Genesis of Social Development at the World Bank: The Inside Story






The story of social development at the World Bank, which came quite late in the early 1970s, is the theme of a new book titled Social Development at the World Bank: Essays in Honor of Michael M. Cernea (Springer , 2021). The book, edited by Maritta Koch-Weser and Scott Guggenheim – two World Bank veterans, provides insight into the internal stories of building a social development agenda at the Bank under the leadership of Michael Cernea, a theorist and activist a pioneer in social development, where he made a name for himself through very hard work, prolific writing, and the development of theory and policy.

The Bank, at its inception (1945-1970), had a very narrow and restricted vision of development, largely driven by economists and engineers, promoting the model of gross domestic product (GDP) expressed in income per capita without taking into account dimensions and social impacts of development. Faced with growing criticism both inside and outside the Bank for the lack of due attention to the social costs of infrastructure development such as displacement and project-induced poverty, the Bank has slowly opened up its “Door” to social development under Robert McNamara as president (1968 -1981). There was obviously a long wait within the Bank for any social and human development policy program and how economic growth and development benefits could have been better shared.

McNamara emphatically stated in the early 1970s that the overarching goal of the Bank was to end poverty and called for a disciplinary “skill mix” in Bank staff to understand how social processes and organizations work. affect economic results. Michael Cernea, the Romanian rural sociologist, was hired in 1974 as the Bank’s first in-house sociologist, to help develop social methodologies to extend and increase the benefits of development. Cernea’s work over the following decades proved to be of crucial importance to the Bank’s operations in addressing development-induced displacement and resettlement and poverty reduction efforts. As a result, the Bank later formed a large community of anthropologists and sociologists within its cadre to improve social and cultural perspectives in development projects globally.

The book honors Cernea’s contributions to development theory and action-oriented research and policy. It is available in several formats – hard copy, as an eBook, as well as “Open Access” and a special softcover eBook edition. It is essential reading for development scholars, especially those interested in the history of social development and related social science disciplines. It provides a unique foray into the stories of how a paradigm shift occurred within the Bank’s operations, taking firm steps to guide the Bank on the path to social development. The idea for this edited Festschrift was conceived at the Bieberstein meeting in Germany in 2011 by a group of friends and colleagues of Michael Cernea, the mentor and ‘thought leader’ on social development at the Bank since decades.

Comprised of personal essays and reflections by senior Bank executives including former chairman James Wolfensohn, academics / development leaders and close associates of Michael Cernea, the book is historically significant and a classic. in the field. The contributions provide an insider’s perspective and explain how sociologists have helped shift the Bank’s development paradigm from an almost exclusive focus on economic growth to an equally serious consideration of social development, of reducing poverty and the protection of cultural / indigenous heritage and rights. . It presents fascinating insider stories and encounters faced by the first generation of social scientists led by Michael Cernea and how Cernea transformed the initial general ‘curiosity’ about social development into an analysis of social risks in the design and development of projects, then transformed their social knowledge and in the field of development practices of the Bank. Cernea is the author of some of the first social development policies of the World Bank. Among these, he formulated the very first involuntary resettlement policy to address the negative impacts of development, which was subsequently adopted by all multilateral development banks and other development agencies as well.

The book has 20 chapters in four parts. Several contributors describe the backdrop to the rise of top-down pressure to open the door to social analysis, the incredible story linked to the hiring of Michael Cernea, the initial reactions and the institutionalization of employees. environmental and social development policies within the Bank. , and finally, how Bank policies later influenced the adoption of social analysis and involuntary resettlement policy by other development banks. The remainder of the chapters highlight the growing use of anthropology and development sociology as applied social science disciplines, including a personal and candid account of the resettlement challenges faced by development practitioners on the field in the application of World Bank safeguards / resettlement and indigenous policies. and guidelines. Cernea’s widely used Unintentional Risk and Reconstruction (IRR) model is reprinted as a chapter. Finally, case studies on the Narmada dam and its debacle and the positive impacts of long-term collaborations between the Bank and the Chinese government in improving the law and China’s resettlement framework are discussed, followed by ‘a retrospective on Michael Cernea and his contributions.

Collectively, the book represents the Bank’s “institutional ethnography” at its best, often highlighting the internal tensions and schisms associated with historic transitions in the world’s largest and most important development finance institution. The book therefore sits at the crossroads of the history of social development and applied anthropology / development, further reinforcing the fact that development must be understood as both a historical and a socio-cultural process. The speeches truly demonstrate that “people matter” in the development process. Cernea’s work and legacy will therefore continue to influence the future development of resettlement and social development practices. Indeed, his work and his scientific contribution gave birth to a whole new discipline called “resettlement studies” in the field of development. The book is must-read for development practitioners, who not only want to make a difference, but who care about fundamental questions of ethics, rights and responsibilities.

Mohammad Zaman, PhD is International Development / Resettlement Specialist and Advisory Professor, National Resettlement Research Center, Hohai University, Nanjing, China.

[email protected]

Joel C. Hicks