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Social Sustainability and Safeguards



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Social sustainability means responding better to local communities; ensuring responses are tailored to local country contexts; and promoting social inclusion, cohesion and accountability.

The basic notion of sustainability refers to taking future generations into account while living with the awareness that our actions do have an impact on others and the world at large.

Social sustainability takes the larger worldview into consideration in relation to communities, culture, and globalization. At project level, this means undertaking adequate social analysis and assessment, which in turn allows for adequate identification of social opportunities, as well as adequate mitigation of social impacts and risks, including through the proper application of the Bank's social safeguard policies.

Safeguards policies play an important role in enhancing positive outcomes of development projects - the "benefit" side of the equation. Several policies require meaningful consultation with, and participation by, affected people during the design, preparation, and implementation of Bank-financed projects - a requirement that has often been at issue in projects reviewed by the Inspection Panel. The appropriate implementation of the Bank's safeguard policies plays a central role in ensuring the effectiveness, sustainability and positive development impact of its projects and programs.

Social safeguards policies on Involuntary Resettlement and Indigenous People aim to promote inclusion of the most vulnerable groups and protect involuntarily displaced persons and indigenous peoples. These two policies can be used as entry points to address social issues involved in investment lending operations, and to mitigate and compensate adverse impacts on indigenous peoples and persons displaced by development projects.

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Why is It Important?

There is compelling evidence that projects that addressed four or more social development themes had a 90 percent success rate - compared to a 68 percent success rate for those that did not address these themes (IEG Evaluation 2007).

There has been a significant increase in lending: overall lending has more than doubled between FY05 and FY09, while investment lending has increased by 82% and infrastructure lending has increased by 125%. Large scale infrastructure projects always require large amounts of land and may involve significant involuntary resettlement impacts, and in addition often affect indigenous people. If social dimensions are not well addressed, the potential social opportunities associated with infrastructure projects can easily be lost. In addition, the new investment lending reform will focus on risk management including social risks and some new emerging instruments (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, REDD and Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, FCPF) will have strong social development contents.


The Social Sustainability and Safeguards Cluster of Social Development Department (SDV) aims to improve the operational dimensions of social sustainability and help task teams to enhance social opportunities and mitigate social risks, including but not limited to those covered by the Bank's social safeguard policies on involuntary resettlement and indigenous peoples. This contributes to promoting social inclusion of the most vulnerable groups, cohesion and accountability, which are key in empowering people and overcoming poverty.

The strategic focus areas of the cluster are:

  • Supporting corporate policy development on social sustainability and safeguards.
  • Building staff skills in both broad social analysis and social safeguards through training and mentoring programs.
  • Providing strategic operational support to regions and task teams on the application of the principles of social sustainability and safeguards in specific sectors, country and institutional contexts.
  • Producing knowledge and practical guidelines to support social sustainability and safeguards. This includes social safeguard policy reviews, guidance notes, toolkits and case studies.

In addition to analytical work such as Bank-wide Portfolio Review on OP 4.12; Enhancing the Development Benefits of Hydropower Projects; Resettlement in Disaster Risk Reduction; the Social Dimensions of Infrastructure and strategic operational support, the team also hosts the Secretariat for the Practice Group on Social Sustainability and Safeguards.

Practice Group on Social Sustainability and Safeguards

The Bank is facing the challenge of addressing adverse social impacts of major global trends such as the food, fuel and financial crises, climate change, forced displacement, urbanization and crime and violence. At the same time, the Bank's infrastructure lending has increased significantly and inspection panel requests are on the rise. These challenges have catapulted larger social risk management and social sustainability issues to the fore. However, these external and internal challenges also provide immense opportunities for designing and implementing pro-poor approaches and solutions. In order to better address these emergent challenges and opportunities, the Social Development Sector Board launched the Practice Group on Social Sustainability and Safeguards in 2009. The Social Sustainability and Safeguards Cluster hosts the Secretariat for the Practice Group. The key objectives of the Practice Group include:

  • providing a platform for articulating and addressing the operational dimensions of social sustainability;
  • helping task teams find ways to enhance social opportunities and mitigate social risks, including those covered by the Bank's social safeguard policies; and
  • providing guidance to task teams on the application of the principles of social sustainability and social safeguard policies in specific sector, country and institutional contexts.

The work of the Practice Group has led to a presentation to the Implementation Support Operations Committee on "Promoting social sustainability and addressing social risks and safeguards in Bank-funded operations"; development of core competencies that emphasize skills in social sustainability and safeguards; design of a core course on social sustainability and safeguards; and development of an annual Social Development Field Immersion Training.

The Practice Group has organized BBLs and clinics for staff on topics that are crucial for ensuring inclusion of social aspects into operations such as Guidelines on Consultations and Grievance Redress Mechanisms.

Bank-wide Portfolio Review of Projects Triggering the OP 4.12 on Involuntary Resettlement

Involuntary resettlement is one of the most severe impacts caused by development projects. Involuntary displacement disrupts the social, cultural and economic networks that support lives and livelihoods, and has implications in housing, economic, legal, social, cultural and psychological aspects. The risk of impoverishment of displaced populations is very high if adequate resettlement plans are not prepared and implemented properly. However, if resettlement plans are tailored to respond to the characteristics of affected people, and are implemented properly and timely, resettlement could be turned into an opportunity to improve the living conditions of resettled people.

Regarding the procedures requested by the Bank in preparing and implementing resettlement plans, it is common to find different borrower views on topics such as consultation and participation of affected people, especially because involuntary resettlement is related to laws of eminent domain. Another key issue in resettlement is livelihood restoration, which is always the main challenge, and the one that requires right methodologies to be properly assessed and addressed. Given the growing number of projects involving involuntary resettlement, the multiple challenges faced in preparing and implementing resettlement plans and the significant number of Inspection Panel cases resulting from this policy, it is necessary to have a better understanding of the application of the Bank's resettlement policy in the different regions.

The Bank-wide Portfolio Review on Resettlement aims to: (i) identify the characteristics and trends of projects involving involuntary resettlement across Bank regions, (ii) analyze compliance with OP 4.12 in Bank-financed projects, (iii) identify lessons learned, (iv) identify challenges and opportunities in the application of the Involuntary Resettlement Policy to mitigate the adverse social impacts and to enhance social opportunities and sustainability, (v) make preliminary recommendations to improve resettlement practices, and (vi) prepare a knowledge and learning strategy based on the findings of the review.

A desk review is under way to collect the general information about the projects triggering the Bank's resettlement policy (OD 4.30 from 1994-2001 and OP 4.12 from 2002- 2009), including all active projects under supervision, in the pipeline, and a sample of closed projects. The main objectives of this first phase are to identify the number, characteristics, sectoral and geographical distribution of projects triggering the OP 4.12 and to identify the characteristics of the affected people. The main objective of the review during the second phase is to evaluate resettlement practices and outcomes across regions through in-depth analysis of projects and discussions with TTLs and social development specialists.

Enhancing the Development Benefits from Hydropower Investments to Local Communities

Benefit-sharing is a process to maximize and distribute development benefits across a range of stakeholders, consistent with sustainability. It focuses attention on proactive or ex-ante identification of benefits and design of mechanisms to share benefits and in so doing, increases opportunities for improving efficiency and equity in project development. The final project design and project outcomes are more likely to capture the greatest potential range of benefits the earlier such a perspective is adopted.

This program is undertaken in partnership with the Energy, Transport and Water Anchor (ETWWA), with a project team encompassing staff from both the anchor and regions from social development, water and energy disciplines. This project aims to develop a concise operational framework and tool kit to provide specific and pragmatic guidance to Bank task teams on how to enhance development benefits through benefit sharing under varying country and regional contexts, as it relates to water infrastructure development. The proposed framework and guidance note are meant to support client countries in their efforts to improve their institutions and systems needed to better incorporate benefits-sharing in policy, planning, and project management activities.

Key project components are as follows:

  • Literature Review & Meeting of International Experts
  • Preliminary Operational Framework for Benefits-Sharing
  • Global Case Studies
  • Guidance Note-Tool Kit (encompassing the final operational framework).

This work builds on the strategic priorities of the WCD (2000), the UNDDP compendium of relevant examples (2007), and work done in other sectors that tackles benefits-sharing issues (e.g., the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative's research on revenue management). It aspires to further contribute to the initial work undertaken within the Bank, such as transboundary benefits-sharing in the Nile Basin Initiative, and the literature review completed in FY2008 as the first component of this project. It will attempt to capture and contribute to the dialogue on benefits-sharing in order to accelerate its effective application in Bank hydropower investment projects. The complexity of issues related to benefits-sharing will be examined through the lens of operations. The main question to be addressed is the role of benefits-sharing in investment projects that is practical and robust. The end deliverable of this project will provide guidance to the Bank and other interested parties, including project proponents, governments and communities on how to enhance development benefits from hydropower projects.

Resettlement Toolkit for Disaster Risk Reduction

Natural disasters are occurring more often and at greater scales around the globe with deaths, economic losses and people affected all showing significant upward trends. At the global level, whereas 541 million people were affected (injured, rendered homeless, displaced, evacuated or requiring immediate assistance) by natural disasters during 1970-1979, an estimated 2.3 billion will be affected by the end of this decade.

Adequate planning for resettlement is a precondition for approval of development projects, but resettlement can also be one of the tools for reducing the risk of disasters. This can take place in different phases of the disaster cycle, from prevention to emergency and post-disaster reconstruction. Implementation of resettlement programs could reduce the number of casualties, economic losses and the risk of further impoverishment.

In order to explore the best practices of resettlement in disaster risk reduction, four case studies (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Guatemala) were selected from the Latin American and Caribbean region, which has historically been impacted by multiple natural disasters, and remains one of the most highly natural disaster prone regions in the world, second only to Asia. The frequency and severity of natural disasters hitting the Latin American and Caribbean region is on the rise and predicted to only become worse with global warming and its effects on hydro-meteorological disasters. The case studies have been developed in cooperation with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and LAC region to present the lessons learned from the Latin American and Caribbean region as part of a project of preparing a Resettlement Toolkit.

Thematic Group on the Social Dimensions of Infrastructure

In the Bank, social development specialists work closely with infrastructure teams for improving people's access and promoting social inclusion; managing socioeconomic impacts associated with the construction and operation of infrastructure projects; reducing political and social risks; enhancing governance and reducing corruption through voice and participation; sharing benefits; and reducing risks in conflict affected and fragile states. Infrastructure lending is an important part of the Bank's lending portfolio. To facilitate the exchange of experience, Social Development Department created a Thematic Group on Social Dimensions of Infrastructure Projects in 2007. This Thematic Group aims to promote knowledge sharing and dissemination of methodologies and practices among Bank staff across sectors on the social dimensions of infrastructure; generate operational knowledge and skills in regards to the social dimensions of infrastructure projects; and foster quality enhancement of Bank-financed projects.

The Thematic Group membership is open to Bank staff across sectors and members are encouraged to share relevant documents and information on interesting events with the group. The Thematic Group has its own website with sector-specific resources which also features the BBLs related to the theme. The Thematic Group is managed under the umbrella of the Practice Group.

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