By Dominic Rose, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs
Today was our first official day at the IMF and World Bank Group Annual Meetings. Joining Civil Society Organisation representatives (CSO) from around the world, we attended a comprehensive orientation from the World Bank Civil Society Team and representatives from the World Bank groups. We heard about how the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association provides loans to mid and low-income countries to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. Speakers from the International Finance Corporation and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency discussed private sector involvement in development - a prominent feature of the Meetings, and one I hope is critically engaged during the week.
The speakers I found most interesting were those within the accountability groups of the Bank. I gained a new insight into the avenues available to local communities to challenge projects they feel are negatively impacting on them. This includes the investigation and disbarrment processes of the Integrity Vice Presidency and the capacity for community complaints through the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman and Inspection Panel. Audience discussion focused on these groups and their activities, with an acknowledgement from many panelists that more can be done to raise awareness of the support they can provide.
CSO's led the second session of the morning with a discussion from Lindsay Coates, President of the US organisation InterAction. The discussion wasn't as sugar coated as I was expecting. The speakers acknowledged there is a real disconnect between Washington and the realities of program delivery on the ground. The change isn't going to happen in one meeting or overnight, and that more often than not CSOs need to take direct action to prosecute their case. It was great to hear stories from representatives from Iraq, Laos and Sudan explain how they have attempted, successfully and unsuccessfully, to work with the World Bank, their Government's and fellow CSOs.
In the afternoon we sat down with Mr. Matt Goodman from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Matt's experience across Japan and the Asia Pacific meant we could pick his brain about a variety topics, including the upcoming US elections, the prospects of the Japanese economy, and the work of the think-tank generally. CSIS' analysis of current US policy in the Asia-Pacific will be released on their website in the coming weeks and I would strongly recommend you read it.
Our final session was a CSO round-table with the Executive Directors of the World Bank. CSO representatives posed questions on everything from water privatisation, local government capacity building, social and environmental benchmarks, transparency and accountability in local projects. The round-table only went for an hour but could have easily gone all night.
Reflecting on the day, there are two major takeaways.
Firstly, the level of criticism leveled at the World Bank and IMF. I'm not sure why, but I expected there to be a cosier relationship between the CSOs and the World Bank/IMF. Instead I witnessed a real willingness to question operations and priorities, and I think this will lead to some interesting discussions over the coming days.
Secondly, I was very conscious of the lack of young people attending the event. Even as one of the older Global Voices delegates, I noticed I was often one of the youngest people in the room. The majority of speakers were of older generations and I think getting more young people to these meetings will be crucial for future success.
So all up a big first day. Looking forward to a couple of sessions over the next couple of days on labour rights and the governance gap. If you are ever in DC make sure you grab the fried catfish at Oohs and Ahhs in U Street (don't eat lunch - you'll make up for it no trouble).