Doug Hellinger, D'GAP

Doug Hellinger, Coordinator of SAPRIN, Executive Director, Development Group for Alternative Policies:

This is quite a moment. It is a testament to Jim Wolfensohn and the openness of the World Bank. But it also says something about the issue. The economic restructuring of countries around the world has been the issue of the past quarter century. And the reaction to that restructuring and all the problems that it has brought about is going to be the issue of the first quarter of the 21st century.

People have been mobilizing around the world to bring about greater justice. What we are going to talk about today is economic justice, and we should not apologize for that. What we have seen in the world is a new revolution, in part a technological revolution, but like all revolutions there are winners and losers and there have been far too many losers. We have seen on the ground -- and there are now about a thousand people that are part of our SAPRIN network -- wages go down, unemployment go up, income inequality grow drastically around the world, productive capacities of countries, particularly small farms and small businesses, destroyed, and with it jobs all over the world. Women carry the burden of the disintegration of economies and social structures.

With that in mind, when Jim Wolfensohn took over the World Bank, we saw a real opportunity because we understood that he did not want to reinvent investment banking at the World Bank -- he wanted to do more than that. We had hoped that he would help the World Bank change course because we thought he saw the problems of growing inequality and growing poverty. And so we went to Wolfensohn and we proposed that, before he took over the World Bank, or as he takes over, that he take a look with us at what was really happening on the ground with the policies that the World Bank and the IMF had been promoting, and, more than that, to listen to the people who are living under those policies and to bring them into the process.

We are here with the World Bank -- we are not here with the IMF. We are here because we see a real opening. To give the World Bank and particularly Jim Wolfensohn credit, they opened the doors and asked for a proposal. A group of about 30 organizations around the world contributed to this and proposed to the World Bank that we have a series of public discourses, public forums in countries around the world, to bring people -- the small farmers, the unions, and poor women in the rural areas and the informal sector -- to the table for the first time. The World Bank's response was to propose a more traditional research agenda, which we have now integrated and changed, and we now have a process where we will have public forums in each country bracketing field investigations, which will bring in qualitative and quantitative information and, perhaps most importantly, a participatory process looking at the real, or political, economy in these countries to understand why these dislocations are happening with the policies -- so that we can get to the bottom of things and move forward in a more constructive way.

If we are going to move forward, I think we have to move forward in partnership. In that partnership we in civil society can take the World Bank to a place that it cannot get to on its own, while working with governments to get down to the local level and to bring people in and to learn. It is the first time that an institution like the World Bank has opened its doors in this area. This partnership, which sometimes has been rocky as we learn how to work with one another, has to move forward with the sense of having a level playing field.

We want to thank the Government of Norway, and we are discussing funding with the Government of Sweden. There are a number of foundations that have given support to this exercise, and we have been talking to UN agencies and some NGOs. Without that independent financing, this exercise would not be possible and we thank them.

There are still some problems to be overcome, however. One problem is that we have not been able to get a good representation of countries. The World Bank has not been able to engage some of the larger emerging-market countries. In fact, sometimes civil society has an easier time working with a variety of ministries, not just the finance ministries, but the World Bank is still trying and we hope that by the end we will have ten countries. We now have eight. We took the precedent of Hungary seriously, where civil society has worked with the government to start a process there, and what is happening now in other countries like Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the Philippines is that civil society is starting processes on their own. Our network, which we call SAPRIN, is going to be working with those groups, and in many cases with their Congresses. We will work with the World Bank where possible, and in many countries it will be possible. But something is happening out there. The mobilization of civil society around the world and around these issues is a fantastic phenomenon, and we really hope that we can help the World Bank get ahead of the curve on this if we can work in partnership -- because movements are springing up everywhere. I would not be surprised if 20 countries will be involved in one way or another, and we feel responsibility to work with civil society in each of those cases.

The second problem is, and we have to be honest, that nothing really has changed very much in the World Bank in the last two years, as we have been discussing this initiative, in terms of economic policy. Yes, there is a new social policy but we need a new economic policy, and we trust that something meaningful will come out of this exercise. But in the meantime we want to help the Bank officials by bringing information from the hundreds of organizations around the world to their desks so that changes can be made during the process of this exercise. The mobilization has been fantastic and we give the World Bank credit for staying in this even though this is not easy. As this mobilization occurs, we really hope that what we see in the streets today -- strikes, protests, or other types of demonstrations against these policies -- can move us towards constructive engagement. That is what SAPRI is all about: to bring people to the table. We need to level the playing field, however, so that they are equal actors in the process and their voice is legitimized.

I would like to introduce the steering committee of SAPRIN and the regional coordinators, Kamal Malhotra for Asia, Charles Abugre for Africa, and Roberto Rubio for Latin America. I would like to explain to you why a Northern group is introducing this here today. One, the problems of the South are also now the problems of the North -- we have our own dislocations taking place. Look at what is happening in Europe and in the US. But also we in the North have a responsibility. It is our governments that are pushing these policies through international institutions on the countries of the South and it is our job to create space for our colleagues.

On that note, I would like to introduce two of the Southern members of our Steering Committee, Hellen Wangusa from Uganda and Lidy Nacpil from the Philippines.

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