This high-level session was geared to discussing what social accountability is, what role it plays in development, and how the Bank can best support efforts to improve government services and promote more accountable governance. The panel was composed of Corazon Juliano-Soliman (Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines), Sam Worthington (CEO, InterAction), Laila Iskandar (Managing Director, Community and Institutional Development Group, Egypt), Maya Harris (Vice President, Ford Foundation), and Robert B. Zoellick (President, WBG).
The session was moderated by Caroline Anstey (Managing Director, WB), who began by asking panelists to address the following question – what does social accountability mean and why does it matter? She noted that a year ago, citizen movements from across the globe demonstrated powerfully that citizens want accountability from their governments. Greater access to modern information technology such as mobile phones and social media is also multiplying opportunities for citizens to provide feedback on government performance. Now many governments are taking on board these lessons and using new technologies to communicate with their citizens and collectively improve services. She further said that many people see social accountability as a political issue. We at the Bank see it as being important for good development outcomes. Citizen voice, beneficiary oversight and input into monitoring and evaluation of projects, we believe, can improve the sustainability and inclusiveness of development and help ensure that money reaches the people who most need it.
Corazon Soliman, an advocate of collaboration between government and civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Philippines, stated that most government agencies use SMS now so that citizens can text to complain and help the government to improve implementation of conditional cash transfers programs. These programs serve about 3 million families, or 6.5 million children. The government has established a partnership with about 300 CSOs who monitor the distribution of funds at the village level, and once they spot trouble the government sends staff to try to resolve it.
Panelists agreed that the more societies participate in their own development, the more they own the outcomes and the more those outcomes are focused not only on elites but on the population that most needs the services. Around the world, public participation is increasing and changing how governments operate. Sam Worthington of InterAction noted that the term ‘social accountability’ means an invitation to the population to engage in its own development process through civil society. It is a critical role of civil society to figure out how it’s going to work best with government and ensure that citizens get what they deserve--which is ultimately a better life.
Laila Iskandar provided a note of caution, however, by noting that not all countries and societies can organize themselves this way. For example, the freedom of association law in Egypt limit CSO activities and prevents them from playing their role as full partners for social and economic development. She noted as an example the fact that she has been working with garbage collectors for years and witnessed how they played an important role in recycling and protecting the urban environment in several cities in Egypt. This, however, has not been recognized by the state and their business has recently been hurt further as the private sector was mandated with managing the sector, thus leaving thousands of garbage collectors with no income. The collectors have faithfully cleaned the city and collected the trash for decades without receiving appropriate benefits or legal recognition. This is partly caused by the fact that there has been a lack of accountability on all levels, from the local and national level, but also at the international level.
Maya Harris explained that the Ford Foundation is supporting and encouraging innovative partnerships that already exist between government and civil society. Government has to be part of the solution, and we need to strengthen government institutions to make them more responsive to citizens. She added that social accountability is about social change so we need to take a long-term view of our support.Robert B. Zoellick concluded the discussion by noting that the Bank understands now more than ever that citizen voice and the engagement of project beneficiaries are crucial for lasting development results. He also stressed that the Bank has worked with CSOs for several decades, with funding reaching $645 million in FY08-10. What the Bank has learned is that social accountability and engagement of civil society makes for more effective programs, ensures that money is better spent, and leads to better results.
In response to several questions from civil society questioning what responsibility the Bank has had in supporting authoritarian governments, he said that the Bank is now clearly supporting improved governance in partner governments, and that ultimately it is the responsibility of citizens to demand improved governance. He also noted that the Bank is considering establishing a Global Social Accountability Partnership (GSAP) to support CSO efforts in this area and has been consulting CSOs widely.
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