How can West African civil society engage with the MDBs?

As part of BIC’s outreach to local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), BIC hosted a two-part training webinar to empower CSO representatives from countries in West Africa to actively engage Multilateral Development Institutions in development projects. We discuss several of the webinar’s outcomes below and highlight resources for other CSO representatives to access information on carrying out advocacy around development finance.

In August 2020, Bank Information Center, in partnership with Senegal-based NGO Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD), hosted a two-part training webinar for civil society organizations (CSOs) in West Africa. Drawing on BIC’s handbook ‘Tools for Activists: An Information and Advocacy Guide to the World Bank Group, the webinar gave CSOs the information they need to successfully advocate for communities and the way in which the World Bank Group (WBG) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) policies and safeguards can be used to effectively advocate for changes in the development projects. Forty-five CSO representatives from 10 countries in West and Central Africa participated in the webinar, which provided an opportunity for participants to strengthen their capacities around MDB activities in the region as well as share and discuss ideas.

We share below key highlights from the webinar that can serve as useful resources for other CSOs trying to engage with development projects. 

1. Understanding environmental and social safeguard policies. The webinar emphasized how the  WBG and AfDB environmental and social safeguard policies have proved essential in promoting human rights and providing representation to communities. The safeguards include requirements to conduct assessments and public consultations, so the banks can better understand and mitigate the impact of projects on people and the environment. The webinar drew on information included in BIC’s Civil Society Guide to the World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework , which helps CSOs understand the safeguards, their relevance to projects, and how CSOs can use them to advocate for rights. 

2. Utilizing independent accountability mechanisms at the World Bank Group. BIC also emphasized the importance of the resources available to communities when Bank-financed projects fail to adhere to environmental and social safeguards and other policies. We explained the role of the Inspection Panel (IP) and Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the WBG’s two independent accountability mechanisms as sources for accountability when Bank projects cause harm to communities or the environment. While these mechanisms represent an opportunity to pursue a complaint, they require significant resources and the process can be difficult and time-consuming, not always yielding the desired results for communities. Thus, BIC also helped CSOs understand alternative avenues for redress that begin with raising concerns with WBG country-level representatives before appealing to relevant office(s) at the World Bank headquarters. Module 5: When Rights are Violated: Holding the World Bank Accountable of BIC’s Toolkit for Activists provides additional in-depth information about communities’ options for complaints and redress to make the process most effective.

3. Strengthening partnerships to empower communities. BIC also shared its experience partnering with a local CSO and community in Uganda to seek redress with the Inspection Panel. The Uganda Transport Sector Development Project was supposed to build a road that would create employment, improve accessibility to social services, and incentivize tourism. However, the influx of road workers negatively impacted the community through increased gender based violence, child labor, child sexual exploitation and abuse, and pregnancy of numerous girls in the community. BIC, along with local NGO Joy for Children, helped the community raise the complaint with the Inspection Panel. The process resulted in the cancellation of the project and the elaboration of a Management Action Plan with the goal of improving safeguards to prevent and respond to similar problems in the future.

This case offers several important lessons for CSOs advocating for the rights of communities in development projects. First, it reinforces the power of communities. By informing the community of their options, CSOs supported them to use their own voices to advocate for the resources and benefits they needed in order to remedy the negative impacts of the project. Moreover, BIC as an advocacy organization was able to push the World Bank to examine the risks of GBV across all of its portfolio, resulting in institutional change. Coalitions of CSOs and communities are essential for success in holding development banks accountable. 

The webinar provided a valuable opportunity to share information and examples with regional CSOs, empowering them with the knowledge to assist local communities in benefiting from development projects and raising concerns where projects cause harm. CSOs were encouraged to reach out to BIC and LSD for specific help on the more in-depth steps involved, as well as how to connect with a network of NGOs that have experience in these processes. 

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