1 – The World Bank and Transparency: A Perspective
As the author of a new book, The World Bank Unveiled: Inside the Revolutionary Struggle for Transparency, I recount my dozen years inside the institution. I examine a number of aspects of the organization that range from its culture and bureaucracy to its day-to-day activities. Among the key questions the book analyzes is the meaning of transparency inside the Bank. In fact, my experiences suggest it means different things to different internal stakeholders and that these sensibilities are often conflicting and reflect a vast array of backgrounds. For example, in recent years the Bank merged a knowledge sharing mantra into a culture that horded information and it implemented greater disclosure measures that were often viewed by external observers as rhetorical flourishes.
When he left the Bank in 2005, former President James Wolfensohn said transparency reduces corruption, reduced corruption leads to better governance and better governance increases development. Transparency, he believes, is the key. But history suggests the Bank’s management believes transparency is something that should apply to its clients and other external stakeholders. Its enthusiasm regarding the internal application of transparency seems less than robust. Consider the following:
- It has a long history of reluctance toward releasing documents external observers believe are central to helping foster development.
- When its staff has gone public with views that counter the Bank’s traditional orthodoxy, they have been dismissed. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and William Easterly are two prominent examples.
- In 1997, as part of its Strategic Compact reorganization, the Bank began to recast itself as a “knowledge bank.” It has not been a success because the cultural instincts of the institution favor information hoarding rather than knowledge sharing. The World Bank Institute, the branch of the institution charged with implementing knowledge sharing, is a pedagogical unit that promotes fostered learning. Former Bank economist David Ellerman’s insightful paper, Helping People Help Themselves: Toward a Theory of Autonomy-Compatible Help documents how fostered learning creates client dependency which diametrically counters knowledge sharing.
The World Bank Unveiled offers numerous other examples. But much more importantly are the perspectives of others who have worked inside or outside the Bank. This blog post wants to encourage others to share their own experiences and stories …