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Social Development

Available in: Français, العربية

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Social development concerns itself with: promoting the inclusion of poor, vulnerable and excluded groups (especially youth and women); strengthening social cohesion and the capacity for collective action towards development; and enhancing the capacities of citizens and civic groups to hold accountable the institutions that serve them.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has a rich historical, cultural and religious heritage. It is endowed with human, natural, and financial resources, has valuable biodiversity, and exhibits a high level of infrastructure development. Extreme poverty in the region is quite low and aggregate human development indicators are generally fair, owing to extensive government transfers, supplemented by remittances, and widely shared traditions of family and social responsibility among the population.

Over the last two decades, MENA countries have made noticeable progress in social development. Initiatives have been launched for (i) the inclusion of youth, women and other vulnerable groups; (ii) the reinvigoration and empowerment of local communities; and (iii) improving citizen and private sector access to information on government-related opportunities and benefits. However, the MENA region still faces the social development challenges of inclusion (of youth, women, and vulnerable groups), social cohesion (in urban and rural areas) and greater accountability (of governments and other service providers to citizens).

Lack of social cohesion within and between countries in the region frequently results in conflict (not always violent) which, if not managed properly, is both a cause and consequence of failed development. While social development cannot guarantee peace, it may mitigate conflict, at least at a local level. Recent conflicts in the region remind us of the need for development to be sensitive to conflict and political contexts, and of the important potential role of the World Bank in rebuilding social as well as physical capital.

Key Issues in the Sector

Many groups, especially youth and women, need opportunities to share development benefits: Around two-thirds of MENA’s population is under the age of 30. Youth need greater access to economic opportunities, quality education, recreation, and political participation. This lack of access, in combination with rising expectations brought about by education and the information revolution, creates frustration among youth and may even threaten the social fabric. The region has shown remarkable progress in improving human development indicators (especially in education and health) for women over the last couple of decades. Nevertheless, persistent gender-based inequalities contribute to women’s social, economic and political exclusion and so retard national development.

Urban and rural community institutions and local governments need strengthening for greater social cohesion and to reduce the risk of conflict:  Societies in MENA have a high degree of social organization and networks of solidarity. However, many have also known the social and economic costs of violent conflicts that have brought destruction, loss of lives, created poverty, distorted development priorities, and greatly weakened social cohesion. Rapid urbanization and modernization, on the other hand, have weakened the institutional structures of communities. These institutions are no longer able to fully mitigate social tensions, especially in the context of rapid population growth, urbanization, high unemployment and a depleted natural resource base. In order for citizens to play their part in development and to reduce the risks of conflict at the local level, community institutions of self-management and self-regulation need strengthening and better integration into revitalized local governments.

Citizen-state interface needs to be improved for better accountability: MENA is being transformed by an information revolution that provides its citizens with unprecedented access to regional and global information which can no longer be controlled by governments. However, insufficient public access to information and inadequate disclosure of government transactions reduce accountability and limit the private sector’s and citizens’ ability to access opportunities. This is further compounded by insufficient mechanisms to provide feedback on the quality of government services; and by constraints on civil society to monitor government performance, organize complaints and advocate on behalf of the poor.

The MENA region has a diversity of minority social groups that do not have full access to development benefits: Particularly vulnerable groups are people with disabilities, children at risk, people with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and refugees. With regard to HIV/AIDS, very low overall prevalence rates (0.2%) represent a unique window of opportunity to act decisively and in a timely manner. Conversely, there is a risk that complacency may lead to inaction and to increased vulnerability to the epidemic, especially among vulnerable groups, in a context characterized by stigma, lack of information, fear and denial.

World Bank Recommendations

The corporate social development (SD) strategy, “Empowering People by Transforming Institutions: A strategy and Implementation Plan for Social Development in Bank Operations,” was issued in 2005.  The strategy focuses on efforts to empower poor women and men through enhanced Bank support for social inclusion, cohesive societies and accountable institutions.

The engine behind the development of the corporate social development strategy has been the widespread evidence that “social development matters,” in particular the review undertaken by the Operations Evaluation Department (OED) and the Quality Assurance Group.  The review, “Putting Social Development to Work for the Poor: An OED Review of World Bank Activities,” concludes that addressing relevant social development themes is strongly associated with successful project outcomes, and the more social themes a project addresses, the better its outcome, sustainability, and institutional development impact ratings.

Concurrent with the corporate level effort, the MENA region issued a regional social development strategy, “Securing a Future for All”. The MENA social development strategy addresses challenges that are critical to the region’s sustainable social and economic development: (a) social inclusion (youth, gender disparities and protection of vulnerable groups); (b) strengthening social cohesion in urban and rural areas; and (c) enhancing the capabilities of citizens and civic groups to hold accountable the institutions that serve them. 

Implementation of the regional social development strategy focuses on four strategic areas in MENA:

  • Supporting an overall enabling framework for social development in the policy dialogue: Reflect social development issues in key strategic documents such as the Country Assistance Strategy (CAS), and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), as well as through policies which promote the social development principles of inclusion, social cohesion and accountability. This will be accompanied by more free-standing analytical work such as Country Social Analyses and Poverty and Social Impact Analyses (PSIAs).
  • Building a portfolio of projects that focus on the key social development principles of inclusion, social cohesion and accountability: These will, in general, involve pilot multi-sector projects and programmatic operations not adequately covered by a sectoral approach, such as youth inclusion, gender, demand side governance and community-driven development, climate change, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction.
  • Improving the effectiveness of Bank-assisted projects and studies by mainstreaming social development in key sectors: Wider participation of the concerned stakeholders in the design, implementation, and monitoring of the projects not only promotes ownership but also builds better institutions and more sustainable development outcomes. This entails maintaining the attention given to investment lending operations through social safeguards and social development work, as well as stepping up analytical efforts supporting Development Policy Loan operations through, for example, Poverty and Social Impact Analyses.
  • Strengthening, through capacity building and partnerships, the Bank’s and clients’ ability to undertake social development:  This will foster the creation of ‘communities of practice’ for social development work, build social development knowledge of good practice in country and task teams, and legitimize the use of social development knowledge to better measure outcomes. Partnership with local and regional institutions is to be encouraged to promote two-way knowledge sharing.

World Bank Lending/AAA Activities

Operations in the Social Development Sector:

  • Village and Neighborhood Development Project – West Bank and Gaza
  • Integrated Community Development Project –  West Bank and Gaza
  • Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) III Project   West Bank and  Gaza
  • Pilot CDD in KRG (Kurdistan), Iraq
  • Proposed Multi-donor Trust Fund (MDTF) for Reconstruction of Nahr Al Barid  Palestinian Refugee Camp

Economic and Sector Work:

  • Country Social Analyses (analyze a country’s social context and trends to identify macro-level constraints and opportunities for development)

(a)     Iraq Country Social Analysis;
(b)     Yemen Country Social Analysis

  • Poverty and Social Impact Analyses (measure the social impacts of reform on different social groups and provide mitigation measures to address negative impacts)

(a)     Djibouti Energy PSIA ;
(b)     Morocco Water PSIA ;
(c)     Morocco Solid Waste Management PSIA;
(d)     Yemen Energy Supply and Use PSIA; 
(e)     Yemen Water PSIA ; 

  • Community Driven Development (CDD) Stocktaking Study (covering FY 2000 - 2007)
  • Assessment of  Achievements, Opportunities and Constraints of Female Associations in Rural Morocco
  • Analytical work on youth  inclusion

(a)     Voices of the Youth- Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, West Bank and Gaza
(b)     Morocco Breaking the Barriers to Youth Inclusion
(c)     MENA Youth Policy Note (in collaboration with the MENA Human Development unit)
(d)     Egypt - Mapping Gendered Pathways to Youth Inclusion

  • MENA Local Service Delivery Initiative (focusing on the demand side of governance through testing accountability mechanisms in Yemen, Egypt and Morocco)

All dollar figures are in US dollar equivalents.  September 2008

For more information, please contact:
In Washington: Najat Yamouri


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