When the World Bank prioritizes the inclusion of project-affected people in the consultation process, it helps the implementer improve project design to enable broad access to project benefits as well as to prevent harm to local communities. In projects that are designed to directly benefit children, the input of children and the civil society organizations (CSOs) that represent them is particularly crucial to mitigating potential gaps in project implementation. BIC and our partner’s recent interaction with the Bank while monitoring a Tanzanian social protection project potentially offers valuable lessons the Bank can incorporate in future projects to improve stakeholder engagement, particularly for projects that impact children.
The Foundation for Environmental Management and Campaign Against Poverty (FEMAPO), in partnership with BIC, monitored the early implementation of the World Bank-financed Tanzania Productive Social Safety Nets II project (PSSN-II). This project is being carried out by the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), the Tanzanian government entity responsible for social protection cash transfer programs. BIC and FEMAPO assessed the inclusion of child protection measures in the project design and the degree to which the Bank would include child rights organizations and children themselves in stakeholder engagement.
To disseminate findings and connect CSOs to the Bank and TASAF, BIC and FEMAPO held a workshop that was a hybrid of in-person and digital formats, with presentations given both by FEMAPO staff in-person and BIC staff remotely. Holding parts of the program virtually enabled the Bank task team leader and a civil society focal point for TASAF to participate in the workshop, and by holding part of it in-person, CSOs with limited technical capacity or internet connectivity were able to participate. While virtual participation is not ideal, by adapting to the contextual limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic the Bank created an opportunity for input from civil society that may have otherwise remained unengaged.
Participating Tanzanian CSOs raised concerns that access to information had been difficult, and that many community members were unaware of opportunities to participate in consultations. FEMAPO asked how the implementer was planning to manage the risk that cash transfers may not ultimately benefit children, and raised the concern that sexual exploitation could potentially occur as a result of gatekeeping by TASAF staff. The participants requested that the relevant staff at TASAF offices around the country maintain open lines of communication with civil society organizations and that if possible, the Bank and TASAF provide capacity support to CSOs engaging in project monitoring. FEMAPO also requested that training on sexual exploitation and abuse/harassment (SEA/H) prevention, mitigation, and response be held for project staff, and that information on how to use cash transfers to maximize benefits to children be included in human capital development components already planned for adult beneficiaries.
The Bank and TASAF representatives promised to maintain communication with the involved organizations but could not pledge capacity support for CSOs. The TASAF team stated that the proper provision of benefits to children would be addressed by community-level compliance committees established during the first phase of the project and assured CSOs that relevant project staff would receive child protection training. If the Bank and government follow through and implement these commitments, this project could provide a positive case study in engagement around child rights issues.
While the final results remain to be seen, the Bank’s good-faith engagement of civil society, openness to feedback, and willingness to participate in CSO events is a step in the right direction. Drawing from this positive experience with the Bank, to improve stakeholder engagement in future projects that impact children, the Bank should:
- Include children and their representatives in consultations. The best way to assess the specific needs of children is to consult with children and child rights civil society organizations during the scoping stages of the project. The Bank should hold consultations and disclose project information with children in a child-friendly manner, using appropriate language and allowing children to feel comfortable and safe expressing their feelings and opinions. By consulting children and their representatives prior to project implementation, the Bank can account for the risks children face and implement additional child protection measures as well as include them as project beneficiaries.
- Maintain open channels of communications with child rights CSOs. In accordance with ESS 10, the Bank should continue stakeholder engagement throughout the project cycle. As children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during development projects, we encourage the Bank to establish and maintain open channels of communication with child rights organizations throughout the project cycle so that they can address issues as they occur. CSOs can provide valuable insight into issues affecting children and how the project can address these issues.
- Participate in civil society events and meet CSOs where they are. Through the aforementioned engagement with civil society at BIC and FEMAPO’s workshop, the task team and implementers were able to receive feedback from organizations that might have otherwise been left out of consultations. The Bank task teams should also maintain an openness to additional meetings with civil society organizations outside of implementer-managed consultations in order to better their understanding of their project’s impacts on children. Their teams’ willingness to engage in a civil society forum created the room for good-faith dialogue that, if followed up on, will serve to strengthen the project and improve its outcomes. Wherever possible, consultations should be in person, as many civil society organizations in the global south have technical limitations that hamper their participation in virtual meetings.
By meeting with civil society, the task team for the PSSN-II project and the TASAF representatives took an important first step towards integrating the views of child rights organizations and the children they represent. The Bank and TASAF team must adhere to the commitments they made during the workshop and any other meetings with civil society organizations and to continue to engage child rights CSOs for the life cycle of the project. If they adhere to the promises they have made, they will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the specific needs of child beneficiaries and how to implement the project in such a way that it meets those needs.
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