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The World Bank and Civil Society Engagement

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The Civil Society sector—composed of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based groups, trade unions, indigenous people’s organizations, community groups, and foundations, among others—has emerged as a major force in international development in the past 30 years. There has been a dramatic expansion in the size, role, and visibility of civil society which has come in the wake of recent democratic governance movements worldwide such as the Arab Spring.

According to the Yearbook of International Organizations, the number of international NGOs was reported to have increased from 6,000 in 1990 to more than 66,000 in 2012. CSOs have also become significant players in global development assistance, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimating that in 2011, USD$19.3 billion in official development assistance was channeled through CSOs. CSOs have also demonstrated an increased influence and ability to shape global public policy during the past two decades. This dynamism is exemplified by successful advocacy campaign movements that have mobilized thousands of supporters around the world on issues such as poverty reduction and climate change.


WHY the Bank Engages

The WBG has learned over the years that civil society plays an important role in humanitarian relief, social development, and improved governance by:

  • Ensuring that voices of poor and marginalized people can be heard by governments, and that their views are factored into policy decisions;
  •  Partnering with governments to provide social services, particularly in fragile governance and post-conflict settings;
  •  Providing technical expertise and offering innovative, participatory, and cost-effective solutions to local problems; and
  •  Strengthening public sector accountability and transparency through increased support for good governance.

The Bank Group has also learned that by engaging with civil society we can improve the development outcomes of our investments and leverage the technical expertise and institutional support of CSOs.

HOW the Bank Engages

The Bank interacts with hundreds of CSOs every day throughout the world, engaging with them across the span of the engagement continuum which comprises: information sharing, policy dialogue, strategy consultation, operational collaboration, and institutional partnerships. There are some 120 Civil Society Focal Points in Washington and in over 100 country offices responsible for engaging CSOs from the local to the global levels. The scope and intensity of this engagement necessarily varies depending on the nature of the development area and institutional context of each country.  As the graph below indicates, we have found that as CSOs intensify their engagement with the WBG their ability to influence its policies and practices also increases.

Bank-CSO Engagement Continnum


The Bank Group’s relations with civil society worldwide has improved and intensified at all levels of the engagement continuum over the past two decades.

Policy Dialogue and Consultations

There has been a significant growth in the number of CSO representatives attending the Annual and Spring Meetings, from less than 100 ten years ago to over 600 at the 2013 Annual Meetings.  They participate in the Civil Society Program which is includes a CSO Roundtable with Executive Directors, CSO Townhall with Dr. Kim, and a Civil Society Forum with over 50 policy dialogue sessions mostly organized by CSOs.

The Bank consults with CSOs on strategies, policies, and projects from the country to the global levels. At the country level, CSOs were consulted on over 80 per cent of all Country Assistance Strategies over the past few years in over 40 countries. At the global level, the Bank is currently carrying out a comprehensive, two-year consultation process on updating its environmental and social safeguard policies.

Operational Collaboration and Institutional Partnerships

The Bank has steadily increased its operational collaboration with civil society organizations by involving them in Bank-funded projects and funding their development initiatives. The projected involvement of CSOs in Bank-financed projects has increased from 21 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in Fiscal Year 2012.

The Bank also funds hundreds of CSOs each year directly through various grant-making mechanisms such as the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) which supports CSO efforts worldwide to improve public services and promote good governance.  The WBG also supports thousands of CSOs indirectly via government managed community-driven development projects geared to supporting food security, HIV/AIDS prevention, environmental protection, and poverty reduction, see the Bank’s project database.

CSOs have been invited to serve, for the first time, as advisors and/or full partners on the governance structure of several funding mechanisms such as the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), Climate Investment Funds (CIFS), and GPSA.

For other examples of Bank and civil society policy dialogue and operational collaboration at the global, regional, and national levels see the “World Bank – Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2010 – 2012.” To contact the Bank’s Civil Society team please email For information on the Bank’s approach to civil society engagement, a list of country-based civil society focal points, grant funding opportunities, and to subscribe to the monthly Civil Society eNewsletter, please visit the Bank’s Civil Society Engagement website:

Media Contacts: Edith Jibunoh – / (202) 458-1211
 John Garrison – / (202) 473-4742




Last updated: 2014-10-06

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