approaches that are better suited to the context.  


Despite the consolidation and growth in the Bank’s work and emphasis on social development, several challenges remain and many opportunities exist to further strengthen this work.  Going forward, social development will continue its support to ensure that the World Bank can respond effectively to the needs of its client countries and help strengthen their institutions to be inclusive, cohesive, resilient, and accountable so that development can remain socially sustainable.

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Contact: Karolina Ordon: (202) 458-5971,


Updated September 2012 


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