The World Bank Group (WBG) first began to interact with civil society in the 1970s through dialogue with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around environmental concerns related to WBG-financed projects. The WBG responded to the growing criticism by initiating policy dialogue, adopting policies on participation, hiring civil society liaison officers, and promoting operational collaboration. In 1982, leading international NGOs and the WBG established the “NGO-World Bank Committee” which held annual high-level dialogue meetings on WBG policies, programs, and projects. Many of reform policies adopted by the WBG over the past three decades – social and environmental safeguards, debt relief, and information disclosure – were proposed and discussed during the NGO – World Bank Committee meetings.

This greater emphasis on the need to reach out to civil society has been reflected in at least 15 WBG operational policies such as social and environmental safeguards,governance, and access to information. A number of guidance notes encouraging WBG engagement of civil society have also been adopted, the most recent being the Guidance Note on World Bank Multi-Stakeholder Engagement approved by the Board of Executive Directors in 2009. The Civil Society Team has also produced a number of papers and reports on the intensifying nature of WBG – CSO relations which include the World Bank - Civil Society Engagement: Review of Fiscal Years 2010-2012 (2013), Consultations Sourcebook (2009), and Issues and Options for Improving Engagement (2005).

The breadth and quality of WBG – 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 over 80 WBG offices worldwide. Since that time, there has been a significant increase in the level of interaction and collaboration between the WBG and a broad range of CSOs worldwide including, community groups, NGOs, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and foundations. Because of the WBG’s decentralized structure and diverse nature of civil society, the scope and pace of CSO engagement varies by region and country. While in some regions and countries the level of engagement is systematic and ongoing, in others it is still nascent and ad hoc.

Today, civil society has become an increasingly important stakeholder influencing WBG policies, participating in Bank-financed operations, receiving grant funding, and serving in decision-making bodies. The WBG undertakes global and comprehensive consultations with CSOs on proposed global policies such as the governance, access to information, performance standards. It recently established a Consultations Hub which lists the numerous policy, strategy, research, and program consultations occurring around the world and in which CSOs are encouraged to participate.

The WBG has also encouraged greater operational collaboration with CSOs through their involvement in Bank-financed projects at the country level. As the table below demonstrates, CSO involvement climbed from 21 percent of the total number of projects financed in fiscal year 1990 to an estimated 82 percent in fiscal year 2012. 

The WBG adopted a new institution-wide strategy in 2013 which prioritizes the twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable and inclusive manner. As part of this effort, the Bank is developing a Strategic Framework for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group-Supported Operations which is expected to further improve relations with civil society and provide greater opportunities for engagement around the Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD), Country Partnership Framework (CPF), and the Bank’s project portfolio. The new WBG Strategy and Citizens Engagement Framework is providing the Bank and CSOs with many opportunities to find synergies and collaborate on public campaigns and education efforts.

The WBG has also increased its financial support to CSOs over the past two decades through a variety of grant mechanisms such as the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) and Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA). These grants, estimated to total $60 million per year, support CSO efforts in such areas as community development, environmental protection, social accountability, and social entrepreneurship.

Beyond policy dialogue and operational collaboration, CSOs are also, for the first time, claiming a seat at the WBG governance table. CSO representatives, for instance, serve on the steering committees of the GPSA and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) in both cases helping to allocate resources. CSO representatives also serve in advisory bodies of several WBG programs and funding mechanisms including the Citizens Engagement FrameworkHealth, Nutrition, and Population CSO Consultative GroupGlobal Environment Facility (GEF), and Climate Investment Funds (CIFs).

Voices from Yemeni Civil Society