The World Bank has been working to strengthen its engagement with civil society since 1981, when its first operational policy note on relations with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) was approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors. In the early 1980s, leading international NGOs and the World Bank established the NGO-World Bank Committee which held regular meetings to discuss Bank policies, programs, and projects. Since then the World Bank has undertaken numerous studies, promoted joint World Bank–civil society policy consultations, adopted policies geared to promoting greater participation, hired civil society specialists, and sponsored numerous CSO outreach programs.
This greater emphasis on the need to reach out to civil society has been reflected in at least 15 Bank operational policies or directives for staff, such as the Governance and Anti-Corruption, Access to Information, and Stakeholder Engagement Guidance Note. The benefits of engaging CSOs are also supported by a number of Bank studies over the past decade and more recently the Issues and Options for Improving Engagement Between the World Bank and Civil Society Organizations and the World Bank - Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2007-2009, and Consultations Sourcebook.
The breadth and quality of World Bank – civil society relations began to intensify in the mid-1990s when participation action plans were adopted at the regional level and civil society specialists were hired to work in Bank offices worldwide. Since that time there has been a dramatic increase in the level of interaction and collaboration between the World Bank and a broad range of CSOs worldwide including, community groups, NGOs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and universities.
Reflecting this greater appreciation for the role of civil society in development, projected CSO involvement in Bank-funded projects has risen steadily over the past decade, from 21 percent of the total number of projects in fiscal year 1990 to an estimated 81 percent in fiscal year 2009. CSOs have also increased their involvement in the formulation of Country Assistance Strategies (CASs) and Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs). As CSOs have become more influential actors in public policy and in development efforts, the rationale for the Bank’s civil society engagement strategy continues to grow stronger and is becoming recognized as an integral part of an effective institutional strategy for poverty reduction and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).