IMF-World Bank civil society town hall meeting.

Remarks by Laila Iskandar, Chairperson, CID Consulting (a social enterprise in Cairo, Egypt), Board Chair, Spirit of Youth NGO in Cairo (situated in the garbage collectors’ neighbourhood of Manchiyet Nasser), and Member, Global Recyclers without Borders Network

Thank you for the invitation to this Town Hall meeting.  From the global CSO community we bring you news of our work with millions of people on six continents. 

We have tested innovative approaches such as mobile banking and others.  We have documented best practice, shared it and been responsive to changing realities of real people in communities. We have professionalised our practice, modernised our methods and transferred our know-how across boundaries and regions.  We have formed global coalitions, adopted a unified vision, agreed on and advocated on global issues.  We have issued joint declarations, represented millions of people in global platforms, partnered with universities, think tanks and leading international foundations.  We have conducted assessments, engaged in rigorous research.  We have developed materials to use in our professional practice and have translated these into multiple languages – not just in the 6 UN languages.


We have come here to listen to you and to speak to you on a few things which have been troubling us for some time:

Growth with inequality

We have noted that data on the overall progress on the MDGs masks inequalities based on gender, income and location. Millions of women and girls, especially those living in rural areas, continue to live in poverty and exclusion. Unemployment has risen in all regions of the world. Malnourishment and hunger are growing with rising food prices. Control over land - the foundation for food security - and other productive resources are eroding.

The Arab revolutions have shown us that growth with inequalities has not guaranteed stable, cohesive societies. Growth in our countries has bred the conspicuous consumption of the corrupt ruling elite. It has not prevented unprecedented high levels of youth unemployment or proliferation of slums and the violation of our rights to live with dignity and respect. We are eager to explore new development paradigms which focus on the distributional aspects of that growth and the centrality of jobs and economic justice.  We would like to work with the Bank to select the policies and programmes which are best suited to achieve prosperity for all and not just for the top 20%.

We hear the predominant discourse bemoan the growth of our populations but we do not hear the corresponding discourse about the path that a globalised economy based on excessive production and consumption is taking us – a path which directly impoverishes women, especially rural women, and which depletes our planet of its resources.  We hear about the Bank approving fossil fuel projects to satisfy this growing global demand in consumption while we know that it will not reach the poor widow in that remote village so that she can help her daughter with her homework.

We have seen the energy produced by mega projects attract corrupt players, at that nexus between government and the corporate sector, so that energy supply and energy subsidies are directed to corporate industry and not to the poor.

Can we work with you to develop energy policies, conduct assessments of local energy needs, participate effectively in decision making and facilitate the public discussion and review of large infrastructure projects in order to guarantee democratic accountability, the sustainability of the environment, the livelihoods of the poor and the safety of our planet? We can work with the World Bank Group to support fossil fuel projects that have as their sole purpose energy access for the poor. We can provide the Bank with information on all the costs of a given project. We can support it in making a decision to go for new renewable and energy efficiency alternatives which demonstrate that they are the best alternative for delivering energy services to the poor.

We have a wealth of information that differs from the one you have.  We want to share it with you.  We can tell you about the social and environmental impacts and consequences of these mega projects on vulnerable communities.  Our consultants care about the communities they research.  They are highly qualified experts from the energy sector, lawyers, financial analysts and development experts.

Can they start working with the Bank to explore new ways of looking at things, to propose new mechanisms and legal instruments to allow communities to access information and to act for their economic, social, environmental and human rights? They would be happy to work with the Bank to conduct assessments which reflect reality on the ground.  They would not be hurried, would not be biased towards government views and would enjoy transparency.

Can the Bank change as fast as young societies are changing?  The Arab Spring has shown that young people will not wait.  Over the past couple of days we have been told that the Bank is a large bureaucratic agency which needs time to change. But how fast can that happen?  Young people may not give the Bank the time to change at its current pace.

We can help governments and the WB accompany communities through the transformative process of empowerment. An example is the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP), where we work with small farmers/producers groups.

Each country and each community is different. We are ready to assist the Bank with new tailored approaches which have worked at the grass roots and which can be scaled up – not with approaches which help keep corrupt power elites controlling wealth.

We would like to assist in breaking the lock on policy, to depart from proposing a single set of reforms from most nations. Can we invite the World Bank and the IMF to open up policy spaces that promote alternative and diverse approaches? We are eager to do this because we consider both institutions influential funders, proponents and enforcers of economic and development policies and global opinion formers.

Is the World Bank still challenged by having to deal with the same corrupt governments which have denied us our rights, our prospects for a future with dignity and hope?  Is there any room for communicating with citizens so as to access more valid and authentic information on the situation on the ground?

Safeguards issues

The World Bank has led the way on the development of strong safeguard policies. We are concerned about attempts to water down safeguards, or to limit their applicability. We would like to work with the WB to engage a larger civil society audience in public consultations and ensure that the safeguards will be clarified, strengthened and expanded to cover existing gaps and all forms of lending.  We would like to add the rights of disabled people in the current safeguards in the same manner that we have a special policy for indigenous people, bearing in mind that, worldwide, the number of people with disabilities is much greater than the number of indigenous people.

In many places in the world there is no national legislation to protect people’s rights.  Communities have come to count on those safeguards, not only on World Bank-funded projects but also in their fight to get their governments to adopt similar legislation.

We commend the Bank on taking a firm stand on transparency and accountability measures to the point of holding off on loans to countries where governments would not comply with those measures but we look forward to these details and standards of budget transparency to be in place soon.

We are concerned about the Programme for Results proposed approach.  It would appear to propose the elimination of the Bank’s 20 years of social and environmental safeguards. Can the Bank commit that all relevant safeguards policies for investment loans apply to the Programme for Results?

We would really like to share with you our experience with Mega Projects:

  1. Corruption: in the tendering process.  This is happening in spite of laws being enacted, procedures being approved, etc.  The government still determines who gets contracts.
  2. They do not reduce the cost of production or create jobs in a significant way
  3. They saddle countries with debt:
  4. They often have negative social impacts on people, particularly the poor and vulnerable

We have substantial experience with job creation.  In the recycling sector alone we have created seven jobs out of every ton of waste that a city generates.

And yet we hear that the Bank and others are investing in incinerators again.  This will destroy the materials on which millions of jobs are based and from which millions of families have developed markets and generated income which they have used to send their girls to school.  This will have severe impacts on the climate. The EPA says that incinerators produce more CO2 per kWh of energy than any other power plant -- even more than coal.


Now that you have listened to the voices of CSOs, how will we conduct the business of development together?  We would like to be your principal partner; to sit at the decision making table, to plan ahead with you, to design policies and programmes, to open up policy spaces for others and to practice inclusive development at the top just as we do at the grass roots.  What concrete actions can we start planning for together?

This new orientation towards distributional justice, growth with equity, jobs for all will require:

  • New learning among WB economic experts, consultants and staff. We would like to place our knowledge at the service of the Bank
  • Our research – conducted over decades – will need to be shared, disseminated and publicised in the same manner with which the bank publishes and disseminates macro- economic aspects of development policies and approaches

Governments have let us all down.  We dream of a game-changing Bank that is pro-poor, does not damage the environment and creates jobs with growth rather than jobless growth.  Let’s forge closer relationships, starting with local country offices, so that your dream and ours of a world free of poverty and inequality becomes a reality, so that people can live with opportunity, dignity and justice.


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