Opening Remarks by World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn at the Public Launch of SAPRI

14 July 1997

(emphasis added)

Let me start by thanking the Government of Norway and the seven participating governments for their support and their agreement to join us in this exercise.

Let me at the same time go back a little bit in view of some of the remarks of Doug and the other speakers. It may surprise you, those of you that are not from the World Bank, to know that I am not prepared to cede the moral high ground to our colleagues in civil society. Why am I not prepared to do that?

I work here because I care about poverty. I believe that there are 10,000 other people here who care about poverty. I do not doubt that in the past there have been problems created by World Bank programs, IFC programs, other inter-governmental programs, maybe even some programs of civil society.

But I would like you all to know that I come at this on the basis that I actually care as much about poverty, about women, about children, about social justice, about inequality, than anybody in this room. If I did not, I would not be in this job.

I was in a pretty good job before I came here. And I would like to make that clear to you because I do not want any misunderstanding as to the education you have to give me or the education that I have to give you.

I am here because I care, and I am here because I want to get it right, and I am here because I want my children to grow up in a more equitable world, and I want the world to have less inequity and less poverty. That is why I am here.

So let me put that straight on the table. And I am also here because of partnership. I do not think the World Bank can do it alone. I do not think any international institution can do it alone. I do not think any government can do it alone. But I also do not think civil society can do it alone. I think there is a need for us to work together, and I think there are things that international institutions can do that, if they are consonant with the objectives of governments and civil society, the three of us together can make the difference that will affect the lives of the women and of the children and of the people in the countries that we are trying to affect.

So let me say straightforwardly that I have no arrogance of power about the World Bank, I have no sense that we are sitting on top of the mountain giving lessons to the rest of the world.

I have a very humble feeling after 2 years of traveling to 55 countries and spending 70 percent of that time in the field in slums, in villages, and in discussions with people of all sectors of society in all parts of the world.

The alleviation of poverty, the establishment of social justice, and the relief of inequity which is apparent around the world is a very very difficult problem. So that is my next point.

I also wanted you to know Doug that I have not been doing nothing for 2 years notwithstanding your characterization. And just to respond as vigorously as you started I actually think that we have been doing quite a lot for these 2 years and I resent the fact that someone would suggest that we have been doing nothing.

We have been doing a lot because I have come to this after the 50 years is enough campaign in which Doug himself was a major factor. And I came into the institution reading the literature of the 50 years is enough campaign. And you could not be unaffected by that if you were taking on a job like this. There was unadorned criticism of everything that the institution had done--this institution and the institution across the street. And so if you come into a new job, and you have half a brain, what you want to do is to listen and say what is it that is causing this.

Why is it that there is this incredible antagonism between civil society and the World Bank? Why is there the suspicion that my friend from the Philippines expressed as being a continuing doubt? Why is it that she is uncertain coming through the doors of the building? And why is it, by the way, that some members of the World Bank feel a little challenged when they hear that someone from civil society is coming through the doors of the World Bank? It is not surprising. I did not create this antagonism, I inherited it, because I was on the outside much more, actually, surprising as it may seem to you, working in the areas of civil society.

I came thinking here is arguably the most powerful development institution around, arguing with constituent bodies from the north and the south. And let me say quite up front that I do not regard this as a northern exercise. I regard this as an exercise with the north and the south or it will be a failure. This has to be a joint exercise.

So I took a look at the criticism, and some of them are very substantial and some of them are less substantial as you would expect. But running the institution I had to try and see what is it that can be done in the next period in which I am president that might leave not only this institution in a better frame of mind but the world a little better off. And I decided straight up that participation and dialogue were absolutely essential and this is not the first evidence of participation. We have innumerable, well not innumerable, but many efforts at participation.

Two years ago, we had in our offices around the world 2 people whose job it was to deal with civil society. Today we have 52, 36 of whose sole responsibility is to interface with civil society and we had them all in here a couple of months ago and many of the people that are working with us are drawn from NGOs and civil society around the world.

As a mandatory part of our project process now, mandatory, there needs to be participatory review. There needs to be consultation not just with NGOs but with the people that are affected and we are listening, and I am listening, and we are trying as hard as I know to change a predisposition not to have partnership, a predisposition that has been caused by this confrontation that I spoke of in the 50 years is enough campaign.

One thing about boxing is that when you hit somebody, it is not just the person that is hitting that has the exercise, the person that is being hit also has a reaction and they are hurt and they want to hit back. And we were getting to that situation, and we have to get away from it. And the only plea that I make to you is that you come to us not in the sense that you are the only ones that are making a change, those of you from civil society, but that there is a willingness on the part of the World Bank, evidenced by the fact that you are here, and I think both of us, mutually, need to take a look at this exercise.

As to presuppositions about where is comes out, I am trying to make none. I am waiting to hear. I am not assuming that Bank policies are right. I am not assuming that all the representations made by every sector of civil society are right. I am coming at this with an open mind and I hope that we all can. Because it could just be that one or two of the things that the World Bank has done make a contribution, surprising as that may seem, and it could just be that one or two things that are suggested by some segments of civil society do not apply in all cases. And my objective in this is to have a totally open book, to take a very good look with 3 groups at how it is that structural adjustment, economic development, alleviation of poverty, a view of inequity is taken by all of us. And my objective, frankly, since I was not here for more than 2 of the 52 years is not to do an analysis of the past other than as to it affects the future.

I am concerned about the 100 million people who are being added to our planet every year. I am concerned about the 3 billion who live on under 2 dollars a day, and the 1.3 billion who live on under a dollar a day, and their exponential growth, and the reduction in equity, and the increase in poverty which we have to arrest. And I do not think the World Bank can do it alone. I do not think we have a chance of doing it alone. I think it has to be done in a three-way partnership, and that is a partnership with civil society in its broadest sense and with governments. And that is why I am particularly grateful that we have this trio together in at least the case of seven countries, and Doug it would be my hope that there are others that join us. The World Bank has some influence but you have to remember that we are owned by the governments. It is they that are my bosses.

So this is a big step for our Board, and a very very important step for the seven countries that have decided to move forward. We at the World Bank will be anxious to be continuously supportive of this provided that it is a three-way exercise.

I am well aware that there is the suggestion that we should be engaged in examinations of countries that are not willing participants, where the governments have said no.

Well, civil society can do whatever it wants but it cannot do it with the World Bank because that is not the basis on which my Board has agreed. What I am anxious to do is to try and bring willing governments in and since they own me I have to take that view.

I believe that we can make enormous progress if the three of us together move forward and that together we try and influence governments to become part of this trio.

So what I pledge to you is really very simple. It is full cooperation from the World Bank, it is an attempt on our part to forget acrimony, to forget predisposition about types of people that we are dealing with, and just take an open, straight look because the single thing that unites us all is the issue of poverty. It is the issue of women that are badly affected by economic growth, it is the issue of children that are left behind, and it is the issue of people who do not have enough food to eat or clean water to drink. That is the issue and that is the thing that unites us and I can tell you that you have full enthusiasm from everybody in the World Bank to try and work together to deal with the issue that we are all trying to serve.

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