The Spring Meetings[*] of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund do not just serve as an opportunity for central bankers, finance ministers, and private sector executives to discuss the global economy and their new, innovative ideas for ending poverty. The Bank and Fund also host dozens of events to discuss global development issues with journalists, development experts, and academics. Hundreds of civil society representatives from around the world will also descend upon Washington D.C. next week to take part in the Civil Society Policy Forum (CSPF),[†] a side event that offers opportunities for civil society to steer the conversation toward issues they care about and include perspectives that are not usually covered in Bank/Fund events. Despite the differences in perspective, however, many of the same issues tend to dominate the conversations. This spring, those include the following:
Will They or Won’t They?
The U.S. will likely commit (or not) to a general capital increase (GCI) for the World Bank next week. A general capital increase, or GCI, allows the World Bank to lend more to middle income countries, but also indirectly supports lending to the world’s poorest countries. Last October, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “shot down” the idea of a capital increase for the World Bank. At the time, questions still swirled around whether the U.S. would follow through on its pledge to IDA—the World Bank’s lending window for low income countries—which is usually an easier political lift. The Obama administration pledged $3.6 billion to the 18th replenishment of IDA in December of 2016, but the Trump administration took the reigns before Congress approved the amount–leaving it up to Trump appointees and a Republican-controlled Congress to determine whether and how much the U.S. would contribute to IDA18. Ultimately, the administration did express support for IDA in its budget request to Congress and, after much debate, Congress approved a U.S. contribution to IDA18 that was relatively close to the original pledge. Now, focus shifts to whether the support demonstrated by the administration and Congress for the World Bank’s efforts in the poorest countries extends to the Bank’s larger mission which requires lending to middle income countries that the U.S. sees as problematic—namely, China. Secretary Mnuchin’s comments before a key congressional committee this week indicate the administration will support the GCI, but unless the Bank makes firm commitments around its lending to middle income countries like China, an agreement could continue to prove illusive.
President Kim’s speech at American University Washington College of Law this week emphasized the role of technology and the challenges it poses to development around the world. President Kim’s enthusiasm for the inexorable nature of human progress was evident, but the speech itself was thin on details for how the World Bank can play a role in supporting countries adapt to the rapid changes technology is spurring, particularly around employment. The speech comes at an interesting time as the World Bank works on a new World Development Report that will focus on “the future of work.” A working draft of the WDR, dated April 11, explores questions around the impact of technological innovations on the future of work. In a departure from an earlier WDR from 2013 on jobs, which debunked the myth that labor regulations have a negative impact on employment levels, the draft WDR apparently resurrects the myth, indicating answers lie in deregulation. In addition to showcasing ideas from the draft WDR, many, many official events will cover issues related to technology and its impact on development more broadly, including:
Tuesday, April 17
- “Technology and the Future of Work” IMF HQ1, Cedar Hall 1-660, 3:45 – 4:30pm
Wednesday, April 18
- “Digitalization and the New Gilded Age” IMF HQ1 Atrium, 3:30 – 4:45pm
- Christine Lagarde will moderate this one, which includes some VIPs from the private sector, government and academia.
- “Digital Protectionism and Cross Border Data flow: The Role of Civil Society and Netizens in Shaping Digital Trade Agreements” I Building, I2-220, 4:00 – 5:30pm (Sponsored by Public Knowledge with Internet Governance Project, Georgia Tech)
Thursday, April 19
- “SDGs and Big Data” World Bank MC Preston Auditorium, 2:30 – 4:00pm
- This event is packed with panelists, a few notable participants include: Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Shaolin Yang, Managing Director and WBG Chief; and Ministers from Egypt, Mexico, Rwanda, Colombia, among others.
- “New Economy Talk: Making the Digital Economy work for Everyone” IMF HQ1 1-660, 4:45 – 5:30
Friday, April 20
- “Moving from Financial Access to Inclusion: Leveraging the Power of Technology” World Bank MC Preston Auditorium, 11:00 – 12:30
- This is a major flagship event, with royalty (H.M. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands), the Gates Foundation (ED Rodger Voorhies), and JYK himself, among others.
The World Bank is increasingly acknowledging the important role that civil society plays in development, but critical points of view or resistance from communities and social movements are still often treated as a problem to be managed rather than a critical part of the development process. In many countries in which the World Bank and other IFIs work—as well as in many donor countries—journalists, lawyers, activists and ordinary citizens are suffering under repressive crackdowns on dissent, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. Although CSOs have increasingly voiced concerns in recent years over the World Bank’s engagement with civil society in repressive environments, the willingness of the Bank to hear alternate views or engage meaningfully with people impacted by its projects and programs is too often still only a footnote in its broader agenda. In President Kim’s speech this week at AU he made reference to the progress the Bank has made over the last few decades in opening up to civil society, but also acknowledged the difficulty the Bank has as a “cooperative of governments” and the disparate views on civil society among them. Civil society will be encouraging President Kim and the Bank generally to continue to do more, and to ensure that the Bank continues its progress toward greater transparency, accountability, and participation of all people impacted by the development process—however critical or inconvenient their views may be. Events in which this issue will certainly be discussed include:
Tuesday, April 17
- Civil Society Roundtable with World Bank Group Executive Directors, World Bank MC 13-121, 3:00 – 4:30.
Wednesday, April 18
- “Open, Transparent and Inclusive: How Information Disclosure Can Lead to Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement” I Building, I2-250, 11:00 – 12:30 (Sponsored by the Center for International Environmental Law)
- “Rethinking Civil Society Roles in Helping Achieve Good Governance Targets in SDG16” I Building, I2-250 4:00 – 5:30 (Sponsored by Partnership for Transparency Fund with Global Integrity)
Friday, April 20
- “Valuing Civic Space for more Effective and Sustainable Development—A Townhall” I Building, I2-220 9:00 -10:30am.
Last fall, in a speech prior to Annual Meetings, President Kim announced the “Human Capital Project” which would incentivize borrowing countries to invest more in health, education, and social protection. The proposal is still fuzzy, but President Kim again mentioned it in the speech this week and will likely use his appearances in several of the Bank’s main events to tout the initiative. A question that is yet to be answered is how the World Bank can ensure it is not undermining human capital through its investments in infrastructure, transport, and other sectors that can result in harm to communities. The Bank has taken important steps in addressing these issues over the last year through the Gender Based Violence Task Force, among other initiatives, but much more work remains to be done. Discussions around operationalizing these commitments will likely ramp up toward the end of this year as the Bank begins to think about the “special themes” it will focus on for IDA19. Panelists in the following panels will likely be setting the foundation for the Bank’s added value around investing in human capital for those discussions that will happen over the next year and half:
Wednesday, April 18
- “Securing the Foundation for Human Capital” World Bank MC, Preston Auditorium, 4:00 – 5:30pm.
- WB CEO Kristalina Georgieva will be on this panel along with the ED of UNICEF, the Founder and Chair of Girls Not Brides, and former Australian PM Julia Gillard who now chairs the Global Partnership for Education.
- “Transport Project for Development: Addressing Social Impacts” I Building, I2-210, 9:00 – 10:30am
Saturday, April 21
- “Building Human Capital: A Project for the World” World Bank MC, Wolfensohn Atrium, 10:00 – 11:00am.
- This is a big one: JYK, Bill Gates, and Penny Mordaunt of DFID. Ali Velshi of NBC will moderate.
[†] CSPF Events are held at the World Bank “I” Building at 1850 I Street, NW, which is the same location as registration and badge pick-up.