How can the World Bank strengthen ESF implementation in LAC?

During the Civil Society Policy Forum (CSPF), BIC co-hosted a panel on the main challenges and lessons learned from the World Bank’s implementation of the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Bank can better operationalize the ESF commitments to inclusion and non-discrimination by improving engagement, particularly with marginalized groups, integrating their feedback into project design, and proactively disclosing project documents in accessible formats.

In October 2021, BIC, along with Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (AAS), and Sociedad y Discapacidad (SODIS) held a panel at the World Bank’s Civil Society Policy Forum (CSPF) on the main challenges for implementing the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Panel also discussed opportunities to strengthen ESF implementation moving forward.

The major ESF implementation challenges raised by AAS, SODIS, and BIC centered around Environmental and Social Standard 1 (ESS1), Assessment and Management of Environmental and Social Risks and Impacts, ESS7 Indigenous Peoples/Sub-Saharan African Historically Underserved Traditional Communities, and ESS10 Stakeholder Engagement and Information Disclosure. Without the rigorous implementation of the ESF, challenges around these three standards tend to compound and magnify one another. Where marginalized groups, including Indigenous Peoples, are not properly identified as stakeholders, they are often not engaged and particular risks to these groups are not assessed or mitigated.

The Lima Metropolitano BRT North Extension project, which SODIS and AAS highlighted, shows how the weak implementation of one of these standards (ESS10) affects the implementation of another standard (ESS1). Though the Environmental and Social Commitment Plan (ESCP) highlights universal access in the stations and underscores the need to consider accessibility issues in the areas surrounding the stations, meaningful engagement with persons with disabilities remains a major challenge that is impacting the accessibility and universal design of the project. Rather than holding accessible consultations with persons with disabilities and seeking their input to improve the project design, consultations were used to present project documents and designs that had already been approved. This means that key accessibility measures that could provide for more persons with disabilities to access project benefits may have been overlooked, perpetuating the cycle of inaccessible public transport systems in Lima and its surrounding areas. Many of the early key project documents are only available in English, making project information inaccessible, and there is no feedback loop in place for persons with disabilities to know if the input they provided during consultations has been integrated into the project.    

The Bank recognized the challenges with ESF implementation identified by the panelists and shared with civil society some of the key barriers to proper ESF implementation that the Bank has identified over the last three years. The Bank representative stated that Borrowers often have questions on how to meaningfully engage stakeholders throughout the project cycle, especially in the current COVID-19 context, how to use stakeholder feedback to systematically improve project design, and how to set up effective grievance redress mechanisms. Also, the Bank highlighted that it is difficult to get the Borrowers to change their mindset from one-off consultation to a continuous process throughout the project. Ultimately, the ESF represents a challenge and an opportunity on the social side with the do-good approach where the Borrower must now look at differentiated measures for different marginalized groups to be able to access project benefits, but this change means there will be challenges as Borrowers begin to better understand how to implement the ESF. 

Though robust ESF implementation is difficult, specifically in countries that do not tend to prioritize stakeholder engagement and the inclusion of marginalized groups, the strong standards of the ESF provide the Bank’s key added value to development projects. To address the challenges identified by civil society and Bank staff and strengthen ESF implementation, the Bank should: 

  1. Close the feedback loop. Meaningful stakeholder engagement means that those who have participated in consultations understand how their feedback and interventions will or will not lead to change in the project and why and how the project will be changed or why feedback is not incorporated. This allows for continued engagement throughout the project lifecycle so that stakeholders can more effectively engage in future consultations, flagging and helping to close gaps that may not allow all to benefit. 
  2. Strengthen support to borrowing countries on ESF implementation. The ESF is much more expansive in scope than the old safeguards, so Borrowers need training on many of the new social components, including non-discimination, labor, and stakeholder engagement. This is especially true for implementing agencies in sectors such as health and education that might not have had such robust training. Once Borrowers understand how to include marginalized groups in projects and how to continually engage stakeholders, project design and implementation will be more inclusive and adequately respond to the needs of communities. 
  3. Disclose project documents in official and local languages. BIC is working with partners monitoring several projects in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and very few of the projects actually have documents available in the official language of the country. In most cases, the only document available in the official language is the Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP). In order for stakeholders to meaningfully engage throughout the project lifecycle, they must have access to project documents in official and local languages. The Bank should proactively disclose translated versions of project documents on its website.
  4. Draw lessons for more effective project level grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) from the UN Guiding Principles. Principle 31 of the UN Guiding Principles, “Effectiveness criteria for non-judicial grievance mechanisms” can help Borrowers design more effective GRMs. According to Principle 31, GRMs should be legitimate, accessible, predictable, equitable, transparent, rights compatible, enable continuous learning, and be based on engagement and dialogue. Also, a GRM needs to be prepared to receive and register a grievance; acknowledge, assess, and assign the grievance; propose a response to the grievance; and if there is agreement on a specific response, implement the agreed response. An effective GRM should establish social and environmental conflict prevention systems and should be prepared to offer solutions on the ground.  

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